The biggest mistake companies make when managing multiple contractors and consultants is…
“Not” managing them.
Very quickly you can get into schedule delays, missed deadlines, scope creep, cost over-runs, communication issues, role confusion, and much more. Setting the agenda and guiding the experts through a single point of contact, beginning with onboarding, reduces conflict and confusion on several fronts, thereby reducing cost and ensuring greater success in achievement of the respective goals.
The following highlight key components of effective management when working with a model that engages multiple contractors and consultants:
- Clarifying the “End” Game: Engaging the contractors and consultants in conversations to understand the end game and outline their contribution to the organization can reduce time and lower costs in the long-run.
- Making Introductions to Key Stakeholders & Each Other: Taking time to make introductions to key executives and partners with whom they will be working accelerates movement in the desired direction.
- Setting Expectations: Ensuring expectations are set, and re-set as necessary, not only for the outcomes but also interactions and performance protocols clarifies your expectations and sets everyone up for success.
- Establishing “Progress Update” Meetings: Staying on top of progress and resolving issues in a timely way will ensure unnecessary time is not added to project work.
- Pro-actively Addressing Concerns: People often switch jobs and companies. Having a process in place to notify and address concerns, such as these, before they occur will keep things streamlined.
- Mitigating Risk with “No Surprises:” Filling all appropriate partners and leadership in on a decision or issue guarantees smooth problem solving and conflict management. No one appreciates surprises or volatile conditions.
It seems amiss, but it’s true – the day you start your job is the day you should begin planning to leave it.
Whether you leave by means of promotion, retirement or emergency, having an exit strategy in place will encourage you to think about the legacy you want to leave – day one. It will also positively impact the culture of the company and the engagement of your employees during your departure.
Think about it: If you were to leave your position tomorrow, who would maintain your day-to-day duties? How much time would it take you to either develop an employee to take over your key leadership role or hire someone from the outside?
Research provided in the previous article Succession Planning: Organizations Still Have Some Work to Do shows only six of 10 respondents had a succession plan in place, and 80 percent said their company would need at least a year to replace key executive leaders. These companies might reconsider their strategies if they calculated the dollar amount of a typical executive turnover, which can cost approximately three times the executive’s salary in the first year alone.
Effects of an executive transition or departure
An executive leader’s departure can have a trickle-down effect that reaches every aspect of his or her company. While a succession management plan can reduce the risk of these effects, an unexpected exit can result in:
- Heavy financial losses – As the company attempts to fill the open position, there are many complications that result in financial losses. These include:
- Separation costs: The cost of severance pay, continuation of benefits, exit interviews and other administrative functions that the company performs as an executive is leaving.
- Vacancy costs: These are costs that occur while the position is left unfilled, including overtime pay for employees who are left to juggle the tasks of the executive as well as their own. Vacancy costs often create a “domino effect” as one position begins to perform the duties of another. These costs grow if the position is left open over a long period of time.
- Low productivity costs: It is possible that, as an executive makes a sudden or unplanned exit, the contacts he brought to the company or maintained may also unexpectedly leave. Communication may slow down with key contacts or between departments and result in a time of low productivity for the company.
- Replacement and restructuring costs: Replacement costs include recruiting, interviewing and development. However, in 2013, only about 24 percent of incoming CEOs were hired from outside of the company. A more likely cost incurred by companies left without a proper succession plan is the cost of restructuring the executive leadership role for one or more current team members.
- Additional departures and feelings of instability or fear – If a key leader seems to be jumping ship, the crew may follow. Imagine a well-respected CMO uncharacteristically leaving a company without notice. The entire marketing team could follow in fear that his or her unexpected exit signaled an underlying issue with the company or that their jobs were in jeopardy. Communicating the transition process to employees through a succession plan can minimize the fear and chaos that occur when a leader leaves the company.
While the effects of not implementing a succession plan seem risky, a well-executed transition can provide an opportunity for executives to identify gaps in their business strategy and allows for innovation and restructuring that can help the company grow.
