Era ManagmentSM -Maximizing Your Organizational Potential Through Leadership


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As leaders react to marketplace and competitive pressures, there is a constant need to challenge the status quo, to look around the company and constantly ask tough questions.
  • Do we have a clear and broadly shared understanding of how the industry may be different ten years from now?
  • How influential is the company in setting new rules of competition within its industry?
  • Are we fully alert to the dangers posed by new, unconventional rivals?
  • Are we maintenance engineers keeping today's business humming along, or architects imagining tomorrow's businesses?
  • What is the balance between hope and anxiety in our company?

These and many more strategic questions form the core of our Era Management SM process-a process that helps leaders build and strengthen a distinctive point of view about the future, then revisit that point of view, elaborating and adjusting it as the future unfolds.

What Is Era Management SM?

Era Management SM is a process that helps construct a plan for a person who has just taken over a business or for a leader who has been at the head of the business for some time, yet has decided that it has to change in some dramatic or fundamental ways. The process assumes that there is a business strategy in place. Faced with operationalizing the strategy, the leader then asks,
  • How is it that I will go about doing this?
  • What is the sequence of activities I will initiate to ensure that change happens?

What do we mean by "Era?"An era is a period of time when the conditions under which the business operates remain the same. Eras change when these conditions change. The operating conditions are both external and internal. Examples of external conditions include government regulations affecting the business and geopolitical events (wars, dollar strengths, changes in leadership and/or political direction) in this or any other country. It is particularly important to consider changes internal to the organization. Here again, changes in leadership and strategic direction can have dramatic effects on internal conditions. The organization climate of the company is a strong indicator of these internal conditions.

A strategy period is usually five to seven years. Eras are shorter periods of time, usually 18 to 36 months. They are also linear, laying beside one another to make up a strategy period. In our experience, internal and/or external conditions can change rapidly in significant ways. What Era Management SM does is identify and control these 18- to 36-month periods of time so that the direction of the enterprise is consistent with the overall strategy and the leader's values. Era Management SM is based on the following principles:

Leadership Strengths
  • Each leader is unique, having different strengths and proclivities. Since there is no single best way to lead, each leader must discover the combination of elements that are best for his or her unique strengths. All of us have weaknesses, and while we should work to eliminate them, part of the leader's job is to ensure that their impact on the goals of the enterprise are minimal. The goal of Era Management SM is not to change the leader's style. Rather, it is to clearly define the strengths and inevitable weaknesses of the leader and then to recommend a process that will draw upon the leader's strengths and compensate for inevitable weaknesses.

Priorities
  • In every era there are high priority areas that are critical to the short- and long-term success of the organization (the critical few that will have the greatest impact on performance). These priorities, or A-Items, represent targets for action where progress must be demonstrated. It is likely the A-Items will change as the organization moves from one era to the next. These A-Items are general rather than specific. An early step of Era ManagementSM is to identify these vital few A-Items (there are usually three or four which pass the "critical few test"). The process then defines what outcomes should be expected under each A-Item within the next 18 to 36 months. These outcomes are specific, realistic, measurable targets to aim at and for which plans must be formulated. These plans are made up of events that will move the organization from where it is to where it must be along the pathway defined by each A-Item.

Style
  • The style of the leader is the biggest factor in determining how the plan should be put into effect, including what superstructure should support the leader in doing so. There are many different ways to analyze leadership style and most can provide useful mirrors for the leader to better understand strengths and weaknesses. In our experience, unless the unique pluses and minuses of the leader are catalogued and form the basis for determining how to achieve the desired outcomes, success will be elusive. The same A-Items for leaders who have very different styles will inevitably call for dramatically different events and plans and will be achieved in remarkably different ways.

Tools
  • At the core of successfully navigating through the era is a set of vital tools for the leader to employ. One of the most crucial is the ability to ask the right questions in the right way; that is to ask questions which emphasize the vital themes of the era. We believe that excellent leaders ask questions more than they make declarative statements. They ask these questions in a way that encourages others to think through their answers in rational ways, which includes reviewing the implications which could result from their position. Also, they tend to do so in a manner which leads to discussion. It is through discussion that exploration of the issues takes place. It is through group exploration that teamwork can spring and that employees can assume ownership and commitment. The image of the leader standing in front of the troops barking orders and telling subordinates what to do may make for good movies, but it is not the way to steer the enterprise through the era's harbor strewn with sand bars, sunken vessels, and submerged rocks.

Theme
  • Every era has a central theme that is embodied in the values of the leader and the top team. This central theme forms the foundation for discussion which ultimately leads to a comprehensive Era ManagementSM Plan driven by the "critical few" A-Items.


