Why Collaboration Matters

 

I’ve yet to meet a CEO who didn’t want his or her company to move faster.  But how many times have you ever heard a CEO say – “My organization moves as fast as our markets do” or “I’m confident my company can adapt to any unforeseen market shift”?  Moore’s Law states the speed of a semiconductor chip doubles every 18-24 months; what if your people’s ability to change moved as fast?

Of all the strategies available to leaders to create speed in their organizations, none is more important than the behaviors of the leaders themselves. Ultimately executive behavior creates the culture of your organization; your organization’s culture is almost certainly a reflection of your CEO’s personality.

Nothing slows an organization down more than a culture of internal competition and the executive behaviors that encourage it.  We all know the challenges of organizational silos and the incentives that encourage myopic thinking. As leaders, we’ve experienced some form of passive-aggressive behavior from our peers. We all know the symptoms:  Teams protect information and assets to compete with other teams for budget resources; knowledge gets trapped in pockets that others in the company could benefit from but cannot reach. Budget gets wasted. All the while, markets move and new opportunities emerge.

I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with hundreds of CEOs, and here is what they want:  a culture of shared goals. A culture of shared goals minimizes hoarding and competition by creating an environment that shares information, diagnoses problems, raises concerns, coordinates efforts and identifies possible initiatives and transition points – all of which ratchets up the pace of an organization’s ability to execute.

In The Collaboration Imperative, my co-author and Cisco colleague Carl Wiese and I identify four executive behaviors of the collaborative leader.  These behaviors are the necessary ingredients to create a culture of shared goals, and eliminate or mitigate the types of human behaviors that slow organizations down.  The four behaviors are:

  1. Focus on authentic leadership and eschew passive-aggressiveness. For collaboration to succeed, leaders need to be authentic. Cisco studied which characteristics of leaders on collaborative teams are most important, and we found that the most critical attribute was a leader’s willingness to follow through on commitments. Being authentic involves two elements. First, as a leader of a team, department or business unit with people, budgets and resources under your control, you must follow through on organizational commitments.  Second, when there is disagreement about a decision, fight the instinct to make it personal.
  2. Relentlessly pursue transparent decision making In our experience, there’s a direct relationship between the agility and resilience of a team and the transparency of its decision-making processes. When you’re open and transparent about the answers to three questions — who made the decision, who is accountable for the outcomes of the decision, and is that accountability real—people in organizations spend far less time questioning how or why a decision was made. Think of how much time is wasted ferreting out details when a decision is made and communicated because the people who are affected don’t know who made the decision or who is accountable for its consequences.
  3. View resources as instruments of action, not as possessions. It’s hardly a new observation that people sometimes stockpile resources around their business unit or department, or are slow—perhaps even hesitant—to share those resources with other departments. There may even be incentives in place that discourage sharing. It’s easier, although never truly easy, to move resources around an organization when leaders tell their teams the process they used to make a decision about resources, the data and facts used to support the decision, and the tradeoffs they considered.  Fact-based decision making is your goal; it’s hard to keep resources squirreled away when the facts suggest otherwise.
  4. Codify the relationship between decision rights, accountability and rewards. Modeling the desired collaborative behaviors—showing your employees that you walk the talk—is the goal. But what happens when you’re not around? The more these behaviors are codified into an end-to-end system across your organization, the greater the odds of collaboration succeeding when you’re not there to reinforce cultural norms. The most important enabler of an accountability system?  Decision rights.  Who gets to make decisions in your organization is the center of gravity for accountability.  If you don’t have published decision rights, then accountability is problematic – everyone can point fingers at someone else.

The ability to create speed, flexibility and adaptability is the foundation of the modern competitive organization.  The enemy is internal competition and the denial and nostalgia that perpetuate it.  A culture of shared goals should be the mission.  There’s only one answer:  how you and your team of leaders behave.

 Q1: What mechanisms do you use to measure how adaptable your team is?

Q2:  Does your organization use a common vocabulary for decision-making?  If so, what is it?

Q3: Does your organization have a definition of a transparent decision?  If so, what is it?

Q4: What effective ways have you found to thwart passive-aggressive behavior?

Q5: What effective ways have you found to help people overcome nostalgia for the past?

Q6: How is your organizational culture a reflection of your CEO’s personality?

Employee Engagement Needs a Little Clarity

 

Leaders have a lot on their plates, but nothing is more important than clarity. What’s important to your organization? Why? How are we getting the work done? When do we start? At each stage in the chain of decision making, ambiguity looms as the enemy of clarity; as leaders we’ve all experienced dis-engagement when things simply aren’t clear to our team. What can a leader do – especially in a world where hyper-connected employees can question and second-guess decisions instantly?

