Context and Culture

To understand a leader’s context, it’s helpful to ask some very basic questions. First, what are they listening for? The way we listen is the structure through which we interpret the world. Regardless of who we are, we all listen for certain possibilities, and filter everything we see and hear accordingly.

To understand leaders, you must first understand their context. With some, the context is obvious. They make it clear what they’re listening for, and what actions will be most meaningful in service to their desired outcome. With other leaders, the context requires a deeper understanding.

Let’s draw an analogy from the fine arts.

19th century genre paintings tell the story of a specific moment in time, in a specific location in the world. The imagery is representational. We can tell exactly what’s being depicted. There may be symbolism that challenges us, or some clever subtext (a story within the story) that adds intrigue to the painting, but generally speaking, we understand the artist’s intention. We know what he or she is listening for, what actions they felt had the most impact, and what the desired intention would be.

Now, compare that to 20th century abstract expressionism. To understand what the artist was ‘listening for,’ we must understand the context. During the period leading up to World War II, modern artists fled Europe and the onslaught of the Nazis for safe haven in the United States. The art produced in New York by both European and American artists in the 1940s was in direct response to this global upheaval. Artists were ‘listening for’ ways to depict the chaos and horror of the war, in ways that would profoundly impact our culture, and shock our aesthetic sensibilities. The act, or process of painting and the struggle it depicted became more important than the object itself.

To understand any period of art, or any artist within any period, it’s helpful to understand the context in which they worked. The same is true of leaders.

But, just as it’s important to understand the leader’s context, it is also important for the leader to understand the organizational context. What are customers listening for? What are employees listening for? What are the realities under which they’re operating? What beliefs are guiding their behaviors?

Contextual Leadership requires an ongoing understanding of the business context, and the ability to adjust to evolving trends. It requires leaders to respond appropriately by demonstrating awareness of, and appreciation for the unmet needs of both customers and employees, before those needs become urgent.

Just as breakthrough artists see and respond to the unmet needs of its key stakeholder (critics, collectors, audiences), so too do transformational leaders respond to the unmet needs of their key stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.)

Understanding context makes us better listener, better leaders, and better consumers of culture.



Break With the Past to Create an Impossible Future

I recently found myself pulsing friends and colleagues on critical leadership moments that impacted them most.

One friend stated that although most of his critical leadership lessons came directly from his father, he also learned invaluable lessons from those who taught him how “not” to lead.

Effective leaders are often found among those who survived dysfunctional families and unstable homes, or who’ve developed resilience by overcoming other significant obstacles. Good and bad examples of leadership make an indelible imprint.

Senior leaders required to create and operationalize the vision and strategy for their organizations are navigating what Wharton Professor and author, Greg Shea describes as “permanent white water.”

They’ll be asked to see into the future and make bold declarations often impacting thousands of lives. They’ll be required to place strategic bets, predicting healthy returns, despite volatility and uncertainty. They’ll be asked to face challenges squarely, and make fast decisions that carry real consequences. In doing so, they’ll be asked to balance the needs of a wide range of stakeholder groups, some with competing interests.

In short, they’ll be required to do “the impossible.” They’ll be challenged to imagine, and then create an impossible future.

In Tracey Goss’s The Last Word on Power (Doubleday, ©1996), she explores some of the conditions necessary for creating an impossible future. These principles are still compelling and relevant for today’s leaders.

Goss eschews the notion of continual improvement at the leadership level, in favor of boldly breaking with the past. The ‘winning strategy’ that leaders believe has brought them success also contain self-limiting beliefs… guardrails that prevent leaders from doing the impossible. Therefore, offers Goss, those winning strategies must be identified and abandoned “to make room for new possibilities.”

Doing the impossible work of transformational leadership also requires recognizing that what’s happening is filtered through our interpretations. “We automatically and immediately interpret everything that happens. Past occurrences are a series of interpretations, all of which are valid and none of which are ‘the’ truth.” It takes a kind of disciplined awareness to separate what we think to be true from the actual facts and to choose a different course of action.

