Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Crystalizing Hope in the Crisis

This week’s guest blogger, Dr. Matt Barney writes about how to crystallize hope during the crisis.

Feel free to catch up on our previous COVID-19 posts.

Here’s what he had to say…

During 9/11, I vividly remember running Motorola’s Six Sigma practice and trying to help the company and external customers through that difficult time.  

Because Six Sigma uses interdisciplinary methods to either create a product or process that is nearly perfect or take existing processes and services to new levels, it gives senior leaders unique insights into where and how to transform the firm.  

Motorola’s bottlenecks were typically in two places – either externally with sales, or internally with manufacturing.  The matra all the leaders communicated was the importance of working on the “vital few” – the factors that made the biggest difference in ameliorating the business-level bottleneck.  

Six Sigma gave Motorolans a shared language, and culture that helped Motorola’s leaders paint a picture of shared goals and a sophisticated toolset that improved the odds that those ambitious goals were achievable.  

Unfortunately, since then at Motorola and elsewhere, Six Sigma devolved into an approach that was busy solving the wrong-problems to the third decimal point or become a box-checking exercise.  

The leaders that really understood Digital Lean Six Sigma have retired, and now the approach is largely seen as passe. As a result, today Motorola is a shadow of its former self.

Later, during the great recession, I worked for the visionary founders of Infosys running their leadership institute. They started the company with a $200 loan from the founder’s wife in 1981 – a time of great economic hardship in India, before market liberalization.  Today Infosys has a market cap of $34B and is seen as India’s biggest entrepreneurial success story of all time. 

A few weeks after I moved to India to work for Infosys’ founders, the sub-continent experienced their own Enron scandal with one of Infosys’ competitors – Satyam.  The news broke during a global meeting inside my Infosys Leadership Institute, where senior leaders had flown in from around the world for the annual strategic planning conference.  

Infosys’ founder and Chief Mentor, N.R.N. Murthy used the crisis as an opportunity to celebrate the Infosys value system, and how – in spite of infamous corruption that pollutes India – Infosys is so well known for never paying bribes. He pointed out myriad competitive advantages Infosys has from a strong reputation of integrity – he was trusted with the Prime Minister’s personal number, and unlike the rest of Corporate India, state and local governments no longer tried to blackmail Infosys because they eventually calculated that there was no ROI.  

Murthy inspired the Infosys senior leaders with emotional stories and phrases like, “The softest pillow is a clear conscience”. His charisma was able to turn macroeconomic lemons into instructional lemonade, and he strengthened the capacity of Infosys to weather those economic storms.

Murthy is a business Gandhi. 

Those of us working in the coaching industry need to help our leaders find their own version of this excellence. 

Leaders need to first recognize the humanity in the COVID-19 and economic crisis and refocus the team on what really matters.  Our leaders need to find their own courage to find a way to be genuinely optimistic in the face of the painful, heart-wrenching adversity we all face.  

If leaders aren’t honestly optimistic, they need to go back to hard work to figure out a legitimate path forward for the entire team to survive, and eventually thrive. These are classic places coaching can help, and some of the new science around inspirational motivation, pioneered by my friend John Antonakis at the University of Lausanne, can be a big boost to coaches helping clients that need to inspire.  

Leaders are all over the organization – even individual contributors – not just in the c-suite.

Everyone, even the Chair of the Board, leads and follows as the situation requires.  

Individual contributors need to persuade others to fully leverage their ideas that solve collective problems.  

At the same time, leaders at the top of a hierarchy do have a unique vantage point. A key function they play is sharing a view of the entire system to help the collective focus on what really matters.  

This is what Motorola called the “vital few”.  In complex social systems, these are always in the constraints – the areas of the organization that, if they got better, would dramatically improve the ultimate objectives.  

Another part of a leader’s job is to make sure that everyone knows they have an important role to play, but not all processes or people are in those bottleneck areas. Because all of us suffer from a lack of information, and typically need to focus narrowly, we often are not aware of what these constraints are at the system level. For that, we need honest, thoughtful, and skillful leaders to help the team put a spotlight on the gaps so that the right individuals and resources can quickly close them.  

When multiple leaders share these mental models and value systems, as Infosys employees did, the result is breathtaking.

That’s why I see some hopeful glimmers of potential in the current crisis. 

I founded my company because I was very tired of fraud and fiction masquerading as fact in the leader development space. Far too often, organizations are dazzled by the latest fad or the charismatic guru who sometimes recommends the opposite of what really works. 

While the leader development emperors are not always naked, too often they’re just wearing a tiny g-string.  

Today, I’m optimistic about the long-run. 

I am hopeful that the current crisis will make business people less interested in what sounds or looks good, and more interested in what actually shows impact. The most likely way to quickly get through the current quagmire is with the latest science and technology.

If the world decides to focus on what really matters as a result of this crisis, I foresee a renaissance.  Scientist-practitioners have very sophisticated approaches that can dramatically improve our individuals, leaders, and teams.  

To paraphrase Gandhi, we’d like to “be the change we would like to see in the world”.

Tell us what you’ve learned from this or can add to the conversation by commenting on this blog or by connecting with your colleagues on our Facebook page.

Here is some information about the author:

Matt Barney, Ph.D. is the Founder and CEO of LeaderAmp, an award-winning platform for expert and Artificially Intelligent coaching and assessment.   In his 25+ year career in multinationals such as AT&T, Motorola, Merck, and Infosys, Dr. Barney has innovated interdisciplinary science and technology resulting in four patents, ten books, and over 150 keynotes.   Since 2014, he has served on the Business Affairs committee of the board of not-for-profit scientific publisher Annual Reviews. He can be reached >>> by email <<<