Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Securing your legacy

What’s your exit strategy?



Are you talkin’ to me??”

If you are about to jump ship or you're plotting to move your career elsewhere in the next 3 to 5 years, then I’m talking to you. Here is a serious question that you should be consistently considering:

How will your leadership be regarded after you have left this job and hit the high road?

In considering your leadership legacy and beginning to work on an exit strategy, you need to be concerned with three things: your ideas, your initiatives, and your people.

I’m sure you’ve had some great ideas and maybe even implemented several of them, but will they persist after you’ve gone? Will your initiatives and the people on your team shine when you are not there to mentor them anymore? What is your legacy going to be once you are no longer there? Next are three things to think about in building that better legacy.

Every leader has the responsibility to come up with creative problem solving ideas that are supposed to keep things running smoothly, trim expenses, and generate income. Some positions require a lot more ideas than others. Some workplace environments are more conducive to change, while others are more reluctant to the concept of implementing “new & improved” ideas. As a leader, your ideas matter. Let’s take a look at the ones you have already created. Are these ideas sticking around after you’re not pushing them anymore?

Are these ideas dependent upon you or did you build them with longevity and a legacy in mind? A great leadership legacy has tried and true ideas that stand the test of time.

Structuring change so that a smooth implementation is engineered with collaboration and buy-in from all quarters involved is key to a successful roll-out. Just like with any strong structure that is built to last, it is also foundational to the long term success of your project after you’ve moved on that its implementation was embraced. Perhaps you wrote the product launch procedure, you developed the new marketing communication program, or you’ve created the strategy for increased client sales.

How are you rolling it out to the team and to the company such that it is effectively communicated and designed for all involved? Who else was involved in it’s development?

How much are you involved day to day and what happens when you go on vacation? A great leadership legacy is built with plans that roll out smoothly so that foundations are built with strength and durability.

It’s inevitable that some on your team will require more hand holding than others. What about those whose goal is to take over your job? Are you afraid of that occurrence and are trying to thwart their efforts? Or are you grooming them for the future with confidence and poise? If you have in mind securing a great leadership legacy, you will be asking yourself compelling questions that allow you the freedom to leave gracefully.

Ask yourself: “How am I helping the right person achieve eventual success in my current position?” And.. “Who is next in line to take over my position and responsibilities when I have moved on?

Preparing your team through training and mentoring in addition to providing critical information is key to setting them up for success when you’re gone. I’ve found that allowing those working for you to spin and toil on their own problems a little while and allowing them to come up with their own solutions helps them grow more quickly than if I had stepped in to intervene immediately. Similarly I try to bring in others on big initiatives to help them learn the process of development.

Some of us truly are indispensable and control information critical for our position. How are you making this available and easy to understand for the one who follows you?

The mark of a great leader is the legacy one leaves behind.

How your company survives and recovers from your absence is a tribute to your leadership.

Are you setting up your company for success in the long term? What is your exit strategy?

Will the company remain strong and not falter upon your departure?

Article originally published by me on the Linked 2 Leadership blog, June25, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Starting a new gig

A list. A 9 point action list.

I have some friends starting new opportunities soon and it got me thinking about how their company will survive their leaving. It got me thinking about how to gracefully leave an organization and even how to successfully leave a position within an organization. I did a quick search to find some do-s and don’t-s, but it really goes deeper than this. I decided to write this post. I’ll expand more next week, but for now, a list:

  1. Be transparent. Ensure that your boss and your team understand what it takes to do your job.

  1. Record justification. For every project and initiative, there is strong justification for decisions made throughout its development. What are they? Filling in others and recording for future reference will ensure that others understand ‘the why’ of decisions. This will make it easier for the team to support and to carry plans forward when you’re not involved anymore. Your project could be a fundraising strategy with a particular company, a manufacturing process, or a specific product design. Ask me about the life of a thin-wall plastic product I designed and why recording was so important.

