“Decision making is an art only until the person understands the science.”
―Pearl Zhu, Decision Master: The Art and Science of Decision Making

The average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions daily (Sahakian & LaBuzetta, 2013). Considering the amount of time we spend on this, have you ever stopped to think how you could be more effective at making conscious decisions? Even the time of day we make a decision can affect the outcome. So, what is the best time and moment to make important decisions?
Let’s consider an excerpt from a study published in 2011, on how the time of day influences our decision-making ability.
 

Decision Making and Time of Day

 

“Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:

    • Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
    • Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
    • Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.”

 

Making Effective Conscious Decisions

 
Our decisions are influenced by external circumstances and the effect these have on us personally.
Making Effective Conscious Decisions
The time of the day is a big one! How rested or tired, how hungry, stressed and/or rushed we are at that time, among other things, are crucial conditions to keep in mind when wanting to make more effective decisions.
Here are my main takeaways about making effective conscious decisions based on different cases, studies, and science:

  • The mental work we do over the course of a day wears down people’s decision-making capacity.
  • As our energy is depleted, the brain will look for shortcuts. One shortcut is to make more impulsive decisions, the other is to postpone decisions. Which do you think is the more effective route?
  • These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. That’s why it’s harder to resist temptations at the end of the day.
  • Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options. The word “decide” shares an etymological root with “homicide,” the Latin word “caedere,” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill,” and that loss looms especially large when decision fatigue sets in.
  • Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision-making.
  • Glucose level influences decision-making. Do not make decisions on an empty stomach.

So, what does this all mean for making effective conscious decisions? We may not always be able to control the external factors influencing us, but by being aware of them, we can choose to postpone important decisions or take care of ourselves in a better way to make them more effective.
 

If you would like to know more about effective decision making, meetings, and commitments, check out my webinar, Making things happen: improving the way we make decisions.

 
Sources used in this article: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? and “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions” by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso

Many companies begin their culture journey motivated to make big changes. While the intention of major change is there, some will lack the follow-through to sustain focus and solidify lasting change. Taking the time to measure the progress of your culture in a conscious, intentional, and continuous way is important to keep your initiatives on track.
The first step for many organizations is to conduct a baseline culture assessment, typically consisting of quantitative and qualitative data. The purpose of the assessment is to identify their ideal culture, measure the current culture, and find out where the gaps are. This data helps leaders get aligned on their vision, as well as to better understand the mindsets, values, and beliefs that are widely shared in the organization, and how they may enable or get in the way of attaining results.
As the culture transformation process unfolds – roadmaps are defined, workshops are conducted, communication strategies are implemented and change agents are mobilized – measurement typically goes to the bottom of the priority list.  Rarely do we find that the same level of rigor that was used in the assessment step is applied to measure the progress and impact of culture change initiatives.  The approach is often limited to informal sensing based on unstructured conversations and casual observations, or relying on employee engagement surveys, which seldom measure shifts in mindsets and behaviors. This makes it hard to pinpoint where are we making progress and what we need to do to accelerate the change.
However, administering comprehensive culture surveys and conducting multiple interviews and focus groups may not always be feasible if you want to keep the pulse on the change and assess progress in a continuous way.
Here are some ideas to help you design your culture measurement strategy:
 

Identify where you are in your culture journey

Have you recently started your culture transformation effort?  Have you already started mobilizing people and launching initiatives?  Understanding where you are will help you define what you need to look for (your key hypothesis and key research questions) and the data sources that will be most helpful.  For example, you could assess the following:

  • Change readiness – Do you want to see if leaders and employees are aware, willing, and able to drive change?
  • Culture drivers – Do you want to see how effective the new programs or initiatives are?
  • Mindset changes – Do you want to assess if the desired culture mindsets and behaviors are becoming norms?
  • Outcomes – Do you want to understand how culture is impacting key business and people results?

At the beginning of your culture journey, you may want to focus on measuring change readiness and the effectiveness of culture initiatives.  As your process takes root, you can focus more on behavioral and outcome measures.
 

Identify potential sources of data

Since culture is experienced, the best insights typically come from a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.  Based on your key research questions, you can strategically identify potential data sources (such as employee lifecycle surveys, leadership 360s, performance evaluation forms, training feedback, sentiment analysis from employee comments, or feedback data) that can be re-imagined for intentionally capturing meaningful culture insights.  If your focus is more on assessing outcomes, consider conducting advanced analytics, integrating people metrics (such as engagement, retention, development and performance measures) with employee surveys and customer data.
 

