Assertions & Assessments: What Comes After Your “Ass..”?

We all know language is key to leadership.  The subtleties, nuances, intonations, and gestures have profoundPortland Press Herald 3/26/14 effects on leaders’ credibility and on organizations’ success.  Yet, while we think about the customers of our products and services, many of us don't think as much about the ‘hearers’ (customers) of our words when it’s our own people.

When leaders mix up assessments and assertions, as described by Fernando Flores[1], it can be a huge problem.  An assessment is one’s own opinion or judgment.  Assessments are: “John is the best person for the job”; “Market X is better than all the others”; “A direct mail campaign is the only way to go.” These are opinions.  Assertions are facts; backed up with observable, verifiable evidence and they are either true or false.  Assertions are: “The door is open”; “Revenues are up over last year at this time”; “The price of copper is lower than it was last month.” 

How many leaders do you know (including yourself!) who state assessments as if they were assertions? Assessing comes naturally to us.  Think of the times you’ve told someone “Tomorrow will be better” or “Revenue is down because our sales people can’t sell!”  And we say this with total commitment and belief!  We claim our own opinion as fact. After all, isn’t our own experience and knowledge adequate? It’s verifiable to us, even if it may not factually be true (maybe revenue is down because manufacturing can’t deliver on time).

When we make assessments sound like assertions, we lose credibility.  Our people wonder:  “Why is that so?” “How does she or he know that?” “What made him or her draw that conclusion?” This is not to say assessments aren’t vital to success.  They are! Assessments are how we call our people to action and change. It is how we help our people understand the whys, hows and whens of what needs to happen for success.  That is fundamentally why assessments must be grounded in what is:

  • Relevant to the circumstances;
  • Sufficient for ‘hearers’ to clearly and specifically understand;
  • Truthful about what is and isn’t known for certain.   

Grounded assessments give our people a sense of urgency, a comfort that the level of risk/reward is acceptable and that while this may be hard, it must be done.

Assessing an assessment’s relevancy is easier than its sufficiency, since the latter is in the ‘ear of the hearer’.  This is where the ‘voice of the employee’ (think ‘voice of the customer’) comes into play.  We need to observe and listen to our people just as we do our customers so we understand the why/how/when they need to hear things to understand why action is required. We need to get out of our offices and walk the halls, walk the plant floors, eat in the cafeterias. We can start by watching how our people, peers, bosses use assertions and assessments.  Do they make their assessments sound like assertions? Are they grounded? Do they use assertions or is everything really an assessment guised as an assertion? 

Real leaders make both assertions and grounded assessments.  They don’t make their opinions facts.  They listen, learn, and understand what is needed to lead an organization. Their assertions are grounded in what is relevant, sufficient, known, unknown and discoverable and what is frankly unknowable in our world today.   Their language, clarity, authenticity and even vulnerability give them the credibility needed for people to listen, hear, believe in the direction and get exited about making it happen.

So, this week, this month, start observing yourself and those around you – and hone your skills in what comes after your “Ass…”.

(Note: thank you to my friend & client, Karl Driggs, for the recent discussions on this very topic)


[1] Former Chilean engineer, entrepreneur, cabinet minister of Salvador Allende and political prisoner.

 

An "A" Made it to #1

Whoa!! I can't believe it.  The Switch and Shift post "Are You Just a Leader or a Just Leader" beat the record for number of views, previously held by the wonderful Ted Coiné (and he's not even upset with me!).  I hope it makes a difference for you, your teams, your people... because the difference can be positively profound.  Thank you! 

"There are so many important traits in making a great leader – character, integrity, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, trustworthiness, conviction, vision, communication and others I’m sure you can name.  Let’s talk about communication.  It’s not just the right words in the right tone; grammar plays a role.  Where you place certain words has a big implication on what is important which impacts the culture. So let me ask you – are you Just a Leader or a Just Leader?"  read on...

Are You Just a Leader or a Just Leader?

A little 1 letter 'article' - "a" makes a huge huge difference - so what kind of leader are you??