  1. Train your team. Consider how well your team does their individual jobs. Conduct formal in-house training that will make them perform even better. You have a lot to share from your years of experience. Not sure where to start? Work with a consultant who can customize and develop training with you.

  1. Define your strategy. It’s probably a good one so why not share it? This will enable your boss and your team to do two things: a. carry it forward in your absence, and b. improve upon it.

  1. Perform a thorough review of your role. Define what you do and what your replacement should expect as their duties. Identify gaps in your position and the organization to help drive improvement after you’ve moved on. This is not a criticizing letter, but a bulleted list.

This organization’s future success can also be yours.

  1. List assets to your position and how they help or hinder you. Do you really need three computers? That blackberry? Better managing database software? You might also have several marketing pieces, prototypes, or other inventory you control. Passing this list on to your team and replacement will help them save money and continue critical customer support.

  1. Develop a schedule for implementation. We all have ongoing projects and it’s likely you’re leaving in the middle of one. Finish what you can and put in the works details that will ‘run’ during your departure. The idea is to allow for seamless transfer to your replacement. This is not the time to let your customer or donor down. Successful transfer can only reflect well on both of you.

  1. Open your books. Reorganize if necessary. You may hold sensitive and critical information for the operation of your company. Ensure this information is gathered in one place, is easy to interpret, as well as easily found. What kind of information you ask? Things like:

    1. current customer lists – contact names, products they buy from you, products they buy from competitors, what they like to order for lunch, how they take their coffee, where they spend their holidays. Information should include special strategies with them and details from your last meetings.
    2. Show budget information including when you spent money, when your group was reimbursed. Provide details on how you plan for your department/company.
    3. If you work for a nonprofit, be sure to include volunteer information (and not just names!), donor schedules, cashflow timing, donor in the works information and the like.
    4. For your projects, clean up your to-do action lists and ensure those responsible understand they get no slack during the leadership transition.

  1. Communicate. Everyone will miss you whether they like you or not. Close the loop gracefully informing all in appropriate positive ways whom their future contact will be. For customers, work hard to introduce personally your new replacement. For suppliers, work hard to introduce your new replacement. For colleagues, work hard to introduce your new replacement. These face to face meetings show a strong level of professionalism and can only bode well for your future and that of your ‘old’ organization.

What would you add to this list if it was your boss leaving?

What would you add to this list if one of your teammates was leaving?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Training in quality


There used to be a notion back in my early days of manufacturing that you could inspect quality into your parts. There was always an inspector or two at each line and if a problem got through to a customer, there was added a third. It seems crazy now of course, though this practice is still used quite often.

So we’ve learned over the years that you can’t inspect quality into parts. This begs the next question:

Can you train in quality?

This is sort of a trick question.

While you certainly can't inspect quality into your products, training your team to take proactive steps towards planning for better quality will result in high quality for the long term of your business.

Higher quality = happy customers = future business.

So, can you train in quality? Actually, yes
WE can. Empowering and educating your team to design quality into your products and processes will avoid big issues down the road.

Understanding how the product will be used, abused, and manufactured will provide decision points where careful analysis and action will be required to ensure quality. Many would call this: Advanced Product Quality Planning.

Of course, we’re still human, right? Problems still arise in even the tightest run ships. Luckily disciplined problem solving is also trainable.

Can quality be trained into your parts?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The problem with training:

Good Intentions.

I was flying recently and while listening to the flight attendant talk about how to use the oxygen masks it got me thinking about training. There is no actual hands-on training for a flight crash situation for us lay people. The attendant doesn't give us all the information either - like the fact of not getting your own oxygen mask on quickly is imperative in a loss of pressure situation as otherwise you'll be unconscious in 15 seconds.

That's good information, yes?

Akin to reading leadership and self help books, it's all good information but there are no hands on practice. Overcoming bad habits and learning new methods is possible with workshop and accountability based training.

