James D. Murphy
Monday, March 12, 2012
Do you know how to provide collaborative leadership in a disciplined fashion? And how does one define disciplined collaboration? The current business and leadership literature touts the importance of collaborating in our turbulent world. Large and small businesses and teams struggle to wrap their heads around just what collaboration is. Many see collaboration or collaborative leadership as a challenge that can be met through technology, whether it is through social media or virtual conferencing, while others recognize the benefits of restructuring an office space so that it appears more open. However, technology and physical space are only superficial means to address the challenge of disciplined collaboration. Collaboration - and successful collaborative leadership - does not derive from "where" or through "which" media people interact. Instead, it is about "how" people interact. And that "how" must be disciplined.
Disciplined collaboration holds a central place in Jim Collins' latest work, "Great by Choice." "Great by Choice" is the result of a grand research project that seeks to discover how some companies have continued to thrive in spite of uncertainty, chaos, and luck - good or bad. It's a centrally-important issue in our turbulent world, where change is so rapid and unpredictable. Collaborative leadership has been cited as a vital skill that teams and companies must use in order to constantly create, innovate and adapt to change. Innovation is often seen as the fruit of collaboration; however, this is a dangerously limited perspective. Collaboration is much more valuable than a means to achieve innovation. Disciplined collaboration is an invaluable process that teams can utilize to successfully innovate, solve problems, make decisions, plan and execute.
Above all, disciplined collaboration is a creative planning and decision-making process. In "Great by Choice," Collins defines discipline as "consistency of action." For teams and companies, Collins' definition implies that collaboration and collaborative leadership processes be consistent. "The great task, rarely achieved," Collins writes, "is to blend creative intensity with relentless discipline so as to amplify the creativity rather than destroy it." He goes on to point out that "the signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency." That inconsistency begins in the planning and decision-making process. And in a world of complex challenges that are best met by teams rather than individuals, that consistency requires a disciplined collaboration process.
Dynamism and Iteration
A disciplined collaborative planning process requires certain elements. Altogether, there are many elements in a planning process; however, some of the elements most successfully impact an effective collaborative leadership process -- these are the elements that allow the process to be dynamic, iterative, participatory and cognitively diverse.
"Dynamic" refers to the adaptability of the planning processes product -- the plan. Change happens; therefore, you shouldn't collaborate on a plan only to find that the plan needs to change without a clear process of making those adaptations.
The process for disciplined collaboration and collaborative leadership should also be iterative. Iteration is similar to dynamism, but is not the same. Iteration is the plan improvement process within the overall planning process, while dynamism refers to the adaptation of the plan after it is executed. Iteration occurs during planning, while dynamic adaptation occurs during the execution of the plan. Teams that collaborate during planning, and those who utilize collaborative leadership, will iterate the plan before its execution, enabling those individuals to more effectively execute and adapt those plans.
Nominal Group Aggregation
Of course, disciplined collaboration requires participation by more than one individual - this is what makes collaborative leadership so challenging. How do a group of individuals come together to produce a plan or make a decision? Fundamentally, it requires a collaborative leadership process for generating ideas at the individual or very small group level (2-5 persons), and then combining and vetting these ideas at a larger group level (5-15 people). This process is called nominal group aggregation.
Nominal group aggregation is a delicate process because everyone has their own ideas - some better than others. In collaborative groups, some individuals voice their ideas forcefully, while others hold back on valuable insight, fearing they won't be heard or appreciated. However, successful collaborative leadership techniques can overcome such obstacles, and these techniques must be part of a disciplined collaborative process. Disciplined collaboration is not about achieving consensus; instead, it is about producing the best plan to achieve the objective. Consensus can lead in any direction, while disciplined collaboration yields a plan that leads in the right direction.
Cognitive Diversity and Simplicity
Finding the correct direction to proceed requires another element of the collaborative planning process: cognitive diversity. Collaborative leadership will not be successful if you are collaborating with a team of individuals that think alike, have similar backgrounds and experience, occupy the same hierarchical positions, and so forth. Creativity and innovation require divergent thinking and dialogue. Therefore, disciplined collaboration must adhere to a process that harnesses cognitive diversity. Utilize your collaborative leadership skills to incorporate a balanced mixture of experience, knowledge and positions for the collaborative process. Consider that two heads are actually not more valuable than one if both heads think alike and see the world in the same way. For example, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail - so make sure that you have a complete toolbox when planning collaboratively.