"There are so many important traits in making a great leader – character, integrity, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, trustworthiness, conviction, vision, communication and others I’m sure you can name.  Let’s talk about communication.  It’s not just the right words in the right tone; grammar plays a role.  Where you place certain words has a big implication on what is important which impacts the culture.  So let me ask you – are you Just a Leader or a Just Leader?"  read on...

Collaboration for the Long Term

I'm re-posting from the archives because the issue of real, authentic collaboration has been coming up a few times a lot lately, especially in light of the Vulnerability & Trust Leadership Paradox radio showJohn Hagel, Saul Kaplan and Mike Waite did with me a few weeks ago.  Menasha Packaging has a legacy of integrity and authenticity - going back 164 years. These posts demonstrate their commitment to team work, collaboration and how they value their people.... read on, re-read on and listen and learn - so many gems of wisdom in here.

Sustaining Collaboration for Decades: Part I
Sustaining Collaboration for Decades: Part II 

Sustaining Collaboration - Part II: The Journey Continues

In Part I of how Menasha Packaging started a culture of collaboration back in the early 1990’s, Jeff discussed the need forcollaboration on the plant floor and how the training and cultural process developed, including the first year of formal training.  We know continue with the 2nd year.

Jeff: The second year focused on applying basic manufacturing principles to each person’s workstation.  Workflow systems and processes were changed.  Additionally, machine-centered teams from the first year became cross-functional, focused at a higher level.  The teams initiated this themselves, without being asked to do so.  Each team had to provide quarterly reports to the Steering Committee on their progress.

The Steering Committee members rotated annually, with the exception of the GM and Union President.  People actually started asking to be on the committee, some because of a passion for collaboration and some to derail the process.  Both types were included and after a while, the naysayers saw the benefits of the approach and helped bring other naysayers along! In fact, one person who refused to participate in the first year was eagerly involved by the 3rd year, even engaging those who were still skeptical and challenging to become part of the process.

DMS: Was there a significant aspect of this process that had the biggest impact?

Jeff: I can’t stress how important creating personal relationships were to changing the culture. When a project was completed, the Steering Committee took the team out to dinner.  After each training session, everyone went out to celebrate, eat and socialize.  Getting to know each other as individuals instead of “management” or “labor” increased trust, which increased collaboration.  In fact, for the first time, management was invited to personal employee celebrations, like birthday parties!  What surprised employees the most was that management actually showed up, that management cared enough about them to come to their party.  This made a huge positive difference. 

DMS: So, it’s 15-20 years later, how has the culture evolved since then? For instance, it seems that using HR in a unique way, as Jerry and you did, is still part of the culture.

Jeff: Today, team involvement and collaboration are simply the way things are done.  It is less formal than in the 1990’s because it has become integral to the culture.  Lean teams are everywhere.  Lean has even played a significant part in creating our innovation mindset.  Collaboration had become the norm; it was no longer unique, which is what we hoped would happen.  Today’s culture is terrific, everyone is on the same page and the union-management relationship is very strong.

DMS: So, as you look back, why did you do it this way?

Jeff:  Well, when Jerry had asked me to help, we knew teamwork was a core value for MPC.  It was obvious to us that collaboration was the best way to work – for culture and performance.  At the core, both management and the union leadership had the same value system.  We knew what we wanted life to be like at the plant, to empower employees, to let their voices be heard.  So, we created a path to get there.  We also knew that patience was going to be a critical virtue.  The employees would think this was a fad.  We had to prove this was real, it was for the long-term and we weren’t trying to break the unions.  Jerry and the union president’s commitment were paramount.  And, as I said before, developing personal relationships was vital.  The dinners, celebrations, recognitions, parties, even just hanging out together proved our credibility and authenticity.  It took time, but it changed, and we’ve been able to sustain it.

Sustaining Collaboration for Decades

Menasha Packaging Corp. (MPC) transformed its culture from a staid, old-line traditional industrial one into a 21st Century innovation and collaboration one.  To some this may seem a dramatic change, but if you know anything about MPC, it all stems from its core values, sustained over 163 years and 7 generations.