Era Management Development Framework



The seven-circle Era Management SM framework provides senior managers with an integrated approach they can use to help create the strategic architecture necessary to enhance organizational performance. Organization change efforts must be approached systematically. Because each part of the organization is meaningful only as part of the whole, problem or opportunity areas cannot be neatly separated. They must be dealt with simultaneously, in an integrated way. Through Era Management SM, levers for change emerge in the ways the pieces fit together: They're in the linkages.

The Era Management SM Process

The Era Management SM process is made up of eight steps.

Step 1:
Review organization strategies, specific business targets, key correspondence, and other activities (critical incidents) where the leader's style and practices can be best understood.

Step 2:
Interview with the senior executive.

Step 3:
Construct an hypothesis that explains, among major themes, what the leader is committed to as he/she leads the organization.

Step 4:
Conduct strategic interviews with key people (stakeholders) among his/her direct reports, the Board of Directors, clients, suppliers, etc., where information is generated to test the initial hypothesis.

Step 5:
A consultation draft is prepared that summarizes the person's
  • leadership strengths;
  • leadership shortfalls;
  • opportunities to maximize his/her strengths and minimize shortfalls; i.e., what he/she should do more of and less of;
  • next steps as he/she prepares to address the A-Items.

Step 6:
A one-to-one consultation with the executive to share the findings, test the hypothesis, and begin to lay out the plan of action over an 18 to 36 month period of time that will successfully address the most critical challenges he/she faces.

Step 7:
A second one-on-one consultation where the plan is finalized and endorsed. At this milestone, a communication plan may be developed to update the executive's employees and colleagues on the plan that is to be initiated.

Step 8:
An integrated Era Management SM Plan is outlined to identify how the various plans support and draw upon each other as the executive team works to develop and maximize its effectiveness. Ongoing follow-up and periodic consultations are critical next steps to ensure the plans are being executed and the desired impact being achieved.

Summary

Era Manangement SM Principles
  • The goal is not to change the leader's style...it is to define strengths and weaknesses and to recommend a superstructure to emphasize strengths and to compensate for weaknesses.
  • An initial task is to define A-Items, outcomes, and plans made up of events to move the enterprise forward.
  • The style of the leader is the biggest factor in determining how the plan should be put into effect.
  • There is a set of vital tools available to navigate through the era.
  • Every era has a central theme that is embodied in the values of the leader.

The Major Questions Regarding Era, Theme, A-Item, Forum, Format, and Questions

Era
What era are we in? What portion of the era are we in? Beginning, middle, end? If at the end, what new era do we want to enter?

Theme
What are the key activities which must occur if we are to make the era successful? What is the "New Perspective" on the leader's fundamental activity? e.g.,
  • In what area is excellence required to obtain the company's objectives? The corporation's objectives?
  • In what areas would nonperformance endanger the results, if not the survival, of the company?

A-Items
What are the A-Items that are priorities for the leader and what outcomes should be expected?
What are the "critical few" that will have the greatest impact on change and/or performance?

Forum
On what occasions is the leader able to introduce and reinforce the theme of the era?
  • Daily activities
  • Special occasions
  • Events outside the company

Format
What reports and plans can be used to introduce and reinforce the theme of the era?
  • What would be added to current reports or plans?
  • How would they be reformatted?
  • How can they be introduced into the performance management process?

Questions
What are the core questions that must be asked in order to introduce and reinforce the theme of the era?

Identifying and Strengthening Leadership Styles

The point of analyzing leadership styles is to investigate the aspects of style most appropriate to the needs of the era and identify those that need to be strengthened. Each style has its own strengths that are more appropriate in some situations, and not effective in others. It is rare that a person uses one style all the time. Most of us draw upon a combination of styles yet have a preference for one (our dominant style). If we can learn more about our dominant style and what is required to maximize its effectiveness, we stand a better chance of monitoring our behavior and identifying which style is most effective across a wide variety of situations.

For our purposes, it is most helpful to consider three leadership styles which have been termed formalistic, competitive, and collegial. According to Alex George of Stanford University, the formalistic style is characterized by an orderly approach to policy making that provides well-defined procedures, hierarchical lines of communication, and a structured staff. It also discourages open conflict or confrontation between subordinates while it tries to benefit from their diverse views.

The competitive style places a premium on encouraging a more open expression of diverse opinions. Because of this, it may encourage conflict, ambiguity in lines of responsibility, overlapping authority, and communication channels that are multiple and not limited to the chain of command.

The collegial style tries to create a team of people who will work together to identify, analyze, and solve problems in ways that will incorporate divergent views yet not lead to conflict.

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon employed different versions of the formalistic style. Franklin Roosevelt used the competitive style. John Kennedy employed the collegial style. Each style is explored in more detail in the following sections.