There is one additional important element. The process must be simple. To collaborate effectively and efficiently, people need a simple process. If a team has to spend time organizing and training about how they are going to collaborate and then struggle to become proficient at that process, then efficiency and effectiveness suffer. Collaborative leadership entails using a process that is simple to learn and apply, consistently applying that process throughout the organization. Disciplined collaboration will become a widely-practiced behavior; and that behavior will ultimately become a healthy collaborative culture.
Achieve Collaboration through Discipline
Disciplined collaboration yields more than a plan or decision; it engages the team to execute successfully. Disciplined collaboration is the first step in achieving success as a team. Humans like to be autonomous, to have the freedom to solve problems and perform tasks on their own and in their own way. However, our complex, turbulent world requires collaboration in order to create, innovate and succeed. Humans also need to be connected to each other, to be a valuable part of a larger whole. Disciplined collaboration is the key to satisfying these often conflicting needs in modern organizations. On one hand, collaborative leadership provides each individual with the opportunity to contribute their own insights and then, once a final plan is created, to go forth and execute in their own semi-autonomous way. On the other hand, what each individual executes becomes a well-coordinated part of the overall objective. However, to fulfill these basic human needs, the team must always achieve collaboration through a disciplined process.
About the Author
James D. Murphy, the founder and CEO of Afterburner, Inc., has a unique, powerful mix of leadership skills in both the military and business worlds. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, Murphy joined the U.S. Air Force, where he learned to fly the F-15. He has logged over 1,200 hours as an instructor pilot in the F-15 and has accumulated over 3,200 hours of flight time in other high-performance jet aircraft. Murphy, Afterburner's leadership keynote speaker, has helped top business leaders transform strategy into action, demonstrating the concepts of the Flawless Execution(SM) model. Afterburner's Embed solution is a strategic staffing service that teaches the Flawless Execution(SM) model to elite transitioning military professionals and places them with its Global 2000 clients. For more information on Afterburner, Inc., please call 877-765-5607 or visit www.afterburnerplacement.com.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Do you know what your business's core competencies are? Is there just one or are there many organizational attributes? If you answered that there are many, how would you describe them succinctly? Core competencies are one or a combination of a few unique or rare abilities; however, a description of core competencies is not simply a laundry list of various organizational attributes. It seems like a simple task, but naming your core competencies can be very difficult. This is because we, as business leaders or managers, get caught up in the tactical day-to-day tasks that we accomplish and we often mistake those tasks as our core competencies.
Years ago, when I walked to the flight line to take my first solo flight in an F-15 fighter, I was struck by an all-encompassing passion that has driven me and everyone on my team to achieve success. That passion was to define and teach the basic principles that helped me, a farm-boy from Kentucky, become one of a very few elite U.S. Air Force fighter pilots. Every individual on my team shares that passion, whether they are a fighter pilot, a U.S. Navy SEAL, a U.S. Army Ranger, Delta Force, or Special Forces operator, or one of many other classes of elite military professionals. We've built a great company. But we've done that with a clear understanding of our core competencies and organizational attributes that have guided us for years.
Defining Your Core Competencies: Examining Your Complex Organizational Attributes
Often, your true core competencies are elusive and hard to pin down, which makes defining your core competencies difficult, even when examining your organizational attributes. However, it is my belief that an expression of your true core competencies can be articulated both simply and elegantly.
Expressing core competencies is about getting to the root cause of why you do what you do and what makes you successful. A core competency is not a mission or vision statement; nor is it a statement of competitive advantage. It is not a statement of the level of quality of the products you manufacture or of the services you provide. A core competency is something more fundamental. It is both a root cause of success and an expression of the organization's unique character or reason for being. A simple and elegantly expressed core competency is a summary of what is most likely a set of complex organizational attributes.