Reading books on leadership, problem solving, strategic planning, software development, time management and while this list really could go on and on as you know the point is, reading books for purpose of development is –and how can I say this politely: “nice”.

Reading books as a group allows for some camaraderie and spontaneous discussion. Reading books is self affirming as often you read about ideas that you currently execute. Reading books is helpful as they give you ideas on how to improve and the methods in how to apply them. Reading books can only take you so far.

The same goes for attending a live training class. Training classes are great for two reasons. First, training exists for most major job skills. Second, it’s pretty easy to send someone to training. Because skills are taught by an ‘outside’ person, one can be vulnerable and ask questions without fear of looking bad in front of their supervisor. As an aside, this is also why I don’t advocate joining your team in the training unless it truly is something new to all of you.

The intention is a good one: you recommend books and send your colleagues to training so that they will better themselves and better the company.

But, what happens after the training?

  • What gets implemented?
  • What new is executed?
  • How much better is that person at their job?
  • How will they react in a critical moment?

We all go to work wanting to do a good job. We all want to be the dynamic leader we read about. We all want to be the fast problem solver and the most effective salesmen.

Q: But how?

A: Hands on practice, follow up and accountability over time.

Frankly if you as a manager don’t ask what was implemented from new learning or if you don’t ask to see details illustrating that a better method was employed, why should that employee change?

What do you do to encourage higher margins, permanent root cause problem solving, and effective leadership to those on your team?

Image credit: Daniel Iggers. See more pictures by him here:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sustainability in Leadership

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability of the planet, our energy sources, our households, our offices, and our products, but what about the sustainability of our leaders? What about the sustainability of your leadership?

What is your environmental impact on others?

Our words and actions are powerful in how others respond to us and how they perform their work. As a leader you are responsible for motivating your teams and moving your business in a positive direction.

The cost of uninspiring leaders is hard to measure as external factors are easy to point to as possible root causes to long launch cycles, lack-luster ideas, high PPM, low moral, and head butting between groups. As humans we’re wired to want to do good work and to be successful. Our personal pride runs deeper than any corporate directive. Consider how productive one might be however if your leadership combined with the corporate directive aligned with the personal motives of your team.

Just for kicks, let’s compare our needs and goals relative to plants:



Grow and get bigger

We want to grow, improve, succeed

Need sunlight

Want to prosper,

Be seen as successful,

Want to shine

Need water

Need encouragement

Need feedback

Garner respect

Need to be empowered

Need support

Work better in teams

Need a leader’s protection

Need fertilizer

Need training

Want to learn new skills

Sometimes need guidance

Like plants our needs are simple and just like plants we can still find a way to exist without enough water, sunlight, and support; the result is similar: smaller yield, less stunning product, lower functioning, and more issues.

How are you nurturing the environment around you?

We give water to our teams by providing encouragement and feedback in a way to help them do better in the future. We support by matching our employee’s skills to the task and partner complimenting skill sets. Through empowering others and setting them up to succeed, we also enable personal responsibility and ownership to succeed.

We support our teams by running interference between them and upper management, justifying work loads, timing needs, and effort to protect them from unneeded stress. I once took the heat for a two day delay in a program because an experienced and highly respected designer made a simple mistake causing a week’s worth of effort to be trashed and all designs to require rework. We were lucky in that the mistake was caught by the team. The designer knew the stakes were high and volunteered to work overtime squeezing seven days lost into two. Did my upper leadership need to know the name of this individual and their oversight or could the team (namely me) take the hit?

By protecting this individual, his reputation was not tarnished, his personal stress level did not rise from leadership pressure, and the team felt empowered by catching and readily fixing the issue. At the end all that was remembered was how well our team performed because our product launched successfully first pass.

What is your leadership story?

How did you nurture your team today?

Originally posted by me on http://linked2leadership.com/2009/05/10/sustainability-in-leadership/ May 10th, 2009.