Even Monkeys Fall Out of Trees

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

Given the geo-political dynamics of 2018, 2019 portends to continue to be a roller coaster ride!The dynamics of 2019 make it hard to be sanguine regarding the future.  Geo-politically, economically, and commercially, it is a struggle to maintain a degree of certainty.

DPC has been fortunate for five years to work closely with a large global consumer products company. In a conversation with one of their Tokyo based executives he referenced the Japanese saying “even Monkeys fall out of trees”!

The saying is prophetic for many reasons, among which is relevance to the turbulence forecasted for this year.

When you contemplate the saying, your intuitive reaction is to think, “poor Monkey”, while conjecturing “what does the Monkey do now”?

There are a number of options:

  1. NFL Penalty – this is when the Monkey becomes a drama student insisting “what me” similar to the Oscar performances one sees among penalized Defensive players
  2. Woe Is Me – this is when the Monkey looks for an audience who embraces their self pity
  3. Blaming The Tree – whereby somehow the tree moved without informing the Monkey
  4. Paralyzing Indecision – “not sure trees are for me, maybe I should learn to swim”

A Monkey being a Monkey, they realize the tree is their home and the most conducive environment for their success.

However, what becomes the new post fall reality, do they wear a parachute, strap themselves to the tree, or accept the ambiguities of existence while exercising an abundance of caution?

As we progress further into 2019, accepting the ambiguity associated with the turbulence leaves two avenues for pursuit.   One can play it safe, or accept risk and go for it!

2019 will compel us to metaphorically self assess, what type of Monkey do I want to be?

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Building the Bench It Takes Years To Get it Right!

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

Given the geo-political dynamics of 2018, 2019 portends to continue to be a roller coaster ride!

As we entered 2019 and updated our “resolutions” from new to carry forward, my colleagues at Discussion Partners and I would strongly urge an elevation of, and renewed attentiveness to, Succession and Continuity planning as a priority!

Notwithstanding preexisting protocols we are suggesting this review encompass the most generous interpretation of processes concomitant with experimental and disruptive solution sets.

Our recommendation is driven by results of a recent completed study DPC conducted with 1800 C-Suite participants.  The survey was on the topic of envisioned enterprise challenges. 91% of those surveyed indicated “the ability to attract, motivate, and retain top talent” as their #1 concern.

Discussion Partner’s has been conducting this annual Pulse survey since our founding in 2007.  The intensity of the above concern while always “on the list” was never #1until 2018. The rationales expressed in the anecdotal justifications are compelling inclusive of envisioned shifting demographics, new worker expectations, disruption of organization models, competitive pressures, globalization, and ineffective human capital practices.

Our recommendation is further reinforced by a review of the recent literature on this topic.

  1. The historically low US Unemployment Rate
  2. The strategic imperative for Talent depth to be an asset vs. liability referenced in consolidated research on Leadership Succession/Continuity most recently series of articles in McKinsey Insights, HBR and Sloan Management Review
  3. The Point of View that has emerged from our 2018 Advisory work that 2019 represents an opportunity to use a “Disruptive Organization Model” for Talent processes overall and Leadership matters in particular

As further justification for this Recommendation the following foundation is provided.

  • Noel Tichy in his recent book Succession asserts that without proactive planning on how to fill, and inventory of talent well in advance of leadership, and/or key role “vacancies”, the chance of success is below 50% for replacement personnel
  • Ram Charan in his book The Attackers Advantage and HBR articles offers the following (paraphrased) –Leaders (Directors, Owners, CEO’s) who excel at selection are willing to expand the lens in how they look at the capabilities of reporting levels beyond performance track record to the 2 to 3 interwoven predictive behaviors that will be necessary for success
  • The following 2018 data points are from various sources (Booz Allen, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Hedrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry and Saratoga Institute)
    • Team Building and Empathy are as important as Performance for promoting enterprise success (often stated infrequently realized)
    • 55% of the Fortune 500 Boards of Directors have expressed dissatisfaction with the Succession Planning processes of their enterprises including the CEO replacement approach
    • A study of the 2500 largest companies on the planet indicate that inefficient Succession Planning on average results in $1.8B losses during transition
    • Underperformance does not incent change 45% below peer group by sector correlates to only 7% probability in change of leadership
    • 39% of the Fortune 1000 Boards indicate “no viable candidate” to replace the CEO compelling a similar % undertaking external hires which Charan stipulates as “highly unlikely to be successful”

DPC’s conclusion “Succession Planning takes years not months” leads us to recommend the following steps:

