What are your executive team’s new post-COVID assumptions?

May 17, 2020

Is your company being undermined by obsolete assumptions held by some of your leaders? To move forward, they must be challenged.

In our work to develop clients’ breakthrough strategies, we try to highlight such hidden assumptions. These are often unspoken, clashing ideas which undermine the corporate strategy. When the plan needs revision, the team should uncover and sort out these differences to act as one.

To listen to this podcast, visit Source

Crisis Favors the Digitally Bold CEO

Why are top executives getting frustrated at their teams during COVID-19? One reason: it’s obvious to them that the company needs to become a digital operation. They may also be very demanding but don’t blame them: they alone can see a joined-up world beyond the pandemic that most subordinates can’t. In the past few years, my consulting firm has implored our clients to include a digital strategist on their boards, executive ranks and strategic planning retreats. Only a tiny few have risen to the occasion, adding someone (usually much younger) to strategy discussions, which seemed to be about a faraway future.

COVID-19 has changed the timeline.

As we scan the outputs of prior client retreats we see that the long-term plans they made were painfully slow. They imagined a gradual drift into a digital world where people’s behaviors would change eventually, imperceptibly.

Today, they must make changes to go online from offline in a matter of months. However, CEO’s are having a difficult time getting their executive teams to envision a future that even their youngest employees can see. Why?

In a nutshell, each company function is lost in its own silo. Marketing, HR, Operations, IT…each is unable to lead the way. The new vision is beyond their grasp because it requires joined-up thinking.  What should CEOs’ do to accelerate the process of forging a digital transformation?

1. Forgive Weak Repetition

Many top executives get mad when their functionaries simply try to copy the offline world to the one that’s online. For example, advertising on the internet involves more than putting up digital billboards. It requires an understanding of engagement psychology, content and technology which few possess. The average marketing department won’t know how to gamify an audience, or perhaps even how to create one.

But this is to be expected. And forgiven. While initial attempts are weak, they represent a certain level of willingness, and the start of a steep climb.

However, CEO’s must insist on an unprecedented level of cooperation right away. They need to role-model an eagerness to cross internal boundaries to discover ideas and talent wherever it may be found. For example, if the new receptionist has 10,000 followers on Instagram, pull her in!

2. Focus on Underlying Business Results

To overcome the initial disappointment, executives should encourage experiments which aren’t meant to replicate old processes, but still achieve the same objectives.

For instance, a company which is used to engaging its walk-in customers in ways that make the experience special, cannot offer the usual free coffee, air-conditioning and relaxed banter. Instead, they must ask themselves why those features worked and what emotions they were intended to evoke.

In like manner, pastors that relied on the right blend of hymns, testimonies and sermons to keep congregants coming back for more can’t rely on these elements.  In these times, they need to go beyond the superficial form of these activities and find the underlying benefit that is being delivered.

In other words, they must begin all over again. Unfortunately, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix are just a single click away, along with every other online church service in the world. The only hope they have of competing is to experiment and make mistakes to learn what will deliver the a similar experience via the internet.

3. Learn New Functionality

Recently, I hosted a virtual conference that attracted several hundred global registrants. Behind the scenes of the Time Blocking Summit I was forced to pick up new tools, and with it, unique capabilities I barely understood.

In retrospect, I can laugh at my mishaps running ads on Facebook, Instagram, Quora and Google, but I had to make an effort. It was the only way to apprehend the power of these tools, which have no equivalent in the offline world.

These capabilities are highly nuanced, able to break down old barriers. For example, think of your employees using WhatsApp and Zoom to organize themselves into cross-functional teams. They do so on their own time, without the involvement of management, training themselves to using these apps to create new connections across boundaries. In the offline world, it would have been impossible.

Case in point: companies now need a private, community forum to keep dispersed staff members together. Too many executives, stuck in “Mi nuh use them ting deh” social-media prejudices, can’t lead the charge.

The COVID-19 crisis favors CEOs’ who are willing to push themselves to learn uncomfortable lessons that used to be optional, theoretical or futuristic. Today, they need to be visible role models of learning in order to lead in these extraordinary times. 

Join the Free Webinar on HR’s Role in Re-Skilling Companies – April 22nd 2020

There is a controversial point of view arising: HR should have done more to prepare companies for the advent of COVID-19.