Doing the impossible requires leaders to be aware of these interpretations, and to dig deeper to access the clearest truth possible.

In one of her more challenging statements, Goss states “…life is meaningless, and is all an interpretation that you made up.” Sounds nihilistic, but its not. In fact, embracing that notion could provide a much needed sense of freedom and possibility. She urges leaders to replace “predicting the future” with “declaring the future, and making bold promises to fulfill it.”

The overarching message in The Last word on Power is that leadership requires shifting our context, the beliefs and attitudes that create our worldview, and shape our lives. We must learn to be able to break with the past, and act from the future. To shift our focus from “what we are doing” to “the way we are being.”

To quote Rayona Sharpnack, Founder and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, “When I work with leaders, one of the key concepts we strive to understand is how context affects us on a personal level and within our organizations. Real change, for a leader, needs to begin with understanding what you believe, not what you do. Out of that awareness comes the ability to inform how you act in the world. The framework for what you believe on a personal level sets the stage for everything else. ”

Leaping off into the unknown requires firm footing… understanding your current beliefs, your context, and then abandoning it… will free you from their constraints, and allow you to grow.



Developing a Coaching Culture

According to recent data from The Conference Board, presented by Amy Abel, Ph.D., here are some of the strategies companies are using to embed coaching into their talent management framework:

58%    Make concerted efforts to integrate coaching behaviors within various talent management processes

50%    Develop leaders and managers at all levels to be coaches

38%    Include coaching behaviors in performance expectations

25%    Senior leadership communicate the need for a coaching culture on a regular basis

20%    Not currently focused on a coaching culture

10%    Use rewards and recognitions to cultivate and promote coaching behavior

The primary trend identified by the research points to an “Increased focus on Developing a Coaching Culture.” And the four key reasons for this trend are:

  1. Looming Productivity Crisis/Labor Shortages
  2. Spur Innovation
  3. Millennials’ (and non-millennials) need for continual feedback
  4. Redefined performance management systems

The way companies define a ‘coaching culture’ will vary based on that company’s profile and existing organizational culture. While hyper-growth companies like Airbnb prioritize teaching coaching skills to leaders to “grow teams quickly,” global retailers like WalMart need a scalable program designed for help officers and hi-pos to transition into new roles.

In defining a coaching culture, Josh Rogers from WalMart references the “questioning methodology.” “How do you think that went” vs. “Here’s what you can do better.”

One obstacle to overcome with internal coaching, particularly with team coaching, is getting people to be open and honest with their colleagues. Skilled coaches create the conditions for trust, critical for any coaching engagement.

A secondary trend identifies the need for “targeted coaching,” getting very clear on the “who” and the “what.” Who the company will provide coaching for, and what that specific coaching program includes.

In addition to targeted coaching, emerging trends include onboarding coaching, team coaching (intact teams), group coaching, and D&I coaching.

How does coaching fit into your company’s culture? What are the priorities? Where are the biggest opportunities to accelerate growth through coaching? We’ll help you design and implement an internal coaching program customized to your company’s unique needs and priorities. Inquire at info@thecurcigroup.com.



FIVE Keys to Building a Solid Professional Development Strategy

Summer is here. And, while some of us are thinking about the beach, many executives are thinking about the other ‘b’ word….budgeting.

With budgeting in mind, here are a few thoughts on the subject of outsourcing, a strategy that companies use to create efficiencies without compromising the system’s integrity, or diminishing important core competencies.

Tax preparation, payroll, social media, and web design are functions that mid-sized companies commonly outsource. They require specific skills outside of those necessary to operate the business day-to-day. It is simply more efficient to hire external experts to perform those tasks.

But, what about outsourcing professional development? You might argue that developing talent should be a core competency, and should be offered internally; that it should be woven into the company’s operations, central to its growth strategy.

Many mid-sized companies cannot support mature HR departments capable of delivering the scope of services that includes professional development.