Identify potential experiments

Many successful culture change initiatives are rolled out in phases.  This gives the organization the opportunity to learn and adjust, create success stories, and form culture champions.  The phased approach also lends itself to measuring the impact of the culture initiatives over time for certain groups and to compare the differences among groups who have experienced the change vs. those who have not.  Designing and measuring experiments will help you refine your approach before committing to bigger investments, make participants an active part of your broader change process, and assess the ROI of your initiatives.
 

Conclusion

Your strategy to measure the progress of your culture should be aligned to the mindsets that you are looking to drive – whether it is agility, innovation, accountability, or inclusion.  Be intentional and approach the measurement process with curiosity – you are not looking for a pass or fail grade, but for powerful insights that will help you shape your best next step in your culture transformation journey.

When it comes to culture transformation initiatives, complying with change is different from committing to change. For it to be successful, leaders need to be committed to changing how they think, act, and interact. You can’t force this kind of change… at least not sustainably. An essential part of closing the gap between where an organization is now and where they need to be is providing a clear roadmap of the culture plan. This is an important step toward making the necessary changes.
 

Creating the roadmap for culture change

 
The results of the tools we use in Axialent to measure the current and ideal culture (OCI® Organizational Culture Inventory® and OEI® Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) and the leadership styles and behaviors (LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®) allow an organization to identify levers for change, so they can establish a detailed action plan for successful change management and measure their progress.
Developing an action plan for culture change requires planning for deeper, longer lasting transformation. It is not your regular change management plan.
It needs to cover the following aspects:

  • People need to understand the change, what it implies, and most importantly, why they should change.
  • They need to overcome any negative emotions associated with the change and connect it with positive emotions.
  • They need to be capable of change.
    The “Shadow of the Leader” is long. People will seek their leaders’ example of what it truly means to change. By using the LSI®(Life Styles Inventory®)tools from Human Synergistics, we provide leaders a powerful roadmap for themselves, that weaves neatly into the organizational roadmap because it is built on a common framework and a shared language.
    Most leaders easily “get” what needs to be done at an intellectual level. However, bridging the gap between knowing what they need to do and actually doing it requires working on a deeper level – what we call at Axialent the “being” level. Leaders have to become the leaders that the new culture needs them to be before we can aspire to achieve any true change and get others on board.
    Traditional training is insufficient for this – adaptive learning is a must in most cases.

Only after addressing these three factors can you expect people to be willing and committed to change.
 

Next steps – some food for thought

  • An action plan CAN be simple. It all boils down to who does what, by when.
  • Think of action planning as a proxy of the culture change you want to see. For example, if you want to foster a culture of greater accountability, empower autonomous teams to lead action planning for culture transformation in their sphere of influence and hold them accountable for progress and outcomes.
  • Consider mapping stakeholders by subcultures instead of the usual employee segments and check if this adds value to your action plan.
  • When you have a powerful suite of tools like the LSI, OEI, and OCI, you remove the guesswork from prioritization. You will have the main causal factors that will move the needle toward your desired culture. Concentrate on the handful of measures that will create the most impact instead of merely scratching the surface with various initiatives.
  • When you plan, test if executing short sprints instead of rolling out a titanic change program adds value. Carve out time in your plan to pause, re-measure, and recalibrate your plan itself.
  • Don’t wait until the end to conduct a post-mortem. Make learning an ‘action’ in your action plan by ensuring you will collect and analyze feedback and, more importantly, make time to integrate feedback.
  • Clearly lay out your options once you receive and analyze feedback (for example: pivot, persist, or pull the plug) to facilitate decision-making when that time comes.

 

Conclusion

Ensure that your roadmap for culture change includes actions that get people to truthfully say: “I understand why I need to change, I feel excited/happy/______ (<- your positive emotion goes here) about this change, I feel capable of changing what I am asked to change, and I’m committed to do so”. A clear roadmap of the culture journey will help to ensure success in implementing real and lasting change.
 