“It’s not that HR should have known the pandemic was coming”, they explain. “But isn’t HR about developing new skills for the company?”

Case 1: A company’s Executive Chairman belatedly wakes up to the fact that the new lock-down restrictions are going to severely impact his company’s sales. He calls the head of HR: “Where can I take a crash course on leading a company through a sudden drop in revenue” When the HR Director balks, not knowing where to start, he spends two hours doing Google searches and finally pulls up an old webinar on YouTube…with no help from her.

Case 2: A company is receiving numerous complaints from remote, work-from-home staff. Managers are trying to use Zoom meetings up to 10 times per day to micro-manage their people who were only sent home two weeks ago. The executive team agrees: “No-one knows how to manage without looking over people’s shoulders.” In their meeting they turn to the HR VP – “What are you going to do about this?”

Case 3: “Someone in HR needs to tell Mr. Johnson how to wash his hands.” A complaint has come into the HR Department of the country’s biggest police station. The janitor has been washing his hands the old-fashioned way: occasionally, only taking 2 seconds and not using soap every time. The implication is obvious: if he doesn’t learn COVID-19 level hygiene, he could take down the whole station by allowing the virus to spread via the rest-rooms.

In each of these cases, the content of the learning is not the point. To paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower, “Skills mean nothing. Learning is everything.”

Instead, employees have not learned how to self-learn effectively. Now that COVID-19 has put them under pressure, yawning gaps in their knowledge and skills are evident to them and others. As a result, they are scrambling to teach themselves what they need. Unfortunately, they are struggling.

This is where the critics of HR have a point.

Over the past decade, HR departments have suffered severe budget cuts, so that training and development became a minimal pursuit. In the past, this wasn’t the case: HR used to coordinate 90% or more of the training which took place in companies.

Like good corporate soldiers, HR saluted and executed the new direction faithfully, perhaps believing that it was a temporary situation. But it’s been over a decade since the last recession started. Since then, some argue that:

  • HR has become reactive, delivering “only-if-absolutely-needed” development
  • Companies have not returned to investing in the development of their HR Departments
  • HR has therefore not grown to embrace the technologies needed to access the best content delivered by new channels and platforms

Up until the advent of COVID-19, these trends were developing imperceptibly, slowly. But now, the need for employee self-development is urgent and evident.

In each of the three cases shared above, the long term solution is not for HR to focus on becoming knowledgeable on specific skills. There’s no way to do that for emergencies like COVID-19 or whichever one comes next.

Instead, it must be about teaching people to re-skill themselves. The best approach is, not surprisingly, for HR to re-skill itself.

If you are an HR Professional, what would it be like to start 2022 with a whole new set of self-development tools at your fingertips? What would it be like to be able to re-skill yourself at will?

This is the possibility or vision we are creating here at CaribHRForum for the upcoming year. We want HR Professionals to spend the year putting on their own oxygen mask first, before that of others. In other words, let’s make 2020-21 a time of taking care of our own self-learning first.

The good news is that the webinar on Wednesday night, April 22nd, is our first step in that direction. It will be followed by the launch of three private coaching groups and then the CaribHRForum Virtual Summit 2020 in September.

Come to the webinar “Why HR Fell Behind in Re-Skilling Caribbean Companies” to interact with the region’s HR Professionals on this important topic. Click here to register. Admission is free, but space is limited due to the conference technology being used.

Update: Our special guests on the panel will be Simmone Bowe from the Bahamas and Nazeer Sultan from Trinidad and Tobago.

When COVID-19 ruins your “perfect” strategic plan

While your company awaits a return to business as usual, should your leadership be thinking about revisiting its strategy? Does the current pandemic mean that you should start the process all over again?

To say that the coronavirus has disrupted business is an understatement.

Even if you are still operating at this time of lockdowns and curfews, you are probably doing so under duress. Nevertheless, you must look ahead.

At some point in the future, employees will have returned to their jobs, continuing to work in the old way. However, it would be a mistake to put your effort into “returning things to normal.” Chances are, there is a new normal and you should adjust to it, rather than seek to drag your business back to an obsolete state.

For example, take the case of an owner of a funeral parlour in New York City. As an essential service, the company has not closed down. In fact, like many morticians who are willing to deal with COVID casualties, the owner is overwhelmed by the volume of deceased persons being brought in.