So, how can these companies outsource professional development, and at the same time build the internal capabilities required to fully execute on the strategy long-term? In other words, how can ‘outsourcing’ professional development result in transformational change?

Outsourcing professional development require vision. Here’s what partnering to deliver high impact professional development could look like:

  1. Focused Attention: Contract with a partner who only works with a few clients at a time. And, who acts with urgency. Help them to fully understand the unique cultural norms, behaviors and beliefs of your company.
  2. Relationships: Find someone who will takes the time to build relationships throughout the company…subtly and unobtrusively. Who will spend time on site, and over time become part of the team. Where appropriate, who will even set up shop onsite, and observe team productivity and team culture.
  3. Knowledge Transfer: Work with someone who will help your internal leaders be more ‘coach-like.’ Who will train managers to deliver quick coaching sessions with team members regularly. Who will teach them valuable coaching competencies, like awareness, vision and reflection conversations, accountability and feedback, using the GROW model and other related skills and techniques.
  4. Team Effectiveness: Find a resource that can also deliver a Team Effectiveness Assessment and Program. One that helps your teams operate at their full potential by improving awareness around roles, purpose, decision making, support, trust and communication.
  5. Goals and Outcomes Focused: While each team member focuses on their individual and team objectives, work with someone who will keep the organization’s big picture goals front and center, and whose efforts directly support those goals and desired outcomes.

Great hiring practices and ongoing professional development should be core to your company’s growth strategy. And, partnering with the right external team…one capable of connecting and producing positive impulses internally… is an outsourcing strategy that makes sense.

At The Curci Group, we are guided by our shared values – accountability, effectiveness, simplicity, focus and results – which have made us a valued partner and trusted resource for the past ten years.

For mid-sized companies, we connect the HR department to its professional development goals. Using a strengths-based approach, we supply the positive impulses necessary to keep the organization healthy and efficient, by developing talent and reducing turnover.



Trust… The Coin of the Realm

A friend of mine owns a creative services company that has enjoyed tremendous growth in both market position and revenues over the past decade.

In the last few years, however, they’ve struggled. While the creativity and talent level of individual contributors have continued to evolve, their market position and profitability have eroded.

To make matter worse, their unique offerings have inspired lots of competition, and one has recently soared past them to become the market leader.

So, what happened? How did they lose momentum, and what can we learn from this?

While studies have shown that success does indeed breed success, the real drivers of sustained high performance are healthy levels of team productivity and team culture.

Productivity and culture are really two sides of the same coin that successful businesses cash in on daily. More specifically, high team culture and high team productivity result in High Team Performance. If ‘trust’ is the coin of the realm, then high team performance is what you should spend it on.

Conversations with my friend, along with several of his team members revealed a culture that currently values individual contributions over team performance. The team collaborated well when, and only when, their backs are against the wall. In those moments, they are able to shift into the team mentality that made them successful in the early years.

Along the way, however, they began telling themselves that their success was tied solely to their ability to stay creatively ahead of the competition, and to choose projects that allowed them to stretch creatively.

If ‘trust’ is the coin of the realm, then high team performance is what you should spend it on.

The real success story, however, that somehow got pushed aside, was their ability to combine high team productivity (i.e. purpose, roles, decisions) and high team culture (support, trust, communication) to drive team effectiveness to unexpected, and at times dizzying heights.

As this is a recently diagnosed case, it remains to be seen whether the company will choose to engage in one of our high impact Team Effectiveness Programs*. I have no doubt that we can measurably improve future performance by reconnecting them with the 18 attributes that once made them successful.

I’m confident they see the urgency, based on the last text message I received, which read, “You’re right. Forget talent. It’s all about the team.” Not sure I’d go that far, but I understand the sentiment.

* Over the past year, as a contributing designer of the Aiir TE Programs, and as a senior consultant at Aiir Consulting, I had the privilege of working alongside a team of brilliant coaches, clients and researchers to developing (3) separate programs designed to diagnose and measurably improve team effectiveness at every level of an organization.