  1. Senior level stakeholder interviews focused on “beyond task proficiency” what are the essential differentiating qualities that will be needed for success
  2. Comparative Inventory of Leaders (broad based) and high potentials in relationship to these attributes
  3. Embed into developmental and hiring strategies the lessons learned from this exercise
  4. Creation of a Critical Constituency Depth Chart whereby the following is highlighted
    1. Identification of 1 ready now replacement
    2. Identification of 2 possible replacements
    3. Identification of external Search capabilities to be deployed in emergencies and/or lack of “ready now” sense of urgency
    4. Assignment of non-senior leaders a “personal growth and development task” similar to the GE “popcorn stand” to provide additional evaluative foundation

 The New England Patriots have a mantra of “do your job” promoted by Coach Belichick. 8 Super Bowl appearances and 1 upcoming indicates the validity of this philosophy.  DPC’s above suggestions represent process steps that should be presently underway and if not, a sense of urgency should exist.  DPC would substitute the words “do the job you should have been doing all along”!

 Additionally we would embed the following questions:

I.      What skills sets will we need beyond domain proficiency to have a                         sustainable growth oriented enterprise?
II.    How does our current population of Leaders and Future Leaders                           compare to these desired attributes?
III.  How can we develop and/or hire sufficient numbers of people to address           deficiencies in the above?
IV.  What is the true nature of our Leadership bench in respect to Readiness?
V.    What is our contingency plan to be deployed if necessary?

From whatever vantage point you occupy, 2019 will be dynamic.  As a suggestion, borrowing a title from a previous book by Dr. Tichy on the topic of leadership Control Your Destiny-Or Somebody Else Will!

 

 

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Executive Transitions – Meaningful vs Relevant

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

2019 is a transition year for many Boomer Executives whom will be reaching the milestone age of 65!

Granted the “70’s something” Stones, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney are still touring and Robert Redford at 82 is still a box office draw.

Regardless the magical age of 65 remains a threshold, as it was the age when most of our parents left the work force.  At the time however, after they got their gold watch, took a cruise, there was not much meaning or life left based upon actuarial tables and cultural norms.

Discussion Partner’s launched our Transition Advisory Service offering in 2013 after the publication of our book, Executive Transitions – Plotting The Opportunity!

Since that time we have worked with now over 500 executives in a variety of sectors on creating the “soft landing” for the company derived from and organized Succession Plan and executive via a structured approach for thinking about “what’s next”.  Our experience over the last five years will be summarized in our next book due out in May tentatively entitled Executive Transitions – Looking Forward In The Rear-view Mirror!

Recently, in our client work DPC Advisors have been struck by the level of satisfaction differentiation between Meaningful endeavors and their contribution to feelings of Relevance.

DPC Advisors have concluded that Meaningful endeavors independent of their seriousness of purpose nor value contributions are in and of themselves insufficient unless they also foster a feeling of Relevance.  The concept of Relevance is when the Executive also feels that their effort is contemporary and appropriate to the times.

This is not a suggestion that one focus is more important than the other; moreover fulfillment via Meaningful work is achievable and embraced by Executives. However DPC’s conclusion is that there also needs to be a focus on contemporary or Relevant work to optimize a feeling of continued sense of self.

There are two areas we suggest be considered as the journey begins!

Securing Relevance During Transition

Regardless of age, enterprise tenure, or post departure endeavors, DPC in our client work has found that there are three common denominators that if front of mind, contribute to a feeling of connectivity.

We have labeled the “top 3” as Next Generation Engagement Drivers as follows:

  1. Edgy – the ability to engage in activities that challenge intellectual curiosity via continued acquisition of knowledge and adjunct expertise
  2. Control – the ability to have as much as possible total control over calendar and focus of activities
  3. Purpose – the ability to continue to promote personal brand and be recognized as a domain “expert” regardless of future setting via engagement in contemporary activities

Many executives “can’t wait” to get started on the next phase of life while others are somewhat fearful.  Both constituencies need to be mindful that the tenure of one’s life as Dr. Lynda Gratton in her most recent book The 100 Year Life, is elongated requiring us to be sensitive to the nuances associated with how, and where we spend our post-transition time.

The position take by DPC via our research and client work is that the more organized the pre-departure thinking, and awareness of possible outcomes the more likely the executive will be comfortable with “what’s next”!

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Scoping IT Federal Projects – Fear the Russian Winter

December 29, 2018
by Guest Author, Michael Casey, PMP, MPA, ITIL, V3

“Truth is ever to be found in Simplicity, and not in the Multiplicity and Confusion of things.”

– Sir Isaac Newton
Inventor of Calculus[1]

Contents

Grappling with Details in Federal Program Management
Background:
Memo as Foundation Document
Interpretation of Memo “Subject: Mission Critical Business System Identification”

Recommendation
Large Scale Government IT Deployment and the Russian Winter
Change, Simplicity and the “Multiplicity of Confusion”

 

Grappling with Details in Federal Program Management

Background:

I am an experienced IT manager who has been certified and recertified. I’ve worked for leading financial institutions as well as leaders in manufacturing and commercial service industries. For the past ten months I have been working for a defense contractor, supporting a US Armed Service Branch in its attempt to consolidate common IT services for divisions currently using separate installations of Enterprise Resource Management (ERP).