While this could be treated as a windfall, the long-term question is “What does this mean for business?” In other words, is there an assumption that needs to be re-examined now that funerals are being conducted so quickly, in small groups, without a service, in large numbers?

Like this company, it might be time for your team to re-examine the assumptions behind its strategic plan. Here are three steps for engaging your executives and board members.

Part 1 – Enumerate the Disruptions 
Start by making a list of the most obvious changes. When the big-ticket items are out of the way, look for the ones that are harder to see but may be just as important.

One method is to begin with a single pronounced item but then ask “Why” to determine the reasons things have changed. Then repeat the process asking “Why?” five more times, until no more answers can be found.
Leave room to add other big items as you continue, but pull them together into new strategic themes before the next step.

Part 2 – Tear-down the Old Plan
Here, you are looking for concrete reasons why the current plan won’t work. Use the results of the prior exercise if needed, but in this phase you should be ruthless. Identify the assumptions (unstated or unimagined) which have been violated by the new normal.

At this moment, you need to bring your team to a consensus point of view regarding the plan’s gaps, seeking to go as deep as possible into long-term changes. For example, have your customers come to expect a higher standard that you never predicted? Has a new technology been introduced that you simply can no longer ignore? Have you fallen behind a nimble competitor?

Part 3 Assess the Plan’s Viability
In this final step, you decide whether or not the current plan needs to be changed and to what degree.

In some cases, your plan may have anticipated the disruptions which are underway as a result of COVID-19. For example, perhaps you contemplated that within five years you would be delivering service to customers remotely using a tool like Zoom or WhatsApp.

Now, you realize, you need to do so immediately just to keep up.

Or, you may have learned that the time horizon on your old plan was too short – a common occurrence. The changes that you see happening in the next year are so dramatic, they render your plan obsolete. A brand new, long-term destination is needed.

However you assess your current strategy, the final step is to conduct a joint activity to bring it up to date. This may mean starting from ground zero.

If you believe you can escape this kind of re-examination or leave it up to the CEO or Chair to do it alone, think again. Consider that this global disruption might be the single most impactful event in your lifetime.

The fact is, some assumptions in your industry have been unfrozen. Consequently, your firm has the chance to stick a wedge into a sliver of opportunity and turn it into a crack that will never be closed. If you move quickly, you can be the first (and only) company to capitalize.

The only difference is that these things usually happen slowly, over a decade or more. Now, for a change, they are happening with lightning speed.

Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Migrate, But Stay to Run Your Business

If you own a company, should you encourage your children to one day take an ownership position? Or should they pursue a more lucrative career overseas? We Jamaicans need to challenge our habit of exporting the next generation.

“My son is a pediatrician in New York.”

There are few things that give a Jamaican parent more pride than the apparent success of their child in a foreign country. He may be miserable, divorced and barely making ends meet in a cold corner of the South Bronx, but these dull facts are disregarded in the telling of the tale.

His parents could even own a profitable business in a small town, the sole supplier of an essential good or service. Their life may be comfortable. They live well below their means as they navigate a world they understand. When the son complains about his life, they tell him to stay put – things are far worse back home.

But are they?

I lived on both sides of the equation: 21 years in the USA, returning 15 years ago. I met scores of overseas Jamaicans trapped in jobs or neighborhoods they hated. They longed to return to what they knew, but couldn’t. Few re-migrate from Canada, the UK or America even after the environment becomes hostile.

In the meantime, their parent-owners did no succession planning. Eventually, these founders passed away, forcing their children to come back to pick up the pieces. There are countless versions of the above scenario. It’s a sad accumulation of small, seemingly disconnected decisions that result in a huge loss of inter-generational wealth. Here are three new thoughts that might help.

1. Don’t under-estimate what you have here

In error, we Jamaicans often think we are “special” – facing problems that no-one in the rest of the world has. For example, someone who struggled to start their own business believes that if they had only been born in America, they would have had an easier path to success. As such, they encourage their children to migrate to a life with fewer obstacles.

Unfortunately, they don’t realize the advantage they already have. Their company has figured out how to succeed and is now a big and growing fish in a small pond. This advantage is hard to comprehend when viewed from home, but the global research is clear: most wealthy families pass on material advantages from one generation to the next. I know too many Jamaican families who ignore this fact, encouraging the next generation to abandon the massive lead their forefathers created. Sometimes it’s due to shame – a belief that what is Jamaican (or Black) cannot be good.