Mobilizing Greater Philadelphia’s Middle Market

In the fall of 2016, McKinsey & Company was asked to collect and evaluate middle market data in the Philadelphia Region. Middle market is defined here as companies earning between $10M – $1B in annual revenue.

According to the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia report (sponsors of the study), this segment accounts for 27% of the total employment in the region, despite accounting for only ~1% of companies.

The study suggests that for various reasons, the region is poised for healthy growth in the coming years. “The Greater Philadelphia Region is located in the center of the Washington-to-New York corridor, which represents over $2.6 trillion in disposable income…provid[ing] easy access to potential customers and consumers for middle market companies…In addition,…executives identified familiarity with the area and strength of higher education institutions as major factors in choosing to locate to the region.”

Over half of lower middle market firms surveyed expect revenue growth exceeding 10% over the next year. Despite the optimistic projections, there are some headwinds that executives will need to overcome.

Here are the six major themes that highlight the challenges middle market executives and their organizations will face moving forward.

  1. STEM and Front-End Talent – Hiring qualified workers, especially in the engineering/research or operations is cited as a top challenge for executives. For smaller companies, engineering/tech, manufacturing and construction skills are also in high demand.
  2. Sustaining Growth in Closely Held Companies – Two-thirds of privately held middle market companies are family-owned, and face a different set of issues than they did as a rapidly growing start-up. Chief among them is determining how and when to develop talent at the leadership level. “Any reluctance to expand control of their companies can lead to stunted growth, and in some cases, lead to an overall failure of the business.”
  3. Access to Capital Needed for Growth – Despite the fact that 16% of lower middle market companies are concerned about access to capital, they do not seem to recognize what alternative sources are available, i.e. private equity. “Determining what private firm is a good fit is an opaque process, with no clear source for vetting.”
  4. Business Climate – Despite recent tax incentives to offset the tax burden of operating in the region, companies find the regulatory process for attaining those tax incentives to be too cumbersome. “Business owners are frustrated by the non-electronic submission process, the delays and subsequent cost associated with compliance.” Despite the tax burden however, the overall cost of doing business in the region is competitive, offset by low real estate prices and high quality of life, particularly in the city. Also, considering proximity to the DC and New York markets.
  5. Transportation Infrastructure – “The most common concern voiced was congestion in and around Philadelphia County, particularly…along I-76…. While the Philadelphia MSA has grown its millennial population faster than any other large cities, most of the middle market is located outside the city core…. This imbalance necessarily increases the traffic on I-76. However…. average delays on I-76 are less than half of the average of top congested roads for other MSAs.”
  6. Industrial Hubs and Startup Pipeline – “Collocating and developing similar businesses in close proximity serves as an amplifying mechanism for attracting talent to the region.” Despite the regions assets and potential for developing health care and life sciences hubs, limited access to capital, and an inability to retain entrepreneurial successes, and insufficient marketing are seen as obstacles.

The Middle Market Study, Philadelphia outlines solutions and ways forward for each of these themes. If you own or operate a middle market business, this report provides information that should inform your strategies for the coming year.



What you thought you knew about the Future of Work.

In a recent presentation on the future of work, Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, an HR research firm and consultancy, serves up 11 predictions for 2017 that he believes will improve workplace productivity into the next decade.

The message here, especially for traditional hierarchical organizations, is to abandon old paradigms, and embrace the new.

This is especially challenging for large, complex organizations with deeply embedded behavioral norms, but it is certainly possible, over time, to transform a culture.

Bersin points out that “human beings like to work (and socialize for that matter) in small groups,” and that optimizing the way work gets done requires teams to be coordinated and linked together by open communication. He stresses the importance of a ‘shared culture’ to create the conditions necessary for sustained performance.

While not groundbreaking, I’ve seen many organization struggle to create those conditions.

Another prediction, or trend, relates to performance evaluations, a hotly debated topic in recent years. At a recent Columbia Coaching Conference, Richard Boyatzis characterized performance reviews as “an act of oppression” and linked them to negative emotional attractors, which lead to negative outcomes. According to Boyatzis and many others, for various reasons, annual performance reviews can potentially do more harm than good.