I recently chatted with Jeff Krepline, Executive Director of Retail Integration Institute and National Sales at MPC.  Jeff shared a fascinating story of how, starting in 1993, MPC had recognized and embraced collaboration as significant to success.  While this may be an ‘old’ story (it’s almost 20 years old), it demonstrates the importance of sticking to your values and mission, through thick and thin.  The continuity and stability of MPC’s core values is a bulwark against market, industry and global cycles.

DMS: Jeff, why did the Neenah, WI complex’s management to ask you in to help?

Jeff:  The culture was good, but there was an ‘us v them’ tone in the complex, a union versus management mentality; nothing that would warrant a strike, but still not very collaborative.  The lack of collaboration meant less teamwork that stifled growth.  Neenah had just had some arbitration cases that caused division even within the union.   Neenah’s General Manager (GM), Jerry Hessel, knew that team-based manufacturing improved performance, so he felt he had to do something.  Jerry asked to help him.  I had recentlygraduated from college was new to MPC in corporate HR.   I proposed a 3-year training plan to improve the culture, starting with the basics: getting people on the floor to share ideas with people in the office.

We created a steering committee that made all the decisions on training for this initiative. The steering committee consisted of the GM and 2 floor management leaders (e.g., area manager, shift leader) and the union president along with 1 union officers and someone from the floor.  At the time, this was a very new concept.  The team met monthly and always went through the actual training that employees would go through.  Union leadership couldn’t say they didn’t know what was going on.  Despite the fact that management had training requirements in the union contract, one of the first employee groups refused to participate claiming the training wasn’t in the union handbook and the time of day for training conflicted with handbook rules.  To say the first year was a struggle and tense with the rank and file is an understatement.  Many employees hadn’t been in a classroom since high school and needed basic training in Business 101.

DMS: How did you structure the training, because this a rather radical approach?

Jeff:  I leveraged the concept of continuous improvement to structure training around specific work centers or machines instead of traditional cross-functional teams.  This made the training more natural, more like the actual work.  The teams were asked to reflect on the basics of how they worked and functioned, as well as on the direction of the company and the desired future they wanted to see.  Training was based on providing tools for ‘work’, like Lean (e.g., 5 Why’s). The teams reported to Union and Management leadership on what they felt and thought about their project, what they learned, the current state, the future desired state and finished by asking for approval to actually do the project.  We wanted the employees to have a safe environment to have their voices heard.

DMS: How did the 3-year plan evolve?

Jeff: The first year we focused on ‘low-hanging fruit’ – basic projects like tool cabinet organization, tool cleaning etc.  This empowered teams to improve their day-to-day life at work. We wanted to link business performance to the job on the floor.  We started with a very nice “Business Connection Dinner” between management and union leadership with their spouses early in the year.  Management reviewed the past year, discussed the upcoming year and personally thanked the spouses and significant others for the over-time their partners had given to the company and the difference it had made.   This helped them make the connection between business performance to the job on the floor to the sacrifices at home.  Employees and their spouses could ask questions about concerns and company direction.  To stress how much we cared about all employees, the invitations to dinner were addressed to them and their spouses and mailed to their homes. At dinner, recognition was given to top teams and Steering Committee members coming on/going off.  We also gave out prizes for various achievements.

To Be Continued...Part II:  Continuing the Journey 1994 - Today

Connect-Inspire-Transform Well Lived

BIF’s motto is Connect-Inspire-Transform.  That’s exactly what happens at the magical BIF conferences.  We hearChristine Costello, Eli Stefanski, Katherine Hypolite, Chris Flanagan, Tori Drew incredible stories, have profound conversations, eat and drink (even al fresco!), and have Wi-Fi.  What more could we need?

Connect-Inspire-Transform is also what it takes to make the magic happen.  Oh, along with some collaboration and leadership, which define the smiling faces of BIF team: Tori Drew, Chris Flanagan, Katherine Hypolite, Eli Stefanski, Christine Costello, Jeff Drury, James Hamar, Sam Kowalczyk, and Saul Kaplan.  At BIF-7, these folks are so welcoming, smiling and make it all seem so simple.  And perhaps at some level it is simple, but it’s definitely not easy. 

