The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.


42 Rules toTurn Prospects into Customers - Meridith Powell

I've been doing fewer, if any, book reviews this year. More a product of time availability than anything else. However, my friend and colleage, Meridith Elliott Powell has just published an excellent guide for helping people like me, and I suspect like you, do a better job at the sales function of your business. 42_rules_turn_prospects - Meridith Powell

Meridith's book, 42 Rules to Turn Your Prospects into Customers: How to build Profitable Relationships to Close More Sales and Drive More Business gets it right. Meridith understands that sales today is about the relationship.

If you are like me, sales is not a high item for learning. We think we know how to sell, but in reality, we don't really know what we need to know.  There are a lot of books on selling. There is usually something in it that is worth reading, but not worth the investment of time and discipline to apply the lessons.  This book is different. It is simple, direct, and strategic.

The book is literally 42 rules, plus a few bonus ones. Each chapter is short. It is an ideal tool for a sales team to read together and to discuss. Much of it you will have heard or read before, because it is common sense. But common sense never stopped people from treating clients and customers like they don't matter, and that it is all about them.

There are a lot of people who do understand the value and importance of the relational side of business. What Meridith gives us is a strategy for making the relational work at the sales end of the business.

I was privileged to write the forward to Meridith's book. It really sums up the value that I see in her book.

You are about to devour a book written by a wise, passionate, generous expert.

Meridith Powell is the gold standard of sales trainers, coaches and consultants. The reason … she understands, better than most, that the relationship between you and your client or customer is central to success.  In addition, she has a methodology for helping you learn to master it.  It isn’t just a good idea, but an approach that works.

There are lots of people who can teach you to trick people into buying stuff they don’t want.  Meridith, in this wonderful little book, gives you a way to build a sustainable business through sustainable business relationships.  It is a book that you read once, and then again and again and again.  You will turn back to Meriidth’s insights time and time again because she provides answer to questions that we all have. 

I love this little book because now all the bits and pieces of wisdom that I’ve been receiving from Meriidth for as long as I’ve known her is in one place. And you are the beneficiary.

Take your time. Think about what she says. Take notes. Do the tasks that she suggests. Talk about what you are learning with colleagues. Read the book together. You’ll find your life and work transformed. I wish you every success as you do.

I know Meridith well. I remember the first time I met her, and being impressed with her passion and perspective. What I've seen in her over the years is consistency in approach and integrity in her relationships with clients. She isn't an expert because she wrote a book. She's an expert because everything she writes about in the book is the way she operates.


Cold Calls or Referrals?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliot Powell understands networking and sales better than anyone I know. If you have the opportunity to attend one of her workshops, do it. It will transform how you understand what is required to build your client base.

Meridith responds to a question about cold calls.

I had a client ask me just last week, "how can I become more effective at cold calling?" My answer - "severely limit the amount you have to do."

Calling someone out of the blue that you don't know, who does not know you is - in my opinion - a tough way to go about building your business.

I totally agree.

Meridith writes about building a referral network. Read her whole post, print it off and memorize it. It is good stuff.

Let's assume that your list of people to cold call is really a list of influential people whom you want in your referral network. What do you do in addition to what Meridith suggests?

Do your homework on the people whom you want to cold call, so you are not cold calling but meeting them by referral.

It is valuable to know who people are and whom they know. You can start with the internet. Find out what activities they are in, what organization boards they serve on and what social and business connections you two might share.

Then you get one of those mutual acquaintances to introduce you.

I've told this story before, but it is worth telling because it still works 14 years later.

When we moved to Western North Carolina in 1995, I came with three names to connect from three different people that I knew elsewhere. I call each one of those people and told them that this mutual friend had recommended that I meet them. I went to see them, not to sell them on my services, but to establish a relationship with them. I left each encounter with 10-15 names and contact information. Many of those relationships still matter today.

Building a referral network is essential to growing a business. Many of my clients are introduced to me through other clients and friends. It works. And Meridith's training and coaching building a network is the best around.


Friendship Matters

Seth Godin asks an author an important question.

 ..."are you writing this for strangers or friends?"

He follows with this insight.

You need to treat friends differently at every step along the way. First, don't confuse the moments you're supporting them or connecting with them with the moments when you are doing business. Second, understand that the most powerful win is when your friends tell their friends about you. This is worth 1000 times more than you talking about yourself.

This is a bigger question than simply whether you are selling to strangers or friends. It is a wholesale change in how we think about the impact of our businesses.

Until very recently, numbers ruled. Technology is changing that. Now, the average person can have access to as many people as the President, if they understand what the game really is.

Numbers are no longer the most important factor in business. Now, trust, respect, integrity and public perception have become much more important.