This is an ambitious goal; ERPs, whether SAP or in this case, Oracle, are notoriously difficult implementations characterized by cost and schedule overruns, even in the best of circumstances. What makes matters more difficult is when scope is not clearly defined, and, when assumptions on what may be provided in advance of core development are also not clear.

For this branch, direction was given that goes against a predominate trend – cloud hosting. That is, the three largest ERPs were directed to leverage infrastructure and common IT services to be provided in physical data centers. This entailed physical infrastructure (systems, network and services) not yet built nor vendor software installed, configured and deployed to required levels, also not defined.

As with large private institutions, the branch has a “PMO” – or multiple PMOs – governing the selection and management of programs and projects.

The premise here is that there is a military example when faced with similar challenges from 20th century military history. Currently, there is little opportunity for different divisions to fall back and retool by saying “mistakes were made.” Directions of branch affiliated division organizations have been pursued and one division, in particular, which supports infrastructure, needs to take a position to guide the rest of the loosely branch affiliated program.

Memo as Foundation Document

An Undersecretary’s directive, a memo from Branch leadership, prescribed actions to be taken by application and infrastructure leadership meeting to improve ERP deployment. This action was to identify core “…systems” which must be “operated and maintained” to continue the warfighting mission. The memo identified the Defense Business systems (DBSs) to be supported by systems. The memo sought to establish the “application baseline requirement” to:

  • Validate “… requirement for operations, licenses, maintenance, hosting and sustainment,,,”
  • Request “analysis… aligned to “… CIO… policy” requiring compliance with the common computing baseline.
    • Outcome of analysis should be a “high level set of tasks and associated cost and schedule for migrating these systems to the common

The memo presents features of an infrastructure to “encompass core systems” with branch-wide data… and “information delivery… to our customers”. It includes a sentence in the passive voice entreating, presumably, different leadership groups to “request resources requirements for this analysis”.

Interpretation of Memo “Subject: Mission Critical Business System Identification”

The memo – in and of itself – does not meet the criteria for a foundation document – e.g., Program or Project Scope Statement and / or Charter – as identified by at least one global project management organization[2]. Additionally, extensive studies over several years have indicated that to serve as a viable program or project the obligation exists to trace viability, in all aspects or measures, from definition to user acceptance.[3] In this particular scenario, the “user” is the Military Branch which is, collectively, a division of the Department of Defense created to serve the Chief Executive of the United States, who is directly accountable to the American people[4].

For effective program and / project management, any material change – cost, schedule, quality – to a program / project is subject to governance as agreed to, and delineated with, approved Scope and Charter documents. The latter foundation document is needed to specify how change – comprehensive, not isolated nor tangentially linked – is to be realized. This memo does not portend to do this; it is, more appropriately, a “call to arms,” without identification of the penultimate systems and technical features for fulfilling the goal: ERP for identified Mission Critical Business Systems.

To say that the “Government is different” in defining and managing projects, itself, presents a muddled challenge.  It demands that we somehow accept that the “Government” is not subject to the need to express goals and objectives simply, to establish program baselines and manage change the way almost every other service in American is.  The memo references a CIO directive for example, which is likely not clear to more than a few. Regardless, it is the responsibility in any governance to trace impact of any and all modification to original project or program intent, to maintain accountability to stakeholders.

Specifically, the memo fails to describe the prerequisite infrastructure baseline state. Note italicized words and phrases above which demonstrate that the Undersecretary never intended to describe an end-to-end program or project. Ms. Thomas describes a “DBS infrastructure” in terms of only features or characteristics, leaving it to some other set of Military Branch entities or processes to interpret scope and governance of the overall program. However, she must have presumed that others within the Military Branch would handle that – to understand the need to collectively “plan, estimate, execute and control”[5] – in pursuit of the overall project objective – timely integration with initial ERP ownership, as identified. She had every right to anticipate, that she didn’t have to explicitly express an obvious dependency in support of the warfighting mission – you need to build before you can integrate, migrate or maintain. If a “build” requires technical vetting prior to deployment of an initial baseline then it needs integrated, not independent Scope Management. If vetting requires ongoing reevaluations, then it needs to be collectively evaluated for impact.

If the overall objective of the project is to build common services and infrastructure on a central platform to serve specific ERP owners – especially  while modifications to ERPs, themselves, has been ongoing – the project needs to be part of a collective set of related projects, the “ERP Program[6].”