Fortunately, this opinion is changing but there are local families destroying value by reflexively pushing their children to study and live overseas, no matter what.

2. Don’t over-estimate the challenge of starting over

I have spoken to a few Jamaicans before they migrate, and the overwhelming impression I have is that they equate a move to another country with one to a place like Montego Bay.

In other words, they naively believe it won’t be that hard to transition. Part of the problem are the falsehoods returning Jamaicans tell. With newly acquired accents, clothes and pictures of cars, they defend their decision to migrate by exaggerating life in their new country. I did it too.

The false impression it leaves is that migrating from Jamaica is an accomplishment. In fact, it’s more a case of “swapping brown dog for monkey”. To whit: most of us know several dogs, but have never seen a single monkey. 

The truth? When I lived in the US, most Jamaicans I met wished they could return, a majority that Trump and COVID-19 have probably increased.

Why? While there are exceptions to the rule, most migrants who left family businesses behind struggle to achieve the quality of life their parents had back home. Living abroad is hard. And it’s new. Research shows that the combination delays business success and in the case of a family-owned enterprise, permanently disrupts the transfer of wealth.

3. Starting Too Late

If there is any truth to the two mistakes described above, the best time to start correcting them is as soon as you, a company owner, have children. While they shouldn’t be promised an easy ride, it’s a good idea to teach them to love and cherish the business they could inherit. One day, their appreciation may pay off if they choose to stay home to keep the chain alive. While you must not force them, their decision to continue what you began can do more than make you proud. It can build a solid foundation that serves generations to come.

How Your Organization Can Learn from Disruptions

If, like most leaders, you are struggling with the rude COVID-19 surprise, consider that this is just the beginning of a new normal. Some say there are other massive disruptions on the horizon. Perhaps one way to cope is to redefine what it means to be a learning organization.

Back in the early 1990’s I attended a training offered by Peter Senge’s company. He’s the author of The 5th Discipline – The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. The concept was a great one – organizations needed to focus on learning in order to adapt to changing times. 

However, that was before the advent of email or the internet. In today’s context, what we thought were “changing times” looks to be quaint.
For example, in the past few weeks, as a leader you have been forced to become competent in pandemic crisis management. Consequently, you can now define a number of brand new terms: social distancing, self-quarantine and “non-essential worker.”

Furthermore, your organization has picked up some fresh skills, albeit in bits-and-pieces: scheduling staff to minimize contact, limiting viral transmissions, enabling work from home and determining critical functions.

To fill these gaps, you have spoken with other executives, listened to the business news, used Google searches, and perhaps even hired subject matter experts. Unfortunately, for most companies, this has been a hit-or-miss affair. In other words, your organizational learning has taken place by “Buck-Up.”

Some CEO’s thrive on high-stress challenges such as this one. But most people don’t. Instead, they want a systematic way to develop the skills and knowledge needed to coast through any future disruption. How can your organization respond effectively to the next challenge?

1. Learn from the Covad-19 Learning Gaps

The best leaders noticed that their organization was caught in a situation where critical knowledge was missing. Even if it had a generic disaster recovery plan, the nature of this disruption defies ones anticipated by textbooks.

Instead, leaders realize that the company which can learn quickly, especially in a crisis, would be the one that has the advantage. Rather than being stalled, it would rapidly assess the threat. The gaps found would be converted into learning content to be disseminated within hours to those who need to use it: board, stockholders, executives, managers, workers, customers, suppliers, et al.

Unfortunately, too many companies rely on the fact that the CEO is a smart, capable person. While this is often true (especially in small organizations) it’s a mistake to equate individual learning with organizational learning. 
The latter is far more powerful and seeks to equip the entire company with capabilities which endure long past the tenure of any particular person.

2. Empower a New Learning and Development Specialist

It’s one thing to identify the need for this kind of rapid learning, but the question is: “Who should manage it?” Most companies have shed whatever training people they once had in prior budget cuts. Plus, the landscape has changed. Years ago, employees sat in three-day Microsoft Windows or Excel workshops. Today, the idea of sitting in a classroom to learn how to use an app is a joke.