 

Have you ever struggled to establish a trusting relationship with a perfectionist boss? Some people believe perfectionism is a positive trait. They believe it fuels us to raise the bar in the pursuit of excellence. However, if you have ever tried to manage the expectations of a perfectionist in your life, then you can attest that it does not drive effectiveness. On the contrary, perfectionism kills excellence, harms relationships, compromises results in the long term, and generates frustration and disappointment.
 

The Perfectionist

For someone who has strong perfectionist traits, nothing is good if it is not perfect. The drive for perfection sets unreal standards for the individual and those around them.  A perfectionist will focus on the task and results over the team and the individual. This person will tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

They will be personally tuned in to all the details, taking on more than they can handle. This leader and their team will work hard for strenuous, long hours to accomplish the task… but it will still not be good enough.
For a perfectionist, establishing close relationships is tough. Perfectionists tend to alienate those around them. They do not trust others can complete the task flawlessly, so they try to control it by micromanaging each step of the process. People then disengage and disconnect, feeling oppressed and disempowered.
At an individual level, perfectionists are mainly trying to prove themselves and others right. Their self-worth is built on being seen as competent and flawless, by winning over others and delivering what they believe is expected of them: perfection. Perfectionists will often feel irritated, frustrated, and disappointed with themselves and their team for under-delivering according to unachievable standards.
 

Why do people think perfectionism drives sustainable results?

There is some common ground between a culture that embodies achievement and the one that promotes perfectionism: the drive, determination, and energy towards accomplishing the task and the commitment towards the quality of the outcome.
However, an organization that fosters a culture of achievement is continuously setting excellence standards (vs unrealistic standards of perfectionism). They look for new ways to become better, developing a growth mindset as the principle that underlies the culture. Fostering psychological safety and collaboration is key for teams and individuals to excel.  Failure in these types of organizations becomes part of the game. It is seen and lived by its members as an opportunity to learn, adapt, and continue improving. For a perfectionist, failure is difficult to embrace. It is directly related to one of their fears: not being good enough.
 

What are the differences between a perfectionist leader and an effective leader?

 

 

Perfectionism kills excellence. How can we move from being a perfectionist to an effective leader?

 

  1. Commit to fewer goals (no more than 3 at once): Do not lose sight of the WHY (purpose). Reflect on how each goal contributes to your purpose and prioritize your goals in terms of impact. When setting goals, frame them in terms of growth (e.g: improving from X to Y) and make sure they are realistic and possible, considering the timeframe.
  2. Focus & practice letting go: When delegating tasks to your team, start small. Choose tasks/projects that represent a lower risk for you. Then agree on a process with your team where you can jointly review the progress in a way that everyone feels comfortable.
  3. Get to know your team better: Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Explore how each person can contribute to creating impact. Test and learn. Challenge yourself to think outside of the box and invite others to try new things. People experience a flow state when working on something they feel passionate about.
  4. Ask for feedback from your peers & direct reports: Make time for After Action Reviews after each major task/project completion. Appreciate what has worked well and reflect on what could you have done differently to contribute effectively to the project. Ask for specific feedback on your improvement goal from others. Let others know your developmental path and encourage them to offer feedback when they experience you moving away from your goal.
  5. Be kind to yourself: Practice self-compassion. Perfectionists work towards unrealistic standards which generate frustration and feeds the “inner critic” that shouts, “you are not good enough”. Practice expressing gratitude and connecting with what works. Journaling is a powerful way to reflect and it reduces stress. Try this simple journaling exercise:

    In the morning, ask yourself:
    What would make today a wonderful day? What do I feel grateful for?
    At night: What good things happened today?

 

Conclusion

Our VUCA context requires leaders to develop a learning agility and be able to anticipate and adapt to constant changes. In order to do this, we need to be able to cope with failure and setbacks, learn, and strengthen our resilience. Perfectionist traits hinder change and effectiveness but can be overcome by developing the right mindsets (growth & learner) and being compassionate with our own self and others.
 

As we fast approach Q4 2020, the world is still experiencing much uncertainty and fast-paced change. Although we may be struggling with how to adjust to these changes, we must find a way to reconnect together with where we are now, our future, vision, and opportunities.
Many corporations normally gather for Leadership Summits at the end of their fiscal year to review what has been achieved and learnt, reflect on the coming year, and share key outcomes with their employees via global and/or local Town Halls. This routine is now in question as large in-person gatherings are not currently possible.
Revamping your Leadership Summit and Employee Town Hall : rows of seats in a lecture hall
 

Should the Covid-19 crisis freeze Corporate annual gatherings?