Recommendation

It is in the best interests of the Military Branch is adopt an integrated program for planning, estimating, executing and controlling ERP deployments for the identified Mission Critical Business Systems, as previously identified by the Undersecretary. The observation, to date, is that this has not been the case. A collective Program Scope Statement and Charter should be the initial deliverables of the program. The “ERP Common Services” project should be collectively viewed as a separate dependency for overall program success. Since time is the one resource that cannot be recaptured in any endeavor, critical path activities to build infrastructure and cybersecurity should continue to the extent explicitly agreed to by managers identified within a Program Charter. An objective should be to deploy[7] the minimum accepted infrastructure, cybersecurity (and common services tools) while establishing the overall ERP Program, comprised of representatives of existing organizations and any others as deemed necessary by Military Branch management.

This would most likely be the simplest and most manageable approach, in the best interests of all concerned.

Large Scale Government IT Deployment and the Russian Winter

In Mein Kampf, and in subsequent speeches and communications within, Hitler demonstrated that he coveted the Eurasian heartland, much of which was part of Russian territories. He felt this land would be needed to support the Reich, once it was established and started to flourish. He also expressed what bordered on respect and admiration for England.

After Germany invaded Poland, and having dismissed prior appeasements and seizing Czechoslovakia, Hitler was confronted with the byproduct of European alliances that brought England into the escalating conflict. Seeing his dream for the Reich being threatened, Hitler signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin in 1939, knowing full well Russia’s lands were what he ultimately coveted. But he had to now be concerned about England, of course, observing Napoleon’s failure to win on two fronts in the previous century.

England was fighting hard in these years, and, since the Allies ultimately won, we of course hear much about their bravery, as well we should.  But it is the strategic and tactical decisions facing Hitler – and what ultimately transpired – that is of interest to any program or project manager –particularly American ones – for the US influenced him greatly, long before Pearl Harbor. It is an example of continuing without a clear scope, a lack of appreciation for completing a core dependency in order to achieve overall success.

The Axis Powers, as we know, were comprised primarily of Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan.

Historians have pointed out for decades that this alliance was not as strong as the Allies. Even though we have been accused of being “separated by a common language,” Great Britain and the US have obvious similarities in history, culture, government, etc. Germany and Japan, however, were as far apart as… the United States and Japan… in these important concerns, that guide decisions.

Japan was a developing economy in the Pacific. The US, from prior conflicts, with Spain, for example, dominated growth opportunities for Japan, such as the Philippines. Some historians have pointed out that it was this affinity to England, and not Japan, that directed FDR and military thinking during this time.[8] Of note, of course, is that Japanese officials were in Washington discussing options just hours about the December 7, 1941 attack. Was this a decoy, or desperate last ditch attempt to avoid war? Most think it’s the former but the degree to which that may be true is unclear.

How much of this could Hitler know or sense, prior to breaking his agreement with Stalin? Was he powerless in having Japan delay before engaging the US? Why would he make the same mistake Napoleon made? At least Hitler was spared the effects his error and died before witnessing his egregious tactics while Napoleon had the rest of his life in exile to ponder it.

We know what contributed greatly to killing both of their visions: the bitter Russian winter. If nothing else, the Russian winter caused Time and Resource Management variances that crippled France and Germany, respectively, in these 19th and 20th century conflicts   The Russian people and their culture, after an insanely disproportionate sacrifice, were protected by nature as well an enemy’s hubris.

As every American should remember, the Russians, despite their revolution were on the Allied side in WWII.  It is technology, starting in 1945, that underscores why Russia can no longer rely on nature to aid in her protection. It could also help explain her suspicion, motives and tactics with the West… but that’s a topic for another day.

What’s relevant is that, Hitler, in particular, ignored the true dependency and impediment to his vision of global domination with the Reich: Britain. This reality is supported by a balanced view supported by project management. Notably, Scope and Time Management.

With his Non-Aggression Pact signed with Stalin in 1939, Hitler was already engaged with bombing England. However, he didn’t invade. Why not? Did he attack Russia, Operation Barbarossa, because he feared the window shrinking to seize Russian lands? How much did he know of the Japanese impatience with the US? Did he know how imminent their attack was? Considering key dates – December 7, 1941 and June 6, 1944 – Hitler may have had about that amount of time 2.5 years to cripple / conquer / colonize England and spare his vision prior to the most effective European mobilization of the US, “the sleeping giant.[9]

In short, Hitler made a tactical change management decision – attack Russia – that ignored a basic dependency – Britain, and later the US, would exhaust his attention and resources in the West to the detriment of his overall goal.

It’s, of course, incredibly insensitive to discuss losses from the largest conflict in human history to any IT implementation of any kind in any context. I do so, respectfully, to emphasize a project management parallel:

  • If neutralizing England was not in Scope for the Third Reich wasn’t it destined to fail?
  • If deploying a common Infrastructure is not sufficiently in Scope for a large scale ERP Deployment isn’t it destined to fail?