The need for this kind of trainer has disappeared.

However, at the same time, the requirement for someone to take charge of organizational learning in challenging moments is evident. But this is not the same small skill-set trainers used to have. What kind of capabilities should this individual possess?

3. The New Learning Skills

Today, this person would be a kind of crisis-manager, but not one that addresses the issue directly. Instead, they would be concerned with uncovering the learning that’s required to solve the problem in the mid-term, so that it never recurs. As such, they’d require a blend of technical and change management skills, plus the ability to respond within days, if not hours. 

In addition, this person should also be a quality diagnostician, able to discern the true learning gaps inherent in novel challenges. In a flash, they can analyze new technologies, alliances, distribution networks, supply chains, government regulations and other kinds of unique threats and opportunities. Due to the importance of their work, they would behave more like entrepreneurs than bureaucrats. 

Finally,  they would also need to think of innovative ways to get people to learn. A CTO-friend of mine developed a practice of assigning brand new technologies to members of his team. Their job? To research the area and deliver a training program to his colleagues after a month or two of intense study. It was a low-tech solution to a very high-tech problem.

This is a simple example. But it reflects the out-of-the-box thinking a learning expert would have to do to prepare your organization for its next rude surprise.

Why Strategic Planning is a Team Sport

As an executive, you must make an annual decision about your organization’s strategic plan. Should the exercise be done as a team, hire outsiders to perform a study,  or simply fall back on the CEO’s thinking? While there are pros and cons to each approach, one generally yields the best fruit.
Once your company successfully grows to a certain point, it must consider the long-term impact of its actions, and make a choice. Does it continue to allow the founder to drive the decisions on each major course of action? After all, he/she is the most knowledgeable person, and the only one who has the full-time job of thinking strategically.
However, even though CEOs are generally smart people, there comes a stage when their brilliance, and this tactic, only gets them into trouble. They find themselves alone in implementing their strategies. No-one else takes the time to understand or invest themselves emotionally. Instead, they sit back and wait for the Boss Man/Lady to do all the big-picture thinking…as usual.
In a small company with a “Snow White” organizational structure (i.e. a single strong extrovert surrounded by introverts) this approach can work. However, an enterprise that must grow by hiring talented people will eventually run into trouble. High performers either refuse to join, or leave after a few months.
An alternate tactic is to invite in an outsider. A consulting firm willingly does all the interviews, data gathering, analysis and report writing. The result is a beautifully packaged set of strategy recommendations.
However, they have actually done their client a disservice.
By undertaking the intellectual labour themselves, they also undermine the emotional commitment. In other words, by the end of the project, they believe in their ideas more than anyone else, especially those who must implement them. Even those who originally had the ideas are sidelined as they become branded by Consulting Firm X.
But there is a third tactic. You could treat the development of the strategic plan as a team exercise, like a sport: an effort in which each person must play their part. However, there are several pitfalls to this approach that need to be avoided.

1. Impartial Facilitation
The best event to forge final decisions is a strategic planning retreat. Unfortunately, most are little more than one of two extremes: a place to air opinions of all kinds without making any commitments, or a presentation of pre-agreed decisions in which people are “encouraged“ to buy-in. Neither produces satisfying results.
Instead, the most effective retreats allow consensus to build from the bottom-up. In most cases, this is best facilitated by an outsider who allows contentious issues to be brought up in a civil way that helps your team make final, binding decisions.
These new points of agreement are the entire purpose of the activity – to craft ultimate, difficult choices that close the door on other alternatives.

2. Immediate Capture
The second pitfall is to think that a hearty discussion is sufficient. In a tiny company, this approach may work as it’s easy to share information.
However, in a larger organization, these agreements must be translated into projects or initiatives which lead to wide-spread behavior changes. To ensure that this happens, your team should document the new strategy immediately after it makes decisions.
In other words, the written substance of each strategy cannot wait to be captured until the next day. If the team waits even a few hours to translate their decisions into words, you may learn the hard way that strategic conversations have a ridiculously short shelf-life. As soon as they are explored and completed, their essence begins to fade once a new conversation commences. 
The only option is for you to capture these conclusions immediately, before everyone scatters to go home.
Unfortunately, this approach is rarely taken because people believe that a fancy Strategy Report is the true final product. It’s not: the decisions your team made are far more important.