I would argue definitely not, for two reasons summarized by the saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste”:

  • In the coming months, you might still have to face and overcome the kind of organizational trauma Fran and I described in our first article in the series, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis. This potential trauma needs to be ‘put on the table’ and addressed, as my colleague Richi stated the only way out is through
  • This crisis is not only about trauma and disruption. It is also a fantastic opportunity for people and businesses to grow. Over the past 6 months we have seen many companies demonstrate extraordinary levels of resilience, agility, creativity, speed in decision making and action, collaboration, empathy and solidarity. We heard from CEOs that “we’ve shown that we can be quick, agile, innovative. Now we can’t ignore it and go back to our old way of thinking, working and interacting”.

End-of-year Leadership Summits and Town Halls are exactly the right moments to address these two issues.
 

Revamping your Leadership Summit and Employee Town Hall

As of today, for obvious reasons, there is no practical way to have global and regional gatherings in person. Having them digitally however not only makes them quicker and cheaper but potentially also more agile and impactful.
After a 6 month digital intensive “gym” practice, organizations now know that interactive and highly productive online events are possible. Alternating structured discussions in plenary sessions with breakout workshops, facilitating brainstorming sessions, leveraging voting tools, using online pulse surveys and practicing learning exercises.
Designing and facilitating digital large gatherings requires the use of professional instructional designers. Specialists who master both the technology, the content, and the online collaborative work dynamics.
 

How to do it digitally:

  1. A 2 or 3 day offsite and in-person Leadership Summit can become 3 half-day webinars. Purely focused on reflection and action rather than on the necessary, but long and often boring, information sharing.
  2. With pre-work designed to share this necessary information/insights/learning material. Including asking each individual to reflect and work on some critical questions, actions and decisions that will be addressed during the webinars.
  3. Well-structured post-gathering follow-up is also key for the real success of these digital gatherings.
  4. Will you miss the drink and dinner with your peers and managers? Nothing could replace this as such, but there are other creative ways to share a virtual moment and space of friendly informal connections.

There are similar opportunities with all-employee Town Halls, both global or regional.

  1. An in person event can be a 2 or 3 hour webinar (recorded for those not available at that time).
  2. With a pre-work platform for information sharing and individual reflection.
  3. The webinar could include active listening, along with a pulse survey for example, so you can focus the webinar on interactive connections, collective work and reflections.
  4. End with post-gathering follow-up.

You can position the Town Hall as a broadly shared conclusion of your Leadership Summit. Alternatively, the Town Hall can be in the middle of it, designed so employees’ input and questions form part of the last day of the Leadership Summit working program.
 

What should the content be this year?

In the current context of uncertainty, vulnerability and complexity we recommend that your agenda includes the following key topics:

  • Managing our organizational trauma based on data (pre-work including employee pulse survey and focus groups).
  • Leveraging our extraordinary learnings from the crisis to replicate them in a sustainable way (also prepared in pre-work).
  • Planning with agility for our future in this crisis. How can we create a future together when there is still so much uncertainty? How can we help our team members feel less anxious and find a way forward that adds value for everyone?
  • Boosting our culture transformation first where it has the fastest and biggest impact.

 

Conclusion

The more VUCA in our current world, the more we need to reconnect and take a reflective break with our people. 2020 is not the year to freeze or cancel, but rather to focus on revamping the Leadership Summit and Employee Town Hall. Do not avoid the crisis risks and opportunities issues.

Based on our experience at Axialent, culture is the greatest lever to achieve sustainable business results. Undoubtedly, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had most companies in “survival” mode. As we navigate into the new normal, knowing how to “maintain” or manage culture amidst workplace disruption is one of the top issues on business agendas (and in leaders’ minds). However, this is not a new concern; many of our clients have approached us at different turning points, seeking a partnership to preserve the leadership qualities that made them unique or to reconnect with cultural traits that were key to their business success.
Understanding how culture can be leveraged to boost organizational performance is the single and most important reason to manage culture. For many of those companies who have been successful in doing so until now, the current virtual context is a game changer.
To help companies and leaders address these concerns, we first need to clarify what culture is and how it can (and we strongly suggest must!) be consciously managed… before it manages you!
 