Change, Simplicity and the “Multiplicity of Confusion”

 

Newton is considered to be the father of Calculus, the Mathematics of Change. Differential and integral calculus branches combine to provide “fundamental notions of convergence of infinite sequences and infinite series to a well-defined limit.[10]” While program and project manager’s hope that “sequences” and “series” are not infinite, they can often seem so in trying to define, wrestle with modifications along the way, and ultimately deliver on a project, the “well-defined limit.” Newton – a marked genius from late in the European period known as the Enlightenment – was, by most accounts, a pious and direct man. Ironically, for this analogy of course, he was English.

Operation Barbarossa represented a decision point for Hitler. His failure to consider a core dependency – neutralizing Britain – underscores that he failed with correctly interpreting “convergence of infinite sequences and infinite series to a well-defined limit.”

And the world is a better place, of course, because of his failure to assess the impact, the “sequence,” of the Russian winter on his fate. As the victors surmise, he was also handicapped by “confusion.”

Newton would likely have counseled him to Simplify, to define clearly what the Axis was collectively trying to do. They would have likely have failed ultimately, anyway. However, Newton’s voice could not be heard to help those Russian and German soldiers – nor the millions of peasants in the plains and city dwellers on the eastern front.  They suffered greatly and paid the ultimate price – perhaps – for one, prosaic reason… an excuse?

Axis leaders, despite being educated men, didn’t speak Newton’s language.

Those who manage large projects with complex variables of time, cost and opportunity have an obligation to continually evauluate Scope – to Simplify – and avoid “confusion”.

Especially when using other people’s money, with or without the consequences of war.

[1] The Mathematical Study of Change

[2] Project Management Institute, Newtown, Pennsylvania

[3] Jiang, J. J., Chen, E., & Klein, G. (2002). The importance of building a foundation for user involvement in information system projects. Project Management Journal, 33(1), 20–26.”

[4] Article II, Constitution of the United States of America.

[5] Core Project Phases as  per the Project Management Institute

[6] “A program is a set of interrelated projects.” Project Management Institute

[7] “Install, configure and customize”

[8] The Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan, Ronald Spector, 1985

[9] Isoroku Yamamoto, Naval Marshall Empire of Japan, Attributed but not affirmed.

[10] Wikipedia

 

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Time for a Reset?

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

As 2018 careens to an end, few would challenge this has been a tumultuous year! It has been a period encompassing natural disasters, geo-political tensions, domestic polarization, and extremis positions taken on multiple matters.

In every aspect of daily life we see an either/or mentality becoming prevalent: EITHER cats OR dogs. EITHER Republican OR Democrat. EITHER Citizen OR Foreigner. It’s coffee or tea, and those who like both, or prefer to drink water, must pick a side or risk being excluded from the conversation.

In our client work, DPC has found these and other elements to be fostering an unfortunate and unintended consequence in the workplace environment.

The outcome of the above is we are discerning a significant increase in the words “bully, victim, rude, and fear” the frequency of which is, frankly, disconcerting.

During a recent DPC internal exercise focused on “what are we noticing that is of concern” we collectively concluded that while references such as the above were not unheard of, they are now normative lexicon, and this is alarming!

The average age of DPC Advisors is now 67 with an on-average Consulting experience level of 40+ years so when we notice such an observable trend, we have to ask “what are the implications for our clients”?

The conclusions we have drawn based upon this trend are three-fold:

  1. Many actions seem to prompt an over-reaction—reduction in filters, aka an epidemic of lack of restraint or perspective
  2. There is an expectation that, in order for someone to win, someone has to lose— internal competition at expense of collaboration as a team member or corporate member
  3. Biased listening is the communication foundation—talking past each other, resulting in a loss of both objectivity, and opportunities to learn.

Our internal narrative has become, regardless of personal or career situation, one that appears to be built on underlying anxiety, and driven by uncertainty.  Accordingly, this disequilibrium is negatively influencing behaviors and engagement, and our perceptions of people, places, and even ideas.

During the Viet-Nam era the saying “we have met the enemy and they are us” first surfaced in the comic strip Pogo. This sentiment was not US centric, being replicated in many societies.

Given the demographic of DPC Advisors, our recollection is this saying resonated due to then societal circumstances.

Our belief is that a similar phenomenon within enterprise settings is embedding itself and unless confronted it will be a lose/lose for the individual and the enterprise.

History can repeat itself!

We prefer our clients not to become their own worst enemies. It is essential that they confront any aspect of the culture that nurtures anxiety, fear or disunity.