Proof of the complexity of a core competency can be found in the way scholars in the field of business management and leadership have defined the term. In their 1990 Harvard Business Review article entitled "The Core Competence of the Corporation," C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel assert that an organization's core competencies can be attributed to success in a wide variety of markets, increase the perceived value to the customer, and prevent imitation by competitors. The authors conclude that these benefits are due to a "complex harmonization" of organizational attributes, creating core competencies.
How Passion Contributes to Core Competencies
Jim Collins famously characterized core competencies as "hedgehog" traits in his book "Good to Great." Instead of describing core competencies in terms of benefits, Collins describes them in terms of three dimensions - what you can be best in the world at; what drives your economic engine; and what you are deeply passionate about. Although each is important, it is often the last "dimension" that is left out of an organization's description of its organizational attributes. What you are passionate about is a core competency -- it's the fire in your belly that drives you to do every day what must be done. Without that passion, descriptions of core competencies are simply statements of what you do well, and do not include what you love. Describing the passion that drives your organization is essential to cutting through the complexity and getting to the simple and elegant truth of the organization's identity.
The science of physics provides an excellent example of simplicity and elegance. Physicists are often driven to refine their theories until they achieve an "elegant" formula. Physics is an elegant science because it seeks to find the fundamental laws of the universe. For this reason, physicists call these laws "elegant" because they are, in essence, both simple and effective.
For example, consider the famous formula E=mc2. This formula simply states that energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. This simple formulation was one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the past century - and it is expressed in just five symbols. Pick up any high school physics textbook and you'll find a host of simple equations that explain almost any phenomenon we encounter in the course of our everyday lives. That simple but powerful formulation is what physicists mean by "elegant."
It is essential to include the passion - your organization's "reason for being" - found within your organizational attributes, in a statement or written formulation of your organization's core competencies. Passion is a core competency that is often overlooked. Like other core competencies, passion cannot be duplicated easily. It is important, then, to expand the scope of the core competency to become more than just a statement of fundamental skill. Capture the passion and include the guiding principles - what the organization believes. Altogether, core competencies, core beliefs and the passion to do what it is that you do, come together to create the simplicity and elegance of what I call the "organizational imperative."
Many companies do a good job of capturing the essence of their organizational imperatives by developing eloquent and inspirational mission, vision and goals statements. However, this is an awkward approach, as it usually fails the test for simplicity and elegance, and it may lack a true statement of organizational imperatives altogether.
If you correctly define your core competencies, you will realize that everything your organization accomplishes, along with its organizational attributes, should flow from and connect directly to that description. Furthermore, that definition should become a screen for every decision, however large or small, throughout the entire organization.
My company's organizational imperative is simple and elegant. It is as follows:
"To relentlessly seek to accelerate individual, team, and organizational performance through the inspiration and experience of elite military professionals. Our guiding principles are: (1) seek integrated solutions with transformative power that are simple and achieve results; (2) represent our brand - Flawless Execution; and (3) do right, speak the truth, and demonstrate excellence."
In just 50 words, we have described our passion, our core competencies, our organizational attributes and our beliefs.
Like an elegant formula in physics, a complete and concise organizational imperative describes your organization's behavior. It is the standard to which all actions are executed and decisions are measured and made.
About the Author
As the founder and CEO of Afterburner, Inc., James D. Murphy has a unique, powerful mix of leadership skills in both the military and business worlds. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, Murphy joined the U.S. Air Force where he learned to fly the F-15, logging over 1,200 hours as an instructor pilot in the F-15 and accumulating over 3,200 hours of flight time in other high-performance jet aircraft. He has also flown missions to Central America, Asia, Central Europe and the Middle East. As Afterburner's leadership keynote speaker, Murphy has helped top business leaders transform strategy into action by showing that the concepts of the Flawless Execution(SM) model could be applied to business process optimization and engaging the proven model - "Plan. Brief. Execute. Debrief." Murphy has been regularly featured in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Newsweek, and has appeared on CNN, Fox News, and Bloomberg News to name a few. For more information on Afterburner, Inc., please call 877-765-5607 or visit www.afterburnerconsulting.com.
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