Josh Bersin links performance management with employee engagement and amplifies the need for both a continuous performance management and employee engagement process, where two-way feedback is dynamic and ongoing. He cites Deloitte’s daily five-minute check-ins and quarterly engagement surveys, suggesting that survey questions are informed by the daily one-on-ones, connoting a circular improvement loop.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the presentation centered on the use of design thinking to improve the employee experience throughout their first year. Applying design thinking principles to an onboarding process can result in a deeper, more immersive experience linked to sustained levels of engagement and perhaps even retention.

Working effectively in small teams, dynamic feedback, new mobile technologies to drive accountability, and the relentless preservation of organizational culture (modeling the values daily) are some of the high impact paths highlighted in this latest research report on the future of work.

These themes are core to our work at The Curci Group, both at the individual and organizational level. We are inspired to help our clients lean more fully into these approaches, as we push to bring about deeper, more sustainable performance results.

About us

The Curci Group works at the intersection of human behavior, business strategy and organizational change. We are an association of expert coaches, advisors and facilitators experienced in helping individuals and organizations navigate change. We do this primarily through improving individual and team leadership skills and organizational change processes.



Announcement

We are pleased to announce that Mare Rosenbaum has joined The Curci Group, an Executive Coaching and Facilitation firm located in Center City, Philadelphia.

Mare’s primary responsibilities will include facilitating meetings and retreats for our regional, national and international clients.

With the new association, in addition to Ms. Rosenbaum’s proprietary executive relocation program, she will be better able to support your company’s growth and internal development, both now and in the future.

Mare Rosenbaum is a Prosci Certified Change Management expert, skilled in teambuilding, coaching, and internal communications. Her past clients have included Comcast, FMC Corporation, and NutriSystems.

The Curci Group is committed to supporting transformational growth and measurable outcomes for our regional, national and global clients. Those clients include Campbell’s, Comcast, Aqua America, Turner Construction, AC Lordi, PECO Energy, AmeriGas Propane, Drexel University, Spark Therapeutics, Neill Technologies, and many more.

We look forward to connecting to see how we can support your continued success in the new year.

Please feel free to contact us at info@thecurcigroup.com with any questions. Let us know how we can assist you with your professional development needs or with planning your next meeting or retreat.

Paul Curci
Principal
The Curci Group



From Physician to Organizational Leader

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According to recent data, close to *90% of healthcare organizations currently use coaches as a preferred developmental approach for senior and high potential leaders.

While coaching topics like internal communication, building relationships, succession planning, managing conflict and emotional resilience are common, increasingly organizations are also leveraging one-on-on coaching to help transition physicians into new leadership roles, e.g. preparing physicians to take on administrative roles as department chairs.

With the changing face of healthcare, these critical transitions require new skills, priorities, and an eagerness to learn a common language necessary to collaborate with other administrators.

During a recent Columbia Coaching Conference panel discussion on healthcare, panelist from several prominent healthcare systems identified their key business needs and approaches to providing external and internal coaches to drive change. Those needs include:

  1. Countering looming productivity and labor shortages
  2. Increasing influence, i.e. each person’s ability to lead more people and processes
  3. Spurring innovation through leadership
  4. Addressing millennials’ need for regular feedback

One panelist, from a prominent east coast healthcare system, documented dramatic growth in emotional intelligence (EQ) in all four quadrants, among physicians who completed its coaching program. As a result, over 54% have transitioned into senior leadership roles, over the past 24 months. And, they’ve begun to provide coaching services designed to transition nurses to NPs and Nurse leaders.

Panelists pointed to their decision to bring in external coaches to help “keep them (physicians) focused,” and to provide feedback “in a continuous conversation.”

The organizational mind-shift that has gradually occurred in recent years has been to regard coaching NOT as remedial, but rather as developmental and even aspirational…as a way of inspiring leaders to uncover what’s possible.