The BIF team is authentic.  They truly live and breathe their mission – it’s not just a saying or a goal, it’s a way of life; it’s how they work.  There are many moments of more perspiration than inspiration, of last second changes.  BIF’s core values remain constant throughout.  That’s part of the paradox of innovation – the need for the stability of core values and beliefs to transform our world for the better.  Having been privileged to sit in for a brief moment of rest and nourishment with Olga’s fabulous tarts (and #innopies) before BIF-7, the passionate kaleidoscope of laughter, frustration, triple checking, sighs, and smiles was palpable, and powerful.

One example stands out.  BIF was live streaming.  My friend and client, Matt Hlavin of Thogus was at BIF (along with a bunch of “Clevelanders” who were nagged into going to BIF, gratefully).  During Angela Blanchard’s story, Matt’s right-hand, Lisa Lehman, watching it live in Avon Lake, OH, texted Matt that Angela didn’t have the ‘clicker’ in her hand seconds before Angela looked for the clicker!  Someone watching in real time, 650 miles Tori's "Magic" Shoesaway, was so engaged that she noticed such a detail!  And the next book for the Thogus leadership team’s “group” read is John Hagel’s Power of Pull along with Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation.  That is the power of BIF – connecting people all over the world and inspiring them so they transform their worlds, miles and time zones away.  Next year, when you’re at BIF, remember that – and thank one of those BIF team smiling faces.

175 Years of Innovation Lessons

Suffice it to say I was honored my friend Chris Thoen would agree to talk about P&G’s Open Innovation history at the 3rd Open Innovation (OI) Summit at BW’s Center for Innovation & GrowthPractical Challenges of Global Open Innovation.  Chris has been interviewed, quoted, written about extensively as a leader in OI, and for good reason.

He opened with P&G’s 175yr old history OI.  Two brother-in-laws, William Procter (candle maker) and James Gamble (soap maker), using the same raw material, fats, were encouraged by their father-in-law to collaborate to get better ‘fat’ pricing! This was the start of P&G in 1837.  They grew the company with their own innovations and through (un-named at the time) open innovation with other technology makers and companies.  These partnerships were the foundation of P&G’s growth into 300 brands in over 180 countries, 24 billion dollar brands and most importantly, one of the most trusted names in the world.

About 10 years ago, CEO A. G. Lafley transformed P&G’s open innovation heritage into a key cultural component of the company –Connect+Develop (C+D).   This wasn’t just a way to come up with new products, but a fundamentally new way to do business.  Lafley challenged P&G to source at least 50% of their innovation from outside its hallowed R&D halls.

Chris clearly described OI as an ongoing journey requiring recognition and investment in top talent and external synergies.  When done well, OI is all about value creation for both partners, with both sets of interests in mind.  It’s about sharing your expertise and strategic needs of your brands, businesses, even corporately.  To do this, P&G has developed and put 70+ C+D leaders around the globe with 11 regional hubs (e.g., NA, LA, Europe, Israel, China, India, Japan), 100s of networks and academic partnerships.

Several products you may know are a result of OI: Swiffer, Tide, Mr. Clean eraser (1 of my faves).   Clorox’s Glad ForceFlexproduct is based on a P&G licensed technology.  Sometimes, you can even collaborate with your competitors! P&G’s technology and IP have created $3B in sales for their OI partners.

So what has P&G learned on this 10+ year journey?