Competitive Style

Analyzing Franklin Roosevelt provides the clearest picture of this model of leadership. One aspect of his style was that he not only felt comfortable around conflict, he discovered that if it were properly managed, it served his informational and political needs while it enabled him to stay in total control. FDR deliberately exacerbated competition among his staff and advisors so that the resulting conflict would generate the information Roosevelt needed in order to make decisions. This competition was achieved by giving advisors and cabinet heads overlapping assignments and ambiguous parameters, and letting the person who was most aggressive and quickest emerge as the winner.

Ronald Reagan demonstrated this style as part of his overall approach as witnessed by the policy feuds between Secretaries Weinberger and Shultz. It seems that part of the reason was that both had been given license in the foreign policy-setting process and Reagan gave each his ear.

Attributes That Define the Competitive Style

Characteristics
  • Involvement and controversy are key.
  • Staff members are pitted against each other, generating heat but also information.
  • Delegation is unclear intentionally and boundaries are left to be decided by conquest.
  • The boss positions himself as the swing vote.
  • Emphasis is on the doable decision.

Positive Aspects
  • Tends to generate solutions that are politically feasible.
  • Generates creative ideas due to stimulus of competition and also because the unstructured kind of information network is more open to ideas.

Dangers
  • Places large demands on decision-maker's time.
  • Sacrifices what is best for what is perceived as politically doable.
  • Tends to aggravate or cause staff competition risking aides pursuing their own interests.
  • Causes high turnover.
  • Confusion in responsibility and authority is inevitable.

The Leader Under This Style
  • Has an appetite for diverse ideas.
  • Does not want to depend on any one person's advice.
  • Demands intense loyalty.
  • Needs to be the center of the decision-making process.

Staff Support
  • Aggressive advisors of different opinions.
  • People with relatively high needs for power, then achievement, and lastly, affiliation.


Formalistic Style

Dwight Eisenhower presents an interesting version of this style. He avoided personal involvement in the decision-making process as much as possible until options were defined and a decision had to be made. Like Roosevelt, he recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of the policy-making/decision-making process. Unlike Roosevelt, he defined his role to be above conflict, and structured a system that kept him from being directly involved in parts of the decision-making process. A vitally important part of Eisenhower's structure was a strong Chief of Staff, not to keep information from him, but to be a buffer between Eisenhower and the rest of his staff. The Chief of Staff was expected to arrange for formal recommendations to be presented.

Richard Nixon developed another version of this style. He was an extreme conflict avoider. Unlike Roosevelt (and Kennedy), Nixon disliked face-to-face confrontation. Early in his administration, he tried to have his advisors debate issues in his presence but quickly reverted to a system where his staff would not openly debate in front of Nixon. This dynamic helped Nixon avoid being drawn into the disagreements and squabbles among his staff. He needed a few senior staff people who could enable Nixon to distance himself from those parts of the decision-making process which he found intensely disagreeable. In several cases, Nixon's senior staff went beyond the bounds that seem to be most helpful for this style, as witnessed by the enormous power assumed by chief aides, such as Haldeman and Kissinger. Sherman Adams (Eisenhower's Chief of Staff) funneled important information to Eisenhower and generally did not keep it from him. Similarly, Edwin Meese when he was Chief of Staff created a power base which was based on the belief of advocates and opponents alike that Meese reported both facts and personal opinions (positives) when briefing Ronald Reagan. This impartiality is crucial to success for the formalistic leader because he has blocked off other avenues of information in an attempt to conserve time and attention.

Attributes That Define the Formalistic Style

Characteristics
  • Emphasis on order.
  • Conflict is discouraged and open expression of competition or hostility is forbidden.
  • Issues are presented in writing.
  • Decision making is structured with reasoned discussion of prepared briefs.
  • Implementation is not stressed.
  • Political considerations are de-emphasized.
  • Seeks to make the elegant solution and assumes one exists.
  • A formal system collects data and funnels them to the top.

Positive Aspects
  • Orderly process causes more thorough analysis.
  • Conserves decision-maker's time and attention for A-Items.

Dangers
  • Potential for distortion of information, especially filtering out political realities and other people's feelings.
  • Responds slowly.
  • Does not work well in conflict situations, particularly crises.
  • Does not foster or reward creativity.

The Leader Under This Style
  • Neither needs nor wants intimate involvement in decision-making steps.
  • Seeks to choose between alternatives presented after advisors staff work.

Staff Support
  • Aides that are analytical and dispassionate.
  • Data must be correct.
  • Requires a bureaucratic system that is geared to produce thorough staff work.
  • Often crucial need for a strong chief of staff.