Leaders have to understand that decisions are like best-selling novels; the greater the ambiguity around a decision, the faster it moves up the New York Times best-seller list. People’s natural curiosities and ambiguity seem to feed on each other. In worst cases, ambiguity leads to conspiracy theories and people actually work against each other. In most cases, work simply slows down while people seek out answers.

What if you could eliminate ambiguity? A lot is at stake. There’s more than enough evidence to demonstrate that teams produce higher results when they can align their individual work to the greater mission and strategy of the organization. When all goes right, organizations can produce discretionary effort – that amazing, hard-to-bottle effort people give when ambiguity is replaced by a sense of shared purpose.

Here are three things you can do bring clarity to your organization – and increase the odds of producing discretionary effort on your team:

1. Define what success looks like with one single-source of truth – an organization-wide taxonomy

People laughed when I first said “taxonomy” inside Cisco, but taxonomy is the fundamental building block to any organization looking to speak a common operating language. Taxonomy classifies and defines things; in this case, what success looks like. Focus on defining your operating model metrics like profitability, revenue growth, share gains and productivity; emphasize the specific, written definition of success; and show the outcomes and sources of data used in your organization to gauge success.

Try as hard as you can to tie these metrics to the performance management and accountability system of your organization. Publish this taxonomy on your intranet and push it to your internal communities.

2. Scale how you communicate decisions with a common vocabulary

Here’s a simple question: does strategy mean the same thing to everyone in your organization? What if the answer is no? That’s highly likely, because we’ve all gone to different colleges and had diverse work experiences. A common vocabulary provides a single context for decision-making. In Cisco, our common vocabulary is called Vision-Strategy-Execution-Metrics. Each decision element is defined and includes guiding principles to give people guardrails. It’s mandatory for leaders to communicate their priorities – that is, the decisions they have made – to their teams using this vocabulary. You can achieve transparency when you tell people three things about a decision: who made it? Who’s accountable for it? What does the accountability system look like? It’s hard to sacrifice around one vocabulary; imagine, though, the power of a single decision language across a global organization.

3. Engage your team on the “story behind the decision”

Taxonomy and common vocabulary tell your team what’s important; engagement is more driven by the human need to understand why decisions matter and how it is expected to be executed – what I call the “story behind the decision”. When you engage your team on decisions you’ve made (hopefully using a taxonomy and common vocabulary!), you have to answer three questions to satisfy “why” something is important: First, what process was used to make the decision? Second, what facts or data were used to support the decision? Third, what trade-offs were considered? The more your team knows this “story,” the faster teams move to execution.

I’m convinced that most people don’t wake up in the morning trying to second-guess decisions. Ambiguity is your enemy as the leader of a team. You can transform your team’s natural curiosity into a powerful source of discretionary effort – all it takes is a little clarity.

P.S. There is one final thing you can do as a leader to increase clarity on your team – tell your team how you make decisions. We all naturally make decisions differently. By sharing our authentic style of communicating and making decisions, you can diffuse a lot of unnecessary friction and built trust faster.

Discover Your Collaboration Persona: How do you “show up” in an increasingly visual, mobile, social and virtual world?

 

I was lucky enough to meet GE CEO Jeff Immelt at a Cisco event some years ago and interview him on the topic of leadership.  My biggest takeaway from listening to him:  leadership is about how you “show up.”  In other words, it’s how we act and behave in everyday situations that define our leadership persona.  I’m pretty sure he meant it literally, as in how we “show up” in the physical world.

But how do we “show up” as leaders in a world where work is increasingly done on a mobile phone or tablet, or using a video chat, web conference or Telepresence?  This is one of the great leadership challenges of this hyper-connected world: as a leader you will need to know what I like to call your “Collaboration Persona” – that way in which your leadership style shows up when you’re not in the physical world.

How should you approach building your Collaboration Persona?  Here are three steps:

1)      Know yourself:  Whether it is in the physical world or virtual, how we show up should authentically represent who we are.  Click here to take a quick online assessment to discover your authentic communication style (Click on the green “Take Survey” button). This confidential assessment is a bit like the Myers-Briggs test and provides you with a customized profile of your unique communication style; it reveals how you naturally process information, and how you prefer to deliver that information to others. Most importantly, the assessment provides a simple vocabulary to communicate your style to others. Are you conceptual or analytical?  An introvert or an extrovert?