It has lead to an increased emphasis on team coaching, both cross-functionally, and among groups of physicians.

With any serious organizational initiative, success metrics are critical. For external coaches, *74% use informal and formal conversations with key stakeholders, to assess the success of a coaching engagement. Panelist interviewed pointed to formal assessments, e.g. pre-and-post EQ Assessments, 360 Reviews (pre-and-post), and employee engagement scores as preferred metrics. And one also included a less formal metric…the number of other physicians and senior leaders requesting coaches.

Whichever approach you and your organization use to implement, track and evaluate your coaching program, it’s safe to say that the subject of coaching, and its inherent value in healthcare, will remain top-of-mind for the foreseeable future.

 

*Source: The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research group organization. It counts approximately 1,200 public and private corporations and other organizations as members, encompassing 60 countries. The Conference Board convenes conferences and peer-learning groups, conducts economic and business management research, and publishes several widely tracked economic indicators.

 



Coaching?! Why would I need coaching??

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This might sound familiar…

You hired him because he’s smart. He’s quick on his feet. In fact, his intellect and analytical skills have placed him two steps ahead of everyone else, and his output shows it. He sizes up situations fast, takes the right course of action, and gets results. His confidence and assertiveness have endeared him to clients from day one. As a result, he’s climbed the ranks, and is in viewing distance of a senior executive position.

But, there’s an obstacle. He hasn’t build or even valued relationships inside the company. Confident in his own super-powers, he has little tolerance for slower, less cerebral team members; people who ‘don’t get it.’

In fact, given the degree with which he ignores, condescends to, and alienates some of his colleagues and support people, would anyone be excited to learn about his ascent into the senior leadership ranks? Or, would his promotion cast a pall over the office, and leave everyone questioning the company’s shared values?

You conclude that executive coaching, and a plan to address some Emotional Intelligence (EQ) competencies is the right course of action. Smart. But, how do you get his buy-in given his current self-image and difficulty accepting criticism?

Leaders everywhere have been struggling with this question. “I know he needs coaching, but how do we get him to agree?”

As an executive coach, I’ve listened to CEOs struggle with this dilemma. Some would rather avoid the issue than risk somehow insulting the person.

For those leaders, here are (3) things you might consider clarifying for them…

  1. The coaching is about them, their agenda, and their professional development. They’d be entering into a confidential relationship, focused on the outcomes that they want for themselves. While this may sound counter-intuitive or like we’d be avoiding the real issues, the opposite is actually true.

Many EQ issues stem from narrowly framed stories people are telling themselves,   e.g. my sales figures speak for themselves, or I’m the only person qualified to solve this problem and I’m not being recognized for it, etc.

By widening the lens and discussing their agenda, a path emerges; one that requires new actions, behaviors and often relationships. The coaching becomes less about fixing them, and more about creating the conditions necessary for everyone to get what they need.

  1. You are committed to helping them get what they need to be successful at the next level. You’ve identified them as a valued, high potential team member, worthy of professional development. But, Marshall Goldsmith’s adage, “What got you here, won’t get you there” is also useful here.

Nearly all successful senior leaders score high on both IQ and EQ. IQ alone is not enough. EQ competencies are a critical requirement at the senior level and have been proven to materially impact compensation. One Hay Group study showed that executives with higher EQ scores earned $29k more than their counterparts with lower scores. Makes sense when you consider the level of respect and influence you earn when EQ competencies are higher.

  1. They get to interview and pick their coach. At this point, you’re inviting them to just call a few coaches from a list you provide, and see if they like any of them. Good coaches will be able to demonstrate their value over a 30-minute call. And, the individual (especially the analytical, quick thinker) will be able to assess whether or not the coach is a good ‘fit’, (read: productive use of their time) within that 30-minute conversation.

I’ve had some of my richest coaching experiences with highly analytical, bright, accomplished executives who, at first, questioned the value of coaching. Some have resulted in lasting friendships long after the coaching engagements ended.

Among other things, coaches help you manage the risk associated with losing frustrated high potential team members, and those around them.