Collegial Style

John Kennedy felt at ease with conflict and had a strong sense of confidence that he could confront it face-to-face and then successfully manage the outcomes. He participated in the decision-making process much more actively than Eisenhower or Nixon. This strength contributed to a decision-making style in JFK's administration that emphasized teamwork and working together to achieve consensus. He did not go the route of Roosevelt who had stimulated competition by pitting people against each other. Rather than risk the disorder that option brings, JFK used other strategies to stay informed. It was important to Kennedy that
  • group problem-solving and teamwork skills be stressed;
  • senior advisors who most possessed such skills rise in influence;
  • advisors function as a "debate team" to gather and process information;
  • frankness and openness be encouraged to avoid information being blocked; and
  • advisors be encouraged to be generalists open to various views and ideas.
A major ingredient of this style is that the leader seeks to be actively involved in the decision-making process and at earlier stages before recommended options are defined. One need for this kind of style is that roles remain relatively clearly defined. Unlike the competitive model, unclarity of lines of authority and of roles will lead to destructive competition which, in turn, will block teamwork and, therefore, block needed flow of information to the President.

Attributes That Define the Collegial Style

Characteristics
  • A major thrust is to build a team that works together.
  • Attempt is to fuse the strongest parts of different views.
  • Emphasis is on group responsibility.
  • Seeks to achieve both what is doable and what is best.
  • The leader becomes group facilitator as well as prime decision maker of the group... requires well-developed interpersonal skills.

Positive Aspects
  • Involves the decision maker in the information network.
  • Holds potential for a more pleasant and satisfying work climate.

Dangers
  • Places substantial time demand on decision maker.
  • Depends on people working together in spite of political pressures.

The Leader Under This Style
  • Seeks the challenge of interaction as well as involvement in the decision-making process.
  • Seeks to be involved in all decision-making steps.

Staff Support
  • Advisors who share the need for group interaction and who have the skills for participating in group consensus.
  • A climate where the leader actively relates with people at all levels...and where doing so does not cause political problems. The staff must understand this and support it.

Three Leadership Models

CompetitiveFormalisticCollegial
Characteristics• Involvement and controversy are key.
• Staff members are pitted against each other, generating heat but also information.
• Delegation is unclear intentionally and boundaries are left to be decided by conquest.
• The boss positions himself as the swing vote.
• Emphasis is on the doable decision.
• Emphasis on order.
• Conflict is discouraged, and open expression of competition or hostility is forbidden.
• Issues are presented in writing.
• Decision making is structured with reasoned discussion of prepared briefs.
• Implementation is not stressed.
• Political con-siderations are de-emphasized.
• Seeks to make the elegant solution and assumes one exists.
• A formal system collects data and funnels them to the top.
• A major thrust is to build a team that works together.
• Attempt is to fuse the strongest parts of different views.
• Emphasis is on group responsibility.
• Seeks to achieve both doability and what is best.
• The boss becomes group facilitator as well as prime decision maker of the group...requires well developed interpersonal skills
Positive Aspects• Tends to generate solutions that are politically feasible.
• Generates creative ideas partially due to the stimulus of competition and also because the unstructured kind of information network is more open to ideas.
• Orderly process causes more thorough analysis.
• Conserves decision maker's time and attention for A-Items.
• Involves the decision maker in the information network, but somewhat eases demands by stressing teamwork (not necessarily time).
• Holds potential for a more pleasant and satisfying work climate.


Summary

In implementing Era ManagementSM, Rath & Strong works with organizations to:
  • Establish the time horizon of the era and its dominant themes;
  • Create an Era ManagementSM plan that defines the era's priorities (A-Items), the objectives underlying the priorities, required activities and events, and measures to track progress;
  • Define leadership styles, then assess strengths and shortcomings;
  • Help create conditions for success based on the necessary leadership style(s);
  • Initiate the plan, reviewing, testing, and fine-tuning it on a regular basis;
  • Continue to assess, develop, and modify the plan throughout the era.

As the Era ManagementSM process is positioned in the organization, we expand on its impact by introducing supporting programs and approaches that reinforce and integrate the strategies. The figure below represents the integrative framework that can evolve from a successful Era ManagementSM intervention.



For more information about how Era ManagementSM can be used in your organization, or to find out about any of the consulting services mentioned in this framework, call consulting services at 781-861-1700.

About Rath & Strong...

Rath & Strong is a management consulting firm headquartered in Lexington, Massachusetts. Founded in 1935, Rath & Strong helps clients achieve desired change by providing consulting services in four main areas: process and operations management, organization development, counsel to leaders, and customer connection. The firm specializes in helping clients address issues relating to these four areas simultaneously from a systems perspective.

About the Author...

Mr. Payne is a senior associate of Rath & Strong. An expert in organizational effectiveness and human resources management, he consults to Rath & Strong's clients in the areas of leveraging organizational climate to enhance performance and aligning the organizational culture with the business strategy.

Don was previously Managing Director of Hay-McBer. He also directed the Hay McBer business development efforts in the Asia Pacific region, including the positioning and development of consulting talent in Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia. He has served as Vice President of Human Resources at Mattel Electronics, Inc. and is a featured program facilitator in the University of California-Berkeley Executive Development Program.
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