My co-author Carl and I cover this extensively in Chapter 3 of The Collaboration Imperative, entitled “Get Real about Communications.”

2)      Know where you excel as a “Virtual Star”: Just as you play to your strengths in the real world, play to your strengths in the virtual world.  Here are some examples:

  • If you are a conceptual thinker, you will excel when the team needs someone to explain the aspirations of a decision, such as a vision. These thinkers will be good on video presentations during virtual meetings. It’s not that conceptual people aren’t good in online discussion forums where the medium calls for more precise language; it’s more about playing to the strength of conceptual thinkers – they love talking about ideas and tapping into that passion on video is a great way to play to one’s strengths.

 

  • If you are an analytical thinker, you will excel at “making it real” when communicating a decision to your team.  These thinkers are outstanding in virtual mediums where precision communicates best – such as online question and answer sessions and discussion forums.  Again, it’s not that analytical thinkers aren’t outstanding on video, where the communication is sometimes more free-flow; it’s that online Q&A and discussions forums play to the strong logical nature of analytical thinkers – they love communicating the steps taken, the process used, and the supporting facts of a decision.

 

3)      Get out there and practice on your medium:  When you align your communication style to these new forms of communication, you’ll find it easy to participate in the increasingly virtual, mobile, social and visual work environment that your teams leverage to get better, more productive results every day. You can’t underestimate how your team will appreciate your unique efforts at participation in the world they live in.

Follow me on Twitter: @RonRicciCisco

What is YOUR Company’s Return on its Collaboration Investment?

As INSEAD and UC Berkeley Professor Morten Hansen says, “The goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but great results.” Working with many of our customers, we’ve developed a framework for assessing the true ROI of collaboration, and it falls into three distinct categories:

  • Operational ROI allows you to assess how collaboration eliminates or avoid costs associated with running your business. You might cut travel, reduce infrastructure needs, lower bandwidth or energy costs, save on office space and so on. Collaboration can replace or reduce the need for many of these costs.
  • Productivity ROI refers to savings generated from more efficient processes, accelerated decision-making and reduced cycle times. Collaboration can lead to significant productivity gains in a number of ways, such as optimizing lines of business or matching expertise to opportunities early on.
  • Strategic ROI can be the hardest to measure, but perhaps the most transformative. This kind of ROI occurs when collaboration enables your business to take a giant leap forward in areas like enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty, speeding up innovation, introducing new business models or entering new markets. These types of changes can also reshape an industry in fundamental ways.

These three types of ROI sometime manifest themselves differently across industries. Here are a few examples:

  • Financial services. With collaboration, banking customers today can use a virtual mortgage lender, make a deposit on their smart phone, and speak to video service representatives who have access to their banking history and can suggest new products based on your personal needs and history. Collaboration streamlines banking operations, offers customers a multichannel experience and provides on-demand expertise.
  • Health care. In health care, telemedicine brings experts together with patients to enhance the diagnosis and treatment processes. Nurses and doctors are mobile and have fast access to the information they need. Collaboration can help decrease patient wait times, increase clinical safety and provide better visibility into staffing requirements. All of these improvements, made possible by collaboration solutions, lower the cost of providing care.
  • Manufacturing. Manufacturing companies leverage collaboration to develop products in one country, manufacture them in another and market them in yet another—without skipping a beat. Everyone has complete visibility into the process, and the work never stops. It’s a transparent, seamless supply chain.
  • Retail. In retail, collaboration changes the way goods are made and sold. Virtual fitting rooms take time and space out of the equation, as designers review designs and choose fabrics without traveling to Europe and Asia. A process that once took a month can be done in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, at the other end of the retail cycle, new contact center capabilities offer real-time sensing of Twitter feeds from within a store, so retailers can send highly targeted offers to the mobile devices of consumers inside the store. For consumers, the result is a personalized shopping experience from start to finish.
  • Government. Federal and local governments use collaboration to enhance public safety, drive efficiency in times of budget constraint and improve the citizen experience with 24-hour access to many services. Police are using mobility and presence solutions to improve public safety. Courts are using virtual trials that include video conferencing technology to save on transportation costs and accelerate the trial process. And prisons are taking advantage of telepresence to bring human services to inmates on premise.

Sit down with cross-functional leaders and challenge yourselves to think about how Operational ROI, Productivity ROI and Strategic ROI might look in your industry and in your organization.

WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY OF THE COLLABORATION IMPERATIVE? The first 25 people to email us a book request to info@thecollaborationimperative.com will receive a complimentary copy. Be sure to include your mailing address!

 

Why Consensus is the Enemy of Collaboration

Increasing how well organizations collaborate is the business opportunity of the decade. But there is one toxic mindset that can inhibit collaboration’s potential: many individuals confuse collaboration with consensus.  Consensus is what makes everyone happy; collaboration is about achieving the best outcome.

As business leaders, it’s vital to recognize that consensus is the enemy of collaboration. Sometimes when we say collaboration, people believe it’s an opportunity to hold hands and sing “kumbaya” around the office campfire. I was deeply inspired by Morten Hansen’s book, Collaboration, in which Hansen stated so brilliantly: “The goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but great results.”

Consensus exists because human beings are inherently conflict-averse, especially when they interact in group settings or work with people they don’t know well. When you’re afraid to disagree with someone, it’s often easier to settle for the plain-vanilla idea.  I call this the “A.T.T.A.P. Syndrome.”  A.T.T.A.P. is an acronym for “All things to all people.” How can your effort achieve an extraordinary outcome – a “great result” – when  it is so diluted that it’s undifferentiated?

The “sibling” of consensus is passive-aggressiveness –- that nasty human behavior that often results in people intentionally impeding others to better their own aims.  The dark underside of consensus is that it actually encourages passive-aggressive behavior by making it possible for people to agree to support something but the idea is so broad that their contribution isn’t really necessary to the idea’s success.

It is simply difficult to create accountability around consensus and stamp out passive aggressiveness. We’ve all experienced how passive-aggressive behavior can slow organizations down, make them less adaptable and certainly create an unhappy place to work.

Here is what you can do as a leader:  First, establish the shared goal of any effort at collaboration. If you can’t be specific and granular, publish guiding principles of what success looks for a team.  Make sure those principles are aggressive and black and white, such as:  Achieve #1 or #2 market share position; Capture 40+% market share; Drive customer satisfaction up X%.  Guiding principles establish the guardrails of collaboration. We cover this in depth in Chapter Four of The Collaboration Imperative.

Second, the sibling of collaboration is authenticity.  You can read my previous post on authenticity.  Authenticity turbocharges collaboration because it replaces passive-aggressive behavior with differentiated, more constructive behavior. Authenticity emphasizes what someone actually believes is the best idea to achieve a differentiated result – as opposed to a perspective that might not offend someone else in the room.  Your job as a leader is to get your team to unleash authentic thinking and create the conditions for it to flourish.  The best way to do it:  publicly ask your team to declare how they think and make decisions, and embrace the diversity of thinking on your team.  The more your teammates acknowledge their differences the more likely their contributions will be accepted without prejudice.

Are you ready to replace passive-aggressive, consensus thinking with authentic collaboration?

Follow me on Twitter:  @RonRicciCisco

Three Business Drivers of Collaboration

Is Collaboration Worth It? It’s a valid question. But the answer is clear from my frequent conversations with Cisco customers. Every day, customers tell us collaboration is critical to their ability to compete—something top of mind right now. Why does collaboration matter?

From our research and interviews with business leaders, we attribute the growing importance of collaboration to three fundamental trends:

Competition comes from anywhere and everywhere. The barriers to entry are lower than ever, and you cannot predict who will enter your market next. It might be a startup in India, China, Africa or Eastern Europe—or competition from another industry. How do you stay ahead when you don’t know which organizations you’ll compete with next month or next year?

Companies have to focus on core competencies and partner to do everything else. Companies once could gain an advantage by owning every aspect of a value chain with the goal of vertically integrating an industry. Today, it makes more sense to focus on the aspect of the value chain that is most critical to your success and partner for the rest.

Open systems change the game. The Internet and networking technologies have connected us in ways once thought impossible, opening the door for innovative business models. Now, businesses must adapt to another wave of networked technology that is shaping the modern working experience into one that is mobile, social, visual and virtual.

Together, these trends are shaping a new business landscape, making speed and flexibility the most important competitive differentiators in just about every industry across the globe. We believe collaboration is the best way to build the real-time enterprise that can adapt to fast-changing market pressures. It helps you achieve operational excellence today and deliver innovation tomorrow.

For example, we’ve seen a Paris suburb credit its economic turnaround to a new collaboration infrastructure and a global nutritional products company increase sales through a social media-based data mining program. We’ve seen engineering companies accelerate their product-design processes by collaborating with video conferencing, while energy companies identify untapped field capacity through a tighter link between global experts and local resources. The list is long and growing all the time.