Conscious Culture Amidst Workplace Disruption - image representing company DNA

Culture Is Like DNA

 
A company’s culture is like its DNA. Culture can be better positioned (or not) to successfully execute the business strategy, achieve its goals and fulfill its mission.
At Axialent, we describe culture as the set of expectations people hold about “the way we do things around here”. A collective mindset. The unwritten code of what it takes for “one” to become “one of us”. This develops from the verbal and non-verbal messages that members receive about what is valued and how they are expected to behave. Leadership behaviors and decisions most vividly role model these messages.
 

Conscious Culture 101

The first step in consciously managing culture is to understand your culture. In our experience, an in-depth culture diagnostic combining qualitative and quantitative tools is most precise. The second step is then to gain clarity on what you want it to be. It would be easy to say that consciously managing culture equals consciously managing the messages that create these expectations. This is only partly true. Changing (or maintaining) culture is like changing your DNA and it must occur from the inside out. No external factor will drive sustainable change. To change culture, you need to address the values, mindsets and beliefs that people hold, as well as the messaging.
This is why the focus of our work on culture is on short impactful interventions with a strong long-term backbone. We highlight the direct link to mindsets and how these impact behavior and collective assumptions. We work team by team to establish widespread high-performance habits across the organization. The image below illustrates our approach:
Conscious Culture amidst Workplace Disruption - illustration of Axialent's approach to organizational culture transformation
 

Remote Culture Leadership & Beyond

Remote environments require a different approach to culture design. Many culture defining messages have some sort of material correlation in the physical world such as in-person strategic planning and goal setting meetings; visual symbols such as office layout or parking space or informal, water-cooler type conversations with leaders. A far more conscious approach is needed to nurture culture when there is a lack of in-person connection, and this is even more critical amidst workplace disruption.
Leaders and organizations must find new ways of making culture evident to their employees. Intentional efforts to connect with people and to really understand their needs and concerns must be made. Practicing compassion with people and taking it to the next level is of utmost importance. Embracing vulnerability in each person and being humble enough to let yours emerge too. This is where true connection resides.
 

What is the Role of Purpose? Conscious Culture amidst workplace disruption

A company’s purpose is the reason for its existence; the dream and the “why” that offers meaning to its endeavors. Maintaining your company culture as we navigate into the new normal requires companies to help people remember the reasons for which they exist.
Let’s explore a few examples. If you live in Latin America you probably know Mercado Libre; it is the most valuable company in the region (Forbes Magazine, August 2020). Its purpose is to “democratize commerce and money in LATAM”. Some of the actions they have initiated during the pandemic to support the communities in which they operate are: changing their logo (from a hand-shake to an elbow-bump) to raise awareness of the importance of social distancing; they stopped charging commissions on sales of essential goods such as diapers, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food; they postponed the dates for interest and repayments of over two million loans and finally, they took over those employees facing redundancy from food industry organisations such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Burger King.
In another example, the global logistics firm UPS is working to strengthen supply chains, so life-saving vaccines reach isolated communities around the world. The company has ramped up work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance by committing $3 million in new funding over two years. UPS’s mission statement is “Grow our global business by serving the logistics needs of customers, offering excellence and value in all that we do. (…) Lead by example as a responsible, caring, and sustainable company making a difference in the communities we serve”. Similarly, the major global port operator in the UAE, Gulftainer, has launched a fast-track service to speed up the delivery of medical equipment. Its vision is to “consistently achieve best-in-class performance in all our port operations and third-party logistics activities worldwide”.
 