Tolerance vs. confronting is not a tenable path for organizations. We encourage leaders to examine the prevailing mindset of executives and to make the investment in reaffirming the commitment to “being mindful and respectful”. Otherwise, allowing personal ambitions to compromise collective achievement is too great a risk.

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Enterprise Continuity-Danger Ahead

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

As fall approaches and 2019 to 2020 planning becomes as a serious effort there are two demographic challenges that will have to be addressed simultaneously:

  1. The accelerated desire to retire of Baby Boomers whom while may they remain in the workforce will not be doing so as full time employees
  2. The painful awareness on the part of Generation X executives that the dreaded age of 50 is imminent prompting the likelihood that company/role changes, are being contemplated “before I get too old”

Boomer Executive Transitions
Discussion Partner Collaborative
began researching and providing Advisory support on Executive Transitions in 2013 primarily focused on creating a “soft landing” for both the senior leader and their company when the “Boomer” retired.

Both DPC’s research and client work with now over 500 executives suggest a much more generous interpretation of the word retirement is long overdue.

The reality is that most executives while leaving full time employment remain engaged in a myriad of capacities such as Interim Executives, Board Membership, Advisory Endeavors, Educators, and Entrepreneurs.

Given the Executives now feel “in control of their life and calendar” they engage in two to three endeavors usually on a part time basis.

Discussion Partner’s best selling book on this topic Executive Transitions-Plotting The Opportunity! will be reprised with a new book in 2019, Executive Transitions-Looking Forward In The Rearview Mirror!

Aging Dilemma for GenX
Beginning in 2016 via our research and advisory work in the Succession Planning/Executive Transitions area we became aware of a significant risk to enterprise sustainability and engagement.

The identified concern is the pre-supposition of most Succession Plans that the pipeline of internal candidates from the Generation X cohort, will remain robust.

DPC experience has concluded this degree of comfort is misguided.

In the strongest possible terms we suggest companies not presume longevity of Generation X executives as a given.   Our validated premise is as Generation X executives spy age 50 on the horizon, there is an overt desire for change.  This is not due to unhappiness with their situation, moreover it is the concern that when they hit this mystical age, their career trajectory options diminish.

The above is more prevalent in larger, well-established companies, where the executive has been associated for approximately 10 years.  However DPC has also seen in our Advisory work the same phenomenon in sectors such as Life Sciences and Technology where tenure as a rule is short lived.

As proof of concern in the 18 months after creating a service offering to address this issue, DPC has worked with 80 clients.

78 of the 80 with the average age of 47 were contemplating a company change!

The Ongoing Priority of Building The Bench
In our Leadership Effectiveness work Discussion Partner Collaborative has concluded that any attempt to avoid the need to a. build a bench within the enterprise and/or b. manifesting reluctance to self assess incumbent aspirations, is self defeating.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of lacking control that has made succession planning—the continuity and transitional aspects of this effort in particular— such a hot topic these days. After all, it’s human nature to want to contain the uncertainties in life while maximizing the opportunities—as contradictory as that may seem!

Urgency” would be a fair characterization of the feeling our clients have expressed towards the holistic succession planning process.

If you accept DPC’s conclusion that your organization’s future will benefit from a deep-dive review of its Succession and Continuity planning processes taking into consideration the “age 50 paradox” we believe your Talent Readiness position will avoid unpleasant surprises.

Notwithstanding pre-existing protocols, we are suggesting this review encompass the most generous interpretation of processes concomitant with experimental and disruptive solution sets.

       I. What skills sets will we need beyond domain proficiency to have a sustainable
growth oriented enterprise?

      II. How does our current population of Leaders and Future Leaders compare to
these desired attributes?

     III. How can we develop and/or hire sufficient numbers of people to address deficiencies
in the above?

    IV. What is the true nature of our Leadership bench in respect to Readiness?

     V. What is our contingency plan to be deployed if necessary?

In 1964 The Who recorded the song My Generation containing the famous lines “hope I die before I get old!”

Dr. Lynda Gratton of London Business School last year published The 100 Year Life a now best seller in Europe.

Reconciling the contradictory thematic is straightforward.  Executives want challenge and a feeling of relevance in addition to longevity.  While logic suggests that 50 is not in of itself a career crossroad, it is one of those ages where reflection is normal.

DPC’s suggestion is to accept the realities of aspirations of both Boomer and Generation X cohorts, and plan accordingly. It is better to channel the dialogue than be surprised by a decision.

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The Challenge of the Non-Existent Employee

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

The terrific news on the domestic US unemployment rate does surface a huge dilemma for every economic sector, how will we fill the labor needs to pursue opportunities?

We need to accept as a given, the people we are looking to hire were never born! The recent DOL report suggests without reservation that the competition for skilled and un-skilled labor will increase in the months ahead.