  1. Drive from the Top:  Without Lafley’s challenge, commitment and leadership as CEO, it couldn’t have taken hold corporate-wide.
  2. Build an OI culture: You have to support and learn from failure, communicate openly (and often) to build trust, help your people understand the innovation process and consistently reward partnerships and results, not just patents.
  3. Focus the Hunt: Keep your eyes on the strategy at all times!  It’s what guides you; build internal relationships by sharing needs and goals; manage leadership’s expectations for reality, not for fantasy; create and communicate clear innovation selection and filtering criteria.
  4. Be Where the Action Is: get out of Cincinnati (or wherever)! You need to be where the innovation is happening and the markets exist – like developing markets, areas of VC activity, Social Media, SMEs, Academia/Universities and places with diverse expertise, cultures, ideas.
  5. Build Efficient and Effective Knowledge Management Systems: Track connections among your own people, capturing their knowledge and experience partnership nuances, deals so they are not repeated, saving time and money.  Include your partners, networks, and competitors while protecting your IP and create a way to visualize and analyze these intertwined relationships.
  6. Obey the Law of the Land: Take what you need, only what you need, and leave the rest.  Share what you’re not using because it may find a great application in another home
  7. Staff for Success: Hire and train a unique blend of Hunter-Gatherer.  This is not a typical person, but you may already have them – people who have expertise in a technology with business acumen with the ability to develop relationships, influence people, inside and outside your company.  Deliberately hire for this.  And, keep investing in R&D – doing OI doesn’t mean closing down your own R&D.
  8. Be the Partner You’re Looking For: The Golden Rule!  Celebrate your partners, look beyond the first deal with them, facilitate more connections for you and them, keep that Win:Win mindset front and center and be transparent because a second (third, fourth…) deal with the same partner takes about half the time while creating twice the value.  Remember, strong partners make you stronger as well.

Bottom line? P&G has created more value together with their OI partners than they ever could have alone.  It is a real ecosystem that creates value on a global scale to accomplish P&G’s mission: “…improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”

Ok, so maybe you’re not P&G, but you can still start the journey.   What do you need? What do you have to offer? Who could you partner with? Just start small, doesn’t have to be huge, just a step.  Give it a try.

Currency of 21st C? Connections!

Sitting behind me at BIF-6 last September was a nice, unassuming guy. We struck up a conversation. As a result, a wonderful friendship developed (which is easy to do at BIF).

This guy was Michael Lee Stallard. Three years ago, Michael wrote a very important book underscoring this very point, Fired Up or Burned Out. It was inspired from his own career experiences on Wall Street and Texas Instruments.

Michael’s point is that companies need to help their people achieve their potential if the company is to grow. The way to do this, while most call it ‘engagement,’ is by really truly connecting with your people and getting them to connect with each other. It’s not the formality of cross-functional meetings; it’s the depth of understanding and really connecting at a personal, even one-to-one level with your people.

Many companies go through various routines, some genuine, some perfunctory, to connect – town hall meetings, newsletters, videos, intranet discussion groups, picnics, etc. These are important ways to share information and help employees feel included.

But if there isn’t a real personal connection at some level, in some way, they can easily ring a bit hollow. This can be very threatening and confusing – it means making yourself vulnerable to those who work for you – but perhaps you really work for them!

In Michael’s book you learn how to start “connecting” with examples of how others have done it right, and wrong. He provides questions to ask yourself and others to get a feel for where you are and a roadmap for creating real genuine connections in your organization…ones that can make a big difference.

Interestingly, three years later, we are seeing this theme gaining traction and recognition. At the 2nd Annual Open InnovationSummit in Chicago, connections – relationships – trust was key to success.  At BIF-6, connections – relationships – trust was key to success (Saul Kaplan uses the term “connected adjacencies”).

Steve Denning’s new book, Radical Management, stresses the importance of connections – relationships – trust.  So does JohnHagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison in the Power of Pull.

In my professional life, it is the connections – relationships – trust that have gotten me to where I am (which is a good place) more than the achievements (patents, papers, etc.).  I had tremendous mentors at Bell Labs and AT&T, great clients who challenge me and wonderful colleagues who stretch and teach me.

This holds true in my personal life as well, with incredible parents, family and friends. The adage – it is all in who you know is really about how you know them as well. Read Michael’s book – it’s very worthwhile and worthy of your time. It can make a big difference for you personally and professionally…in fact, read it with your people!