Conscious Culture Amidst Workplace Disruption

Re-engaging people with the purpose and the values your company holds is one of the most important responsibilities in leadership and it’s not an easy one, or one every leader can meet.
I love Fred Kofman’s definition of leadership. In his book The Meaning Revolution, Fred says “leadership is about getting what can’t be taken and deserving what is freely given. The followers’ internal commitment cannot be extracted by rewards or punishments. It can be inspired only through a belief that giving their best to the enterprise will enhance their lives”.  If you hope to be an inspiring leader who is able to sustain and reinforce your company culture, the first thing you must understand is that “hearts and minds cannot be bought or forced; they can only be deserved and earned. They are given only to worthy missions and trustworthy leaders. This applies not only to organizations but also to many other domains of human activity”.
Here are a some top tips to managing culture effectively:

  1. Communicate actively and visibly your company purpose (your “why”).
  2. Seize opportunities to model your company values.
  3. Prioritize health (physical and mental) and wellness and help employees do the same.
  4. Connect daily with employees and promote virtual interactions, making sure communication is a two-way process.
  5. Continue to develop leaders through coaching and make sure they are modeling empathy to employees.
  6. Publicly recognize those who model your desired culture and continue to hold people to account for performance.
  7. Harness organizational and leadership adaptability (the ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities) and remain open to the unknown.

 
Click here to schedule a 30 minute call with one of our experts to learn more about this topic.

Culture in service of business strategy. Image showing a fish swimming in water, the water representing the culture of an organization (when you are in it you don't see it)

 

Goals and Purpose

“Become the number one or number two player in our industry.” “Grow more than our competitor in the next 12 months.” These are both valid statements of a goal for an organization and what comes next is identifying the “how” or the strategies that you believe will take you there. What could be wrong with this process? Let me elaborate.
Throughout my years of helping leaders around the world, I have found very different reasons as to why entrepreneurs start companies. For example, Disney was founded “To use our imagination to bring happiness to millions”. Google aims “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. LinkedIn aspires “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”. Mercado Libre, “To democratize commerce and money in Latin America.”
These statements are the original dreams of the founders of these organizations, dreams that these successful companies were able to actualize. They set out to change the world, to transform  it into a better place. This served, and continues to serve, as an aspiration and inspiration for others to follow and to give their vital energy to the enterprise.
 

Strategy and Execution

Fred Kofman writes in The Meaning Revolution that being part of a venture that is bigger than ourselves, will transcend us and can become our “immortality project.” Fred says “I believe the most deep-seated, unspoken, and universal anxiety in all of us is the fear that our life is being wasted. That death will surprise us when our song is still unsung. We worry not just about our physical death, but also, perhaps more significantly, our symbolic one. We are afraid that our lives won’t matter, that we won’t have made a difference, that we will leave no trace in this world after we are gone.”
This is critically important. However, it is also paramount to identify the strategies that will help you achieve your goals and to actualize your purpose. This is the “how” of the enterprise. Once we know where we want to go, deciding the way to take us there will provide the blueprint for a successful journey. What will actually change the state of things is effective execution. It is here that many strategies falter. People perhaps won’t accept accountability or do what they promised to do. They may not collaborate with their colleagues or will engage in ego driven turf wars to prove “I am right, and you are wrong.” Strategies often fail not because they are poorly designed, but because they are poorly executed.
 

Culture In Service Of Business Strategy

I have discovered throughout my years as a consultant that culture is the binding element that connects all these aspects; purpose, goals, strategy and successful execution. The right culture can be an incredible asset for actualizing purpose, while the wrong culture can become an insurmountable obstacle.
I believe that these fundamental elements, actioned at the service of the purpose and done repeatedly, will change the world. They will transform it into a more conscious, loving, compassionate and wiser world; a place where people can pursue their dreams of helping themselves, others and the planet.
Axialent has been helping companies globally for 17 years to build cultures that support business strategy execution. In this live webinar, I interviewed Pedro Arnt, CFO, on how Mercado Libre (MELI) has built and leveraged an effective culture to achieve the incredible growth and success of the organization.
 
Click here to schedule a 30 minute call with one of our experts to learn more about this topic.

There is no doubt that current events are affecting business more than you ever thought possible. A lot is changing. Supply chains are shifting and customers are reevaluating their choices. Stakeholders are more present and products and services are rapidly becoming obsolete, and so on.  Have you considered how it has been affecting your organization’s culture? While our focus may be on other things, we still need to consider how we, as leaders, can drive positive culture change in this turbulent environment. What is the “right culture” to have in a crisis?
Culture is a set of learned beliefs, values, and behaviors that become the way of life in an organization. It results from the messages that are received about “what is really valued around here”. The sources of these cultural messages come from the behaviors, symbols, and systems within an organization. Current events have impacted all three of these pillars. Systems are being stretched to adapt to new realities. People’s behaviors are testing new paradigms and redefining the whole person concept. Symbols are shifting due to the new ways in which people are communicating and relating to each other.
A Culture Amp survey[1] (published in Forbes) tried to better understand organizational culture in the context of current events. It was originally done to address the effect of the global pandemic, though it could also be applied to the racial equity conversations happening right now. One of the survey’s key findings was (no surprise!): “Companies with a strong culture are much more resilient in times of crisis… Organizations that already have experience flexing this muscle are more likely to have confidence in their leadership, feel safer, and be more comfortable about their company’s plan to return to work”. The survey findings highlight the need for effective communication practices and the importance of staying connected.
The “Right Culture” to Have in a Crisis: Two men collaborating at work