In our Leadership Effectiveness work Discussion Partner Collaborative has concluded that any attempt to avoid the need to a. build a bench within the enterprise and/or b. manifesting reluctance to self assess incumbent deficiencies, is self defeating, and a sense of urgency exists to do both.

The Ongoing Priority of Building The Bench

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is more than halfway over! Given the geo-political dynamics before us, we can expect that, for better or for worse, the rest of the year will be just as turbulent as the first half, with a compelling aspect being the securing of sufficient numbers of employees to exploit opportunities.

It’s been a roller coaster in the labor market and unfortunately there’s not much the average though engaged executive can do but exert influence where one can.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of lacking control that has made Succession Planning—the continuity and transitional aspects of this effort in particular— such a hot topic these days. After all, it’s human nature to want to contain the uncertainties in life while maximizing the opportunities—as contradictory as that may seem!

Urgency” would be a fair characterization of the feeling our clients have expressed towards the holistic Succession Planning process recently, and in response to that, today we’re sharing a slightly revised version of a blog we posted in January 2018. We have made updates to reflect the latest data from DPC Research and client experience. The data continues to support our original hypothesis that, your organization’s future will benefit from a deep-dive review of its Succession and Continuity planning processes!

Notwithstanding pre-existing protocols, we are suggesting this review encompass the most generous interpretation of processes concomitant with experimental and disruptive solution sets.

Our recommendation is driven by results of an on-going study DPC conducts with now over 2500 Global C-Suite participants.  The survey is on the topic of anticipated enterprise challenges. As of Memorial Day 93% of those surveyed indicated “the ability to attract, motivate, and retain top talent” as their #1 concern.

DPC envisions the announcement today by the Department of Labor on the Unemployment rate will only intensify thus concern.

Discussion Partner’s have been conducting this ongoing Pulse survey since our founding in 2007. The intensity of the above concern while always “on the list” since 2016 has been #1.

Augmenting prioritization the anecdotal justifications were compelling inclusive of envisioned shifting demographics, new worker expectations, disruption of organization models, competitive pressures, globalization, and ineffective human capital practices.

The May 2018 DOL report can be reduced to an unavoidable conclusion, the competition for critical mass and appropriately skilled workers will only get worse.

DPC’s recommendation is further reinforced by a review of the recent literature on this topic.

  1. The strategic imperative for Talent depth to be an asset vs. liability referenced in consolidated research on Leadership Succession/Continuity most recently 2017 and 2018 series of articles in HBR, WSJ, Financial Times, McKinsey Insights and Sloan Management Review
  2. The Point of View that has emerged from our Advisory work particularly in 2017 and continuing in 2018 represents an opportunity to use a “Disruptive Organization Model” for Talent processes overall and Leadership matters in particular

As further justification for this Recommendation the following foundation is provided.

  • Dr. Noel Tichy in his recent book Succession asserts that without proactive planning on how to fill, and inventory of talent well in advance of leadership, and/or key role “vacancies”, the chance of success is below 50% for replacement personnel
  • Ram Charan in his book The Attackers Advantage and HBR articles offers the following (paraphrased) –Leaders (Directors, Owners, CEO’s) who excel at selection are willing to expand the lens in how they look at the capabilities of reporting levels beyond performance track record to the 2 to 3 interwoven predictive behaviors that will be necessary for success

In the context of the recent HBR assertion “Succession Planning takes years not months” DPC would recommend the following steps:

  1. Senior level stakeholder interviews focused on “beyond task proficiency” what are the essential differentiating qualities that will be needed for success
  2. Comparative Inventory of Leaders (broad based) and high potentials in relationship to these attributes
  3. Embed into developmental and hiring strategies the lessons learned from this exercise
  4. Creation of a Critical Constituency Depth Chart whereby the following is highlighted
    a. Identification of 1 ready now replacement
    b. Identification of 2 possible replacements
    c. Identification of external Search capabilities to be deployed in emergencies and/or
    lack of “ready now” sense of urgency
    d. Assignment of non-senior leaders a “personal growth and development task”
    similar to the GE “popcorn stand” to provide additional evaluative foundation

The New England Patriots have a mantra of “do your job” multiple Superbowls indicates the validity of this philosophy. However, DPC would argue in the commercial sector this would be limiting for the medium to long term for any existing organization. Our impetus is that the above suggestions represent process steps that should be presently underway and if not, a sense of urgency should exist. DPC would substitute the words “do the job you should have been doing all along!”

Additionally, we would embed the following questions:

  1. What skills sets will we need beyond domain proficiency to have a sustainable growth oriented
    enterprise?
    II.  How does our current population of Leaders and Future Leaders compare to these desired attributes?
    III.  How can we develop and/or hire sufficient numbers of people to address deficiencies in the above?
    IV.  What is the true nature of our Leadership bench in respect to Readiness?
    V.  What is our contingency plan to be deployed if necessary?

