Being a NOW Leader
Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It demands that we part from the pack in order to define a new future by redefining the present.
We are in the midst of the most fundamental economic shift in a century. For 100 years our economy was driven by the realities of Mass Production. The Mass Production way of thinking created more wealth for more people than any system in the history of man. And it permeated EVERY part of our society from the office to the factory to the classroom.
We have certainly been blessed, however our challenges are far greater now and as leaders we face new macro trends.
Just as the Agricultural Age ended around the turn of the previous century and was replaced by Mass Production, we now see that Mass Customization drives our economy enabled by instant access to everything courtesy of the Internet.
Mass Production was THEN; Mass Customization is NOW.
THEN leaders are those who live in the past believing that hierarchy, command and control, functionalization and centralized decision making are still relevant concepts and viable models. NOW leaders understand that the economic shift is so huge that is has flipped pretty much every traditional rule of good management.
Today decisions are made and customer problems can be solved at the speed of light. Leaders that understand this see that their role has shifted from making decisions and solving problems, to enabling others to do this work. They also understand that for their people to make decisions in real-time that are aligned with business goals, employees have to truly understand where the business is going and what part they play in its success.
NOW leaders are a new breed of cat – or perhaps it is better if I say they are the best of the old breed. This is because they are leaders who are smart enough to see and embrace the shift from THEN to NOW, and recognize that the shift redefines the very role they must play.
In our Mass Customization world engaging employees is not merely a good idea, it is a survival requirement. Research shows that high-engagement companies enjoy a 19% increase in operating income, a 13% increase in net income, and 27% increase in earnings per share versus low-engagement companies (Peter Crush, “Employee Engagement ROI: Rules of Engagement”).
As a nation our futile attempt to engage employees, the people who determine our success in a NOW economy, is nothing short of sad. The Gallup Organization shows a slow but steady decline in employee engagement over the past 30 years. In the typical organization, leaders have managed to engage only 25% of employees.
Last year at this time I was finishing up Business at the Speed of Now (which was published in December). I believed The Great Recession was not going to go away easily because it is not what it appears to be. It is not about bad loan practices, it is about a global economic shift of seismic proportions driven by customer’s desire for Mass Customization. And my hope remains that my book will help leaders find the courage to part from the Mass Production pack and cross the chasm into the new world of Mass Customization.
On one hand I see THEN leaders spinning trying to find a way out of their own private recession; we still see business failures and layoffs in the headlines every day. On the other hand, I work with NOW leaders who see their organizations prosper even in this rugged economy. This prosperity is in no small part because they see the shift and have embraced it as opportunity.
Are you a THEN leader or a NOW leader?
Lessons from the “Me First” Generation
It may be tempting to dismiss the millennial generation as a bunch of spoiled brats, however we have something important to learn from the millennial mindset. The millennial outlook on life is forcing previous generations to reconsider some serious workplace issues. A key driver in the shift from a Mass Production driven economy to one based on Mass Customization is the millennials approach to life.
Often called the “trophy kids,” parents of these children replaced the old adage that, “Children should be seen, not heard” with “The sun rises and sets on our children’s wants and needs.” As a result, this generation disdains hierarchy and authority.
The millennial generation’s teachers focused on building self-esteem insisting every child gets a gold star regardless of the quality of their work. According to Dr. Nicole Lipkin, author of Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation, this generation lacks resilience and exhibits weak critical thinking skills. Spoiled or not. millennials want their products and services customized to fit their particular wants and needs.
While it is easy to focus on the negatives of this generation, in Business at the Speed of NowI explore three major positive aspects of the millennial generation:
- Strong bias for the healthy integration of work and non-work life
- Deep unwavering commitment to social responsibility
- Low fear of change that enables their creativity and inventiveness
My own belief about millennials is that their positives actually align with beliefs of previous generations with one huge difference: this generation is intolerant of compromise. This impatient generation struggles to understand when something needs to change in their workplace why it is not changed NOW. They have little respect for slow chain-of-command decisions and they are used to instant gratification.