3. Instant Ownership
The last pitfall you could make is to leave the retreat without proper ownership being assigned. Overall responsibility isn’t enough: key activities may still languish due to a lack of personal accountability. 
The solution is simple: assign sponsors to each of your new initiatives, even if they don’t possess subject matter expertise. Their sole job is to shepherd the project until a manager is assigned. In fact, they may only relinquish their sponsorship years after the planning event, but when they play their role well, it keeps the retreat’s momentum going.
Every sport has its peculiar conventions and practices. Avoid these pitfalls and you increase the odds that your team will win

Can Your Leaders Lead Without Personal Integrity?

   “All I have is my word.” Back in the day, this was a common saying among working professionals. For them, keeping one’s word was the only honorable, accepted thing to do. But times have changed: Is there a place for that sentiment in today’s Jamaica?

In 2020, many people have a contingent relationship to the promises they make. In other words, they will keep their commitments if the stars align in just the right way.

When they do, it’s because their feelings and circumstances are in the perfect place, and the gain far exceeds the cost. To summarize: the result is not really up to them, but a fortuitous confluence of external events. It provides them with a psychological back-door: a way to escape any future obligation.
Some people specialize in this kind of behaviour, even while seated at a boardroom table. But it’s human: we hate being trapped by promises we made in the past. Some refuse to make them altogether, explaining that compliance is up to God, not them.

While such behaviour is convenient to those giving their word, it wreaks havoc in the world around them. Here are two ways.

1. Reputational Risk

If you have ever been ghosted (i.e. stood up) by someone with a flimsy excuse, you probably made a decision. Perhaps you resolved never to trust him/her again.
However, if you are a habitual “flake”, you may be upset to hear what we won’t tell you: “If you can’t be trusted to satisfy simple obligations, then you certainly won’t be considered for others which are more substantial.” Also, while we may consent to meet with you again, we’ll be calling ahead to “confirm” (aka micromanage) the appointment.
But don’t relax. Whereas this trick may work for small matters, it fails for important commitments. Instead, we’ll just call someone else.
Unfortunately, you may never understand why you are no longer on our list of invitees, or why we don’t return your calls and email messages. Your inability to generate the willpower to keep your promises has resulted in lasting damage.

2. Organizational Weakness

Hire enough chronic promise-breakers into the same organization and you have the perfect recipe for bankruptcy.
Case in Point: A founder, known for honouring his word, dies and leaves the company to an unreliable sibling. The inheritor never understands the invisible glue of integrity that enabled the company to thrive. Consequently, promises are broken on a whim so customers, employees and other stakeholders start a steady exodus to better alternatives.It’s a lack of integrity writ large: a violation of the brand promise, employee compact, or shareholder trust. These are all unwritten expectations no company can break for long.
Arguably, the rise and fall of the quality of Digicel’s mobile service is such an example. When it entered the market in 2001, it delivered a striking, powerful salvation from C&W’s monopoly. But recently, the government reported a meeting with the company to complain, on behalf of consumers, about its poor service: a dramatic reversal for a favorite brand.
What can leaders of companies like Digicel do? They can undertake a return to workable standards on a personal, but public level. 
In an era in which the President of the United States freely reverses his stated commitments to people, precedent and principles alike, the world is short of those who lead by example. It appears that the practitioners of “situational integrity” are “winning.”
This has not gone unnoticed in Jamaican society, however. Organizations like the NIA and CAFFE are pushing to return our country to a simpler standard: a time when people did what they said they would, just because they said they would…especially when it’s hardest to do so.
But the key is not to merely be wary of making promises. The deeper challenge is to relate to one’s word as if it were as important as oneself: a reflection of character.
Unfortunately, when life is working as it should, the challenge seems to fade in importance.
For example, several local politicians have apologised for disparaging remarks made on the campaign trail about an opposition Member of Parliament. In essence they said: “Those comments are not a reflection of who I am.”
The irony is that Digicel and other organizational leaders could see their recent shortcomings as an opportunity to return themselves to who they really are. Jamaica yearns for this kind of leadership: the kind that willingly reveals itself when mistakes are made, at the moments when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable and unprofitable.
These opportunities demonstrate how to live old-fashioned principles in modern-day life and empower everyone of us to do the same.