What About the Leaders as a Constituency?

Einstein’s definition of insanity is “continuing to repeatedly do the same things anticipating a different result”.

DPC thought it would be useful to share an exercise we conducted to answer the question do we remain “edgy.” Given the average age of our Partnership is 64, and our grandchildren now offer technical support, this seemed like a sensible idea.

The objective of our exercise was to insure as Advisors we were not getting intellectually lazy and out of touch with the Essential elements of both enterprise sustainability and the differentiating profile of the “new worker”.  Our catalyst was awareness that we were giving almost verbatim answers to these questions and felt the need to reality check ourselves on the wisdom of our advice.

To that end, we conducted an internal pulsed survey, which was later tested with key relationships on three questions:

  1. Are we doing the right things to remain edgy and how do we know?
  2. Are we assuming correctly our insights are relevant and actionable?
  3. Are we focused on those Leadership challenges that if not addressed by clients will act as Strategic Restraints?

Validating that we are at least attempting to focus on the right topics, at the right time, and embedding intellectual curiosity and rigor into our protocols, DPC as is our practice refined our similar points of view into Discussion Points on elements of “Core” as defined as the platform for growth or potential for meltdown on two topics:

  1. Differentiated Enterprise Success Factors
  2. Differentiated Behaviors for New Worker Success

Differentiated Enterprise Success Factors

In respect to Enterprise Success factors, we have an emerging level of comfort there are three Core Components as follows:

Enterprise Core Success Drivers

The three Core success drivers DPC have identified are what tongue in cheek refers to as “Triple A” positioning.

  1. Anticipation-being able to identify trends real time in advance of competitors that if pursued enhance the potential for enterprise success – for example an organized process for R&D investment vs. gravitation towards the loudest advocate for their idea
  2. Agility  the ability to pursue multiple tracks in tandem proficiently, embedding flexibility, ongoing incorporation of lessons learned, and deployment of a Null Hypothesis contingency if corrections are required – for example when to exit a business line
  3. Alignment – consolidation of initiatives purpose built for customers that promote their interests in a sustainable measurable manner vs. a “one off” success decision that ultimately is short lived or possibly even worse, results in disenfranchisement of enterprise wide success-for example a product that may enjoy success as a “fad” but whose success horizon is truncated

For Baseball aficionados the reference to Triple A is not accidental, as is the case in the Sport, the modus operandi of “trial and error” is encouraged.

Differentiated Behaviors for New Worker Success
Core Elements Incumbent Profile
There is no enterprise on the Planet that is not being challenged by the dynamics of the “new worker”. During our deliberations we asked ourselves the following questions:

  1. Do Boomers and Generation X have attitudes or behaviors that Millennial don’t possess or care to secure?
  2. Are the differences between and among the cohorts the result of leadership deficiencies vs. gaps in attitude or proficiency?
  3. Is it advisable to manage incumbents differently by cohort vs. self-awareness that career progression and aspirations are fluid?
  4. Should managers manifest sensitivity to, vs. modification of various leadership style dynamics?

After much deliberation and arguing, sometimes cordially, DPC has identified 3 key factors we perceive as the Contributory Differentiators regardless of workforce demographic (Boomer, GenX, or Millennial).

The three Key factors are as follows:

  1. Self Sufficiency-the incumbents ability to function independently, with low managerial maintenance, concomitant with willingness to take acceptable risks while always being prepared to defend decisions
  2. Accountability Obsessive-takes assignment of tasks, and acceptance of same, as personal promises, never deferring to “the other guys fault” or “dog ate my homework” defense for inadequacy
  3. Achievement Oriented-career focused and driven to succeed through collaborative means, eradicating from their personal identity, “for me to win someone has to lose” while recognizing the definition of success in of itself is different by person vs. universal by age

Transitioning Organizations Bifurcation Concept

A call out to the above is that in organizations transitioning, independent of impetus there are always incumbents whom for the moment are essential: but proficiency and/or attitudinal model. The key is to keep these “legacies” productive until such time as they are displaced. Be advised that how this process is handled is of critical importance as it sends messages throughout the universe these days and to avoid apologies, it is best the incumbent is aware, feels supported and most importantly treated with dignity.

Discussion Partner’s finished this exercise with an awareness that it should be embedded into our ongoing methodology review or we will revert from Triple A to Sandlot players very quickly.

Summary Suggestion

DPC recommends that at the enterprise level a similar exercise is be conducted to promote your own “edginess.” Our rationale is that the pace of change is accelerating and there is a downside to the June 1st DOL report in that if a company ever find’s itself in the position of asking “what do we do now”, it is already too late.

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