The power in these aspects of generational difference is that they insist that wrongs should be righted as soon as they are discovered. When they see a solution they pressure management to make the change immediately and if they hear, “It will take about six months” it is a completely unacceptable answer.
I share and value the beliefs of this generation, however like many in my baby boomer generation the temptation to compromise is ever present. So, what are the implications of the millennial mindset for how we run our organizations and how we engage our people? I think we need to remember that when something is wrong we should make it right – NOW. If a process is broken or a customer is wronged, our people need to have the skills and authority to solve the problem in real time.
While millennials may come across as self-absorbed and spoiled, it might be worth looking beyond appearances and instead focus on the underlying social good they are calling on us to do.
That Was Then, This Is Now
In the old days being boss was like being king of your own little kingdom. It was your job to make decisions and the people who worked for you were there to do what you said. That was then.
In the old days decisions moved up through the hierarchy and change was slow in coming. Customers lived with the slowness of decisions because they had no choice. That, too, was then.
The Age of Mass Production created more wealth than any other economic system in the history of mankind.
Today customers want what they want and the want it now. And thanks to the Internet we live in a world where they can get what they want now. That has given rise to a new economic era, the Age of Mass Customization. This is now.
The shift from then to now changes all the rules — first in the marketplace, but ultimately in the workplace. Today economic success increasingly depends on market agility, and that market agility means employees at all levels need to make real-time decisions, decisions that determine the customer experience, drive revenue, and determine operating costs.
In the then world, decisions were centralized; in the now world decisions are decentralized. That shift completely redefines the role of management — driving a shift from making decisions to enabling others to make decisions.
For employees to make the “right” decisions, decisions that optimize the balance between the interests of customers and company, they need a rich understanding of the company’s vision, values and goals. It also requires access in the now to facts so they can understand the implications of decisions in business terms.
In our then world, life was simpler as it was clear the boss made the decisions. Today, in a Mass Customization world, the need for real-time decision making adds complexity but it also demands that employees be engaged.
Now Look Behind the Curtain
30 days and counting until the release of BUSINESS AT THE SPEED OF NOW in fine bookstores and eBooks…December 6th! Available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and 800CEOread.com.
Our final superhero in this five-part segment, is the grand and wonderful Wizard of Oz. What (you are thinking) does he have to doing with business at the speed of now? EVERYTHING!
Dorothy’s fanciful longing for something more wonderful led her right back into her own backyard where it was abundantly obvious everything she needed was already there. There she found the heart, brains, and courage it takes to make life work.
We’re off to see the Wizard
The challenge of competing in today’s mass customization-driven economy is daunting indeed if you fail to see you already have all the essential ingredients you need to prosper. All the Wizard was doing was making a lot of noise, all of which was unnecessary. The secret to success in a real-time economy is building a management system that allows your employees to act on the opportunities they see. You don’t need new employees, just like the lion didn’t need a medal to give him courage. He already had it.
Employees who know what they are accountable for, who can see how what they do fits into the grand scheme of things, and who have the skills and authority to solve problems they encounter, will deliver a great customer experience every time. Management’s job was to make the decisions, but that was THEN. In our NOW world, management’s job is to make sure employees have everything they need to make decisions and make them intelligently.
Like the great Wizard, what’s behind the curtain of great management is a system of management that allows the heart, brains, and courage of employees to thrive.
Putting Your Sister-In-Law Out Of Business
The possibility of having a graphic designer in Indonesia and your sister-in-law, who may live down the street from you, in competition for your business is real and its implications are profound. This new reality, enabled by the internet, sets in motion a competitive whirlwind that could easily be seen by any local designer as incredibly unfair, and stirs anger among the traditionalists as to a means to obtain image counsel. While there is certainly merit in the argument, low cost and speed are attractive lures for the consumer. No place for IBM to go for council, but the new realtor opening doors down the street doesn’t need high-end expertise. (more…)