What is the right culture to have in a crisis?

The empirical evidence is strong. The “right culture” to have in a crisis is one that will hold strong through the most difficult of times. Let me share a couple of examples of how effective communication and staying connected can help an organization achieve this kind of culture.
A large So. Cal. player in the technology field was going through internal turmoil in the aftermath of a change in leadership and direction. The new CEO had been challenging the existing organizational culture and was seen as cold, hard, and inflexible. COVID-19 unexpectedly changed the conversation. The CEO had the opportunity to show his/her personal, vulnerable side as the leadership team was “allowed” into the CEO’s home (a working from home phenomenon). This seems to have changed the narrative and the organization is seeing a positive change in engagement and identity. The CEO is now working on ensuring that the organization does not lose what it gained as the situation evolves.
The growing consciousness and conversations around racial inequities were heavily impacting another large company in the retail business. They immediately implemented several support mechanisms for their employees (internal). They also planned to aggressively organize their ongoing response and local outreach efforts (external). Through the process of connecting with their employees, they heard many eye-opening stories, including one from an African American single mother who said she couldn’t work late or night shifts because she was afraid to leave her teenage son alone to travel the streets at night. Her fear had to do as much with gang-related violence as with law enforcement-related actions.
The impact on culture is not just limited to the corporate world. Consider this recent headline (AP News, May 19, 2020): “Pandemic will alter Communion rituals for many US Christians”. Without a doubt, similar conversations are happening at all faith-based communities and organizations around the world. Rituals such as Communion, Gospel Choirs, Yom Kippur, Hajj, Darshan, and others, are highly symbolic of each faith’s teachings and practices.  Yet, they may need to change in this new world, and this could have a profound impact on each of these communities of faith’s culture and their ability to ensure the sustainability of their vision.

Navigating an I*VUCA world

These, and many more anecdotes from the frontlines, show that we need to address the organization’s “I*VUCA”.  VUCA is an acronym that describes the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  It is often used in strategy discussions to describe the external environment.  However, I strongly believe that VUCA is an internal phenomenon as well.  Now more than ever, we need to look at the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the organization’s internal organizational culture.  Hence, I* (Internal) VUCA.
Now is the time for leaders and teams to reflect and understand why they are responding either effectively or ineffectively, not only to VUCA, but especially to I*VUCA.  The current environment gives us a window of opportunity that allows us to quickly access and understand how we are responding to the different challenges that the organization is facing. Investing time to understand what is working and what isn’t is a gift that the unfolding events are giving us. We cannot risk going back to our default mode at the risk of becoming irrelevant.
We know that a strong culture is one of the most powerful tools that an organization can wield. It can also be a barrier when change is needed. In Satya Nadella’s words, “Culture is everything!” Are you doing the right things to drive the culture your organization needs to succeed in the I*VUCA world?

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2020/05/06/how-your-company-can-drive-positive-culture-change-during-a-global-pandemic/#7ffd241129d0

Our world is changing faster than ever and with those changes, we need to learn to adapt quickly and intelligently.  Scenario planning 2.0, as my colleague Fran Cherny describes it in his recent webinar, is all about how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly. But what exactly is the role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence?

