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LEADERSHIP: Stepping up to Workplace Demands in 5 Innovative Ways

n1534940476_7083I don’t know about you, but I am very glad to leave 2009 behind. In fact, the whole “00” decade wasn’t what I had dreamed about when we were all preparing for Y2K. At that time, we were on the cusp of a new century and everything sounded exciting: the projected technological and scientific advances, globalization of industry in a world that would bring people together, greater respect and support for diversity, and more sensitivity to the environmental issues. There was even talk about how we would achieve better work/life balance because of the speed of technology. 
While we turned over the century without projected disruption of Y2K, the “00” decade turned difficult and scary very fast with September 11th, the increase in offshore manufacturing and corresponding loss of American factory jobs, two wars, and the economic turmoil of the last two years. At New Directions, we have had to approach all these changes much like a rubber ball – bouncing and adapting to what comes along, projecting what might happen with various clients, making some difficult staffing cutbacks, pulling in on growth plans, and relentlessly improving our training and consulting skills and offerings. 
In many ways, I don’t think these demands are going to change much in the next few years. The challenges will continue, but an opportunity exists today to mentally “put away the old decade and bring in a new one.” Looking at it that way energizes me because it doesn’t have to be business as usual. In fact, as I look ahead, as well as read the thoughts of others, I’d suggest the following 5 ideas as good conversation starters for 2010: 
1. See it as a new decade, not just a New Year. Take time to envision what you want to see happening in your organization, or even your department, over the next decade and start mapping out – at a macro level – the big transformations that will need to occur. Then break it down into what can be accomplished this year.
2. Commit to continuous learning. We all acknowledge that the world is changing rapidly, with experts predicting that we’re on the edge of a whole new technology transformation coming soon. We must be vigilant about keeping our skills and competencies up to date, whether that’s by reading, taking classes, finding mentors (remember a Gen Y is a great mentor to teach you social media skills), and benchmarking what we’re doing against best practices.
3. Learn how to add value. Experts suggest that 40% of executives in key positions in organizations fail, at a cost to the organization of six times their annual salary (Training, July 2008). They fail because they haven’t learned how to add value. So many times we think the only way to add value is through our technical skills. But, in truth, there are many process skills that are tremendously beneficial to an organization: communication, planning, facilitating, prioritizing, problem solving, decision making, teambuilding, project managing and the list goes on.
4. Keep the big picture in focus.  John Kotter suggests that 70% of change initiatives typically fail. Much of the reason is because leaders start to “drill down” into the details and lose the big picture and their role as change champions. Hanging onto the big picture requires seeing the organization and its future from a “systems” perspective. Rather than a left (past) to right (future) process, systems thinking works from right to left (begin with the desired outcome and work to close the gap between the future and today). Try this in an upcoming meeting by inviting the group to define the end and work backwards.
5. Speak up.  Research done by the Concours Group suggests that 85% of why projects fail is due to “silence.” It begins with project sponsors who do not communicate clearly about expectations and are resistant to hearing feedback. It follows with “fact-free planning” when deliverables, budgets and timelines are set with no opportunity for input from the people who will actually do the work. When this happens, there is an 88% failure rate. Once a project starts, it can derail when team members neglect to honestly communicate project risks, delays and problems. Seventy-eight percent of these projects will go over budget and 74% will under-deliver. And, over 80% of projects are compromised by members who do not show up for meetings, fail to meet schedules, and don’t bother to respond to emails or communicate with team members.
I purposefully kept the list short in order to encourage all of us to focus on one or two of these ideas going forward. Leave a comment and let me know which appeals to you – or maybe you have a different idea to share for the coming New Year. For me, goals are exciting because they represent building – and that’s so much more interesting than just maintaining.
Happy New Year!  Bonne année!

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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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