If you are perceived as using Twitter to grow numbers, you'll be shunned as an opportunist. However, if you are perceived as a person of influence because you are both generous and wise, then your numbers will grow and they will be sustainable because these people want to be your friend.

Here's the real secret, it isn't enough to be a good person that people like. You have to be this person in conversation. Sal Bhanji responding to Seth's post gets it.

Suddenly with tools such as blog, Twitter, Facebook, rss feed etc reaching far more than these numbers is easy, less expensive and tempting. But none of the old tricks would work even if you manage to reach these numbers. As this is a total different game all together.  The new tools require you to have a conversation and not force things upon people.  Start having a conversation with your prospective market and make friends long before you offer your service.

If you still need a way to understand what's happening, consider this.

You go on vacation to Yellowstone National Park. You have a great time, andIMG_0390 return home. What do you talk about? The cost, the miles driven, the gas used? No. You talk about  the experience you had with one another.

You tell stories of the agitated bison that came up to your car(true story). You tell of the forest fire (true story), the snow fall in August (true), and meeting FBI director Robert Mueller at dinner (also true). You tell of the people you met, the sights you saw and the surprises along the way. You share your experiences. You recommend places to stay and restaurants to visit. And you share what you learned about life, friendship, family and the importance of each. You tell me this, and I want to go to Yellowstone. Every year. And go with you.

Please don't confuse friendship with numbers. Friendship is giving, sharing, caring, sacrifice, honor, and gratitude. If you can be this person with 10,000 people then you have a chance of doing some remarkable things.  You can have an impact far beyond the product you are selling.


Real Life Leadership: Tough times can allow you to show your worth in sales

This week's Real Life Leadership column - Tough times can allow you to show your worth in sales - is online.

The question in this week's column emerged in conversation with Meridith Elliot Powell.  I asked her to respond to the question, and here's her full response.

Absolutely you can be successful as a salesperson and selling when credit is tight and everyone is holding  on to cash. 

Success in sales in this economy is all about getting back to the basics . I think right now is one of the most exciting times to be in sales.

During tough economic times customers really need you and your job is to help them understand why.   In sales, when you take the time to understand what you do, why you are doing it, and how to do it,  then you uncover the value you bring to the table and how, through sales, you can truly help people. It is important to learn early that sales is not about "talking people into" buying your product or service. It is about first understanding your customers' need and then helping them understand how you can add value.

Success in selling is simple, but it is not easy, like everything else in life long-term success takes consistency and work. Ever wonder why successful sales people have such a passion for what they do, why they are always so motivated and excited? Here's their secret, they have a personal sales strategy. One that is unique to them and their sales style. They've invested the time to first sit down and answer the right questions and prioritize the right actions that provide them with a systematic approach to the sales process. This focus and consistency minimizes stress and produces results explaining their motivation and enthusiasm.

To be successful in sales you need a strategy. You need to invest the time to uncover the answers to questions like: what differentiates you and why specifically should someone buy from you; what value and benefit does your  product or service offer to a customer; how do you communicate both of these concepts clearly and quickly so customers understand this early on in the sales process ; how do you find and connect with potential customers; what goes into a good sales call; how to really listen;  how to develop  follow-up plans and a healthy sales pipeline; and the list goes on.

Now, while this all sounds like a lot , investing time in building a personal sales strategy actually gives you more time to sell.  Taking this approach,  gives you a systematic way to consistently prioritize the right actions that keep you productive in sales rather than busy. It also gives you a sense of purpose, which will build your self- confidence and help tap into your motivation and enthusiasm.

Developing your personal sales strategy takes an initial investment of time, and the reward is more than worth the effort.

Meridith is directing her comments to my question. However, if you were to broaden this perspective to encompass all that we do in business, her strategic approach makes sense. Here are my take-a-ways.

1. Our customers need us now more than ever to help them work through the challenges that they are having.

2. To be successful we need a strategy. This strategic way of thinking goes beyond simply having some goals. Our strategies are how our goals will be met.

3. We need consistency, commitment, and hard work, as well as persistence, resilience and a no quit attitude.


I heard Meridith speak recently on relationship network stategies. I've been working with network theory for over a decade, and I found out that what I knew was way too abstract and impractical. I learned some new approaches to developing my networks that I've beginning to apply. 

If for all these reasons, I'm excited about Meridith being one of our workshop leaders for our 2009 Lessons in Leadership conference.  If you are anywhere close by Asheville, N.C. on January 20, sign up for this afternoon/evening event.  It will be worth the trip. I'm absolutely certain.

You can download a PDF copy of my column here. Thanks.