Have you seen other far-reaching collaboration examples? Share your experiences here.

Meeting Hell: Stop Wasting Time

Like most business leaders, my most precious asset is time–and when I look at my schedule I’m spending about 80% of my time in meetings.  Some studies suggest the average knowledge worker spends around half their time in meetings.  When I measure my own personal productivity, by definition, there’s no more important place to look than these meetings.

We’ve all been in “meeting hell” where we’re asking basic questions like, “Who called this meeting?” or  “What’s the agenda?” or “What are we trying to accomplish here?”

If you’ve ever asked these or similar questions during meetings, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Increased collaboration means increased interaction with others, which means more meetings. And, with more and more work being done collaboratively and in virtual settings, often with people in different time zones or even different countries with whom you haven’t spent a lot of time face to face, imagine the opportunities to be more effective.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential for your teams to systematically make the most of your time together. It’s a great feeling when you conclude a highly productive meeting – wouldn’t it be great if you could dramatically increase the productivity of all your meetings?

With this goal in mind, we developed what we call the Clarity of Purpose model for meeting management, which involves four straightforward steps meeting owners can take to ensure collaborative sessions of any kind are as productive as possible.

Chapter 6 of The Collaboration Imperative covers the Clarity of Purpose model in detail, and I encourage you to get your hands on the book to learn more. You can also go to www.collaborativecommunicator.com/yourwork to watch videos explaining the model and download useful meeting-management templates. Just click on the “Maximize Meetings” box.

As I get feedback on The Collaboration Imperative, the chapter on the Clarity of Purpose model is one that really seems to resonate with busy business leaders. I hope you find it as valuable as we do in our efforts to stop wasting time.

Authenticity Creates Trust; Trust Accelerates Collaboration

Collaboration is indeed the business opportunity of the decade, promising to energize your organization while making more effective use of your precious assets.  My Cisco colleague Carl Wiese and I wrote The Collaboration Imperative to help organizations “operationalize” collaboration and capture these gains. Our goal wasn’t to write a “theory” book, but rather one that drills down into specific actions, with concrete examples of how to put collaboration to work in the real world.

As Carl noted in a previous post, effective collaboration is a function of aligning culture, process and technology.  But how do you do that?   Here is a one example from that’s featured in Chapter Three of the book: Collaborative teams work best when they’re made up of people who communicate openly. Collaboration technologies, especially video, make it easy to reach people across an organization and around the world.  Anyone who has traded their economy-class airline seat in favor of a Telepresence meeting knows the powerful benefits of collapsing space and time with an engaging video meeting.  However, as we cross departmental, cultural and time-zone boundaries, collaboration puts our personal communication skills to the test.

As we increasingly interact virtually, we work more and more with people we don’t know or have a long history with; they may actually work in a different company and teams may come and go in rapid succession.  Establishing rapport – quickly – is one of the most important aspects of successful collaboration, and it starts with communicating authentically.

Do you know what your authentic communication style is?  Do your peers and colleagues know how you make decisions?  Can you quickly convey your strengths and weaknesses to people?  The more you share about your authentic style with your collaboration partners, the faster you can achieve trust with them.  Open communications starts with you.

Here is how to get started.  Click here to take a quick online assessment to discover your authentic communication style (Once on the page, click on the green “Take Survey” button”). This confidential assessment is a bit like the Myers-Briggs test and provides you with a customized profile of your unique communication style; it reveals how you naturally process information, and how you prefer to deliver that information to others.

Most importantly, the assessment provides a simple vocabulary to communicate your style to others. Are you conceptual or analytical?  An introvert or an extrovert? Do you prefer to communicate information in a linear or nonlinear fashion?  Complete this quick assessment to find out. Then ask your team to take the same assessment and start sharing your styles.

You’ll be happily surprised at how much friction can be removed from human relationships, especially virtual ones, when we simply share our authentic style with colleagues and begin understanding each other better. I’m convinced that 90% of human conflict in business isn’t personal in intent; it occurs because we all naturally make decisions differently. By sharing our authentic style of communicating and making decisions, you can diffuse a lot of unnecessary friction and built trust faster.

My authentic communication style is:  Conceptual, Deductive, Introverted and Non-Linear.  I’m best at brainstorming. I come to conclusions quickly. I gain energy by thinking on my own, and I can be unpredictable in where I take ideas.  Who are you?

Chapter Three of The Collaboration Imperative delves deeply into the this topic — I look forward to your feedback after reading it.