The role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence

 
The Role of Scenario Planning 2.0 in Execution Excellence: Two people planning for the future
Ongoing reviews and adjustments are an essential part of execution and that’s where applying scenario planning 2.0 is most effective. To do so, we must first slow down enough to be able to smoothly read, listen, and integrate new information. Only then will we able to rapidly respond and adjust execution moving forward.
Traditional scenario planning is a crucial part of strategy and business planning. It helps us consider different options and possibilities, depending on the marketplace’s current situation. Traditional scenario planning is part of good business planning; key to a company’s plan to operationalize its strategy. However, scenario planning 2.0 is different. Learning how to implement it is an important skill that any great leader needs to practice in the pursuit of execution excellence during times of fast change and uncertainly.
Axialent’s approach to execution includes developing an execution infrastructure, as well as managing the ongoing implementation of work. Part five of the model below shows how execution is managed in an organization. It is during these implementation cycles that scenario planning 2.0 will have the greatest impact. Organizations must have meetings to discuss how to manage new information and make decisions with regards to what processes, mindsets, and behaviors need to change. Once these decisions have been made, leaders can adjust the areas of their execution plan that require attention and continue to review and improve them throughout the cycles. Here is a model that illustrates our approach:
The Role of Scenario Planning 2.0 in Execution Excellence: execution excellence model
 
 

The impact of new information

Reading, listening, and integrating new information as it arises can impact aspects of a business’s execution infrastructure. Most importantly, integrating new information can change in people’s mindsets and behaviors, and the processes that support collaboration. The two essential aspects of execution infrastructure that are most affected by these changes are people and process (seen in the model above). Making adjustments in response to these changes does not require stopping execution implementation. Instead, it highlights the areas that will most be impacted by new information, (i.e. people, process, and direction).
 

CONCLUSION

The role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence is an important one. Although traditional scenario planning has been a core part of strategy and business planning, in the current conditions, scenario planning 2.0 is core to execution. By leveraging this practice and the components of execution infrastructure, we can quickly make adjustments to processes, mindsets, and behaviors. This, in turn, builds capability as business moves forward and makes directional changes.
 
To learn more about scenario planning 2.0 and how to run this powerful exercise with your team, watch the recording of Axialent’s live webinar or click here to speak with one of our representatives to learn more about our Execution Excellence offering.

In a recent article, my colleagues Fran Cherny and Thierry De Beyssac offered some thoughts on Survivor Syndrome; how the present challenges have the potential to create organizational trauma affecting all the dimensions of business and how to better cope with this. Theoffer in their article a list of actions to help and support your employees as we move through this time together. The first on the list being: “to put things on the table. What does it mean to “put things on the table?” What can I do differently to help myself and others around me during this difficult time?
What does it mean to “put things on the table?”
The emotions that are triggered in us by a world in constant “VUCA Reloaded Mode may put us in a place that oscillates between harmful repression and brutal explosion. Anger, for example, permeates openly or simmers under the surface. As we speak to colleagues, friends or family members, it can almost tele-transport itself across remote devices. I like to say that as long as the emotion “has you,” you have no choice. You will do whatever the emotion does, only to regret it later. You will say things that hurt others, make promises that are impossible to deliver you name it.
I like to offer to my clients the following concept: the only way out is through. In order to put things on the table, you must enter a space of higher wisdom and compassion.
 

You do that by:

  1. Taking a few deep breaths of awareness: You separate yourself from the story. It becomes “you have the emotion,” rather than “the emotion has you.” You take perspective of your thoughts. The I (the person) that has the thought is NOT the thought. I feel angry, rather than I am angry.
  2. Accepting the emotion unconditionally: Realize that the emotion makes perfect sense, given the story you are telling yourself.
  3. Analyzing the story behind the emotion: Every emotion has an archetypal story. For example, anger or frustration has the story: “something bad is happening and it should not be happening.
  4. Expressing your thoughts and ideas from a place of tentativeness and humility: As you engage in conversations with your colleagues or leaders about what is going on, you adopt the perspective of good intent from everyoneEven when you don’t understand what is going on, you assume that the people in charge of calling the shots have everyone’s interest at heart.
  5. Inquiring about the thoughts and ideas of others from a place of wanting to learn, of curiosity: The combination of 4 and 5 creates the conversational dance where any topic can be addressed or put on the table.

 

Put things on the table

Working through steps 1-3 are paramount if you would like to have a constructive conversation. Taking these steps will set the conditions for the kind of conversation you want to have. The promise is that you will be better able to understand each other. And then make better and informed decisions, for the good of the business, the team and yourself. Being able to address difficult topics in an opencaring and compassionate way is a powerful way to increase connection among your employees in these difficult times.