5 steps to take when creating a succession plan
As you begin to create a plan in the case of your departure, the first question you should ask yourself is: What is the legacy I hope to leave as a leader? Once you have this question in mind, you can continue to plan with the following steps:
- Build a culture of collaboration
Creating a team of employees who work together fosters a sense of team responsibility and guarantees that there are multiple hands on every job. If any employee unexpectedly leaves the company, there is another employee with a deep understanding of his or her tasks. This results in little or no productivity loss.
- Establish three qualified candidates for your role
These employees will become your leadership pipeline in case of emergency and should start being developed to lead the company upon your departure. Beginning their development now will cut vacancy and replacement costs. Communicating to your employees that you will develop them to become leaders also creates a sense of investment that will help to keep their talent at your company.
- Create a succession plan with key responsibilities
Outlining the responsibilities of each executive role is a great reference tool that can be used to find gaps in efficiency and strategy that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. A written plan will also clearly communicate the goals and duties of key roles to future executives.
- Craft a communication strategy
Communicating with investors during an executive transition is vital and will prevent uncertainty about the trustworthiness of the company. Be sure to communicate clearly with both internal and external stakeholders before your departure so they are aware of the plan in case any unforeseen risks are encountered during the transition.
- Make introductions and share professional communications with your successors
The final step in a planned transition is to be open and share all business documents and contact information that will benefit your successor. In doing so, you are further safeguarding the company and its relationship with your customers.
While planning your exit may seem like an overwhelming feat to accomplish before you transition, if you begin on your very first day, you’ll find more opportunities for growth than obstacles.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up with my mother, an artist; my father, a Lutheran pastor; and four siblings. Mom wouldn’t let us have coloring books, paint-by-number kits, or anything with pre-drawn lines. Instead, she would give us all the paper, paints, chalk pens, etc. we wanted so we could draw our own lines and color inside of them if we wanted to. My dad started hosting faith-based tours once a year when I was quite young. I traveled with him to Asia and the Holy Land when I was in my late teens. As a result, I quickly embraced the differences in cultures and our shared humanity. These two experiences laid for me a foundation of boundlessness and global citizenship. I lead with respect and create opportunities that foster growth, new thinking, and tap hidden potential in people and organizations.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Excel Leadership Solutions?
There is a common thread that runs throughout my career. It is a passion for growth; growth in others, growth in organizations, growth in myself. A few key employment experiences have fostered this passion and, at the same time, set me up for success with Excel Leadership Solutions. My first entrepreneurial venture was Excel Consulting Group in 1989. I started the company with an awesome partner who stayed with me for the first couple years, then was asked to join a distinguished university and develop a learning center for them. I incorporated and my small boutique thrived for the next nine years – until my travel schedule took its toll on my family and I was offered an attractive role with Hussmann/Ingersoll Rand. I learned a great deal in those eleven years – clients expect immediate impact; leaders at all levels struggle with transitions and increased complexity in business; and respecting others and being your authentic self establishes trusting relationships that lead to commitment and loyalty. My role as Director, Organization & Leadership Development, at a time when Ingersoll Rand was focused on transforming from a portfolio managed company to integrated sectors, gave me greater opportunity to work with leaders in defining the new organization, developing newly integrated solutions, and enacting new approaches to leading people across the globe. When I was asked to join Right Management and open the St. Louis region as Vice President, Organization Consulting, I found I had a knack for creating market buzz and accelerating growth. My stock rose quickly with Right’s corporate executives. They saw increased revenues and increased interest in the company by key talent in the market. They also saw my ability to easily engage fellow colleagues across the globe while introducing our value to global and multinational businesses. My roles and responsibilities grew steadily over my ten years with the firm as I stepped up the ladder to hold positions as VP and Managing Principal; VP, North American Center of Excellence – Leadership Development, Senior VP and Global Practice Leader.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Excel Leadership Solutions?
As with any new business, Excel Leadership Solutions has experienced both highlights and challenges. A first highlight is when I heard from my daughter that she had decided to join me in launching the business. This decision grew out of a plan developed when she was in her undergraduate studies. Over the past six years, she credentialed herself as a leader and a marketer, and therefore brought immediate value to the business. She moved from the west coast to St. Louis in late March 2014, just in time to drive the plans for the release of my new business book, The Power of Paradox: Harness the Energy of Competing Ideas to Uncover Radically Innovative Solutions. A few months later we launched Excel Leadership Solutions with long-time trusted partners that demonstrate collaboration. The next several months were a blur with book signings, presentations, new client work, prospective client meetings, and responding to a flood of emails. We quickly delivered on leadership team alignment needs with a national healthcare client, leadership team integration work with a new multinational client, implemented locally-based executive team strategic off-sites, and supported leadership transition needs within a global educational institution. The greatest challenges have been focused around managing time and resources – especially the careful balance of developing business while ensuring complete attention and valued services to solve client needs.
Tell us about your new book ‘The Power of Paradox.’
I wrote The Power of Paradox as a “how to” business book, yet I consider it a “handbook for life,” as the benefits of paradox thinking far surpass business application. Everyone can gain value by applying this thinking. It opens conversations. It impacts behavior. It changes the game and brings value to relationship building, to decision making, to driving accountability. I have thought in terms of opposites and contradictions for much of my life. Even as a young child, I saw stark differences in how my mom and dad parented. Mom was more permissive and dad was authoritarian. I recall choosing selectively what I would take from each and developed a very rudimentary approach to decision making around issues, challenges, and opportunities that went well beyond “either/or” thinking. Later, “both/and” thinking became part of an intentional skill set that I have used to help organizations of all sizes avert disasters and realize successes. My first foray into paradox thinking was guided by Russell L. Ackoff, who introduced me to “systems thinking.” Years later, I met Barry Johnson, who spoke about “managing polarities” and infused my appreciation for paradox with language, models, and a practical way to help organizations use paradox thinking to their bottom-line advantage – turning around negative financial and personnel situations and putting themselves on a positive track to sustainability. Paradox management enables balanced management of conflicting objectives. It identifies pairs of opposites and determines how they are interdependent relative to a key goal. In business, inherent tensions are mistakenly viewed as problems to be solved once the “correct” answer is found. But if only one direction is considered – either A or B – only part of the picture is visible. The best and most innovative solutions are frequently realized not by choosing one option over another, but by pursuing two contrasting options at the same time. A company wants to be known for innovation/-change, at the same time customers embrace it for its stability, while it must thrill shareholders with strong short-term revenue results and concurrently take actions to ensure long-term health. The value of paradox thinking as explained in the book is being felt across the globe with recommendations coming from publications, such as: The Washington Post’s Leadership Book of the Week, Forbes in Russia, CEO Magazine, Viet Nam News, Business Traveller, Investor’s Business Daily, IT Business Edge, and more.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in consulting?
Explore, clarify, and validate the value proposition you bring to clients in your chosen consulting role. If management and strategy consulting is your goal, ground yourself in business and organizational behavior principles. Solidify your capabilities in economics and finance. Gain experience internationally or live in a country outside your home country. Sharpen your communication and presentation skills – especially listening. Show up as a paradox manager – driving growth and reducing cost, developing business capabilities from the outside in and inside out, leading and following, preparing and allowing for flexibility, honoring tradition and accelerating change. Demonstrate executive presence and leadership expertise.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I heard tragic stories from senior executives early in my career. This helped open my eyes to what might lie ahead. I must be intentional about where and how I spend my time and have a workable, flexible plan created collaboratively together with my husband. I’ve been in business leadership and consulting roles since before my two daughters, now 28 and 24 years old, were born. I love being a mom and have made the girls the center of my life. Over the years, I made it a priority to be a part of school activities, dance, sports, and their circle of friends, as well as placing a premium on communication – especially listening and mentoring. It hasn’t been easy. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I proposed to my employer a “new” work model: job sharing. When that was rejected, I decided to go part-time for the first two years and worked so flexibly even my internal clients had no idea I had changed status. I did the same when my second daughter was born, though I had just started my first business and that made it easier. When I had heavy travel periods, I would get innovative with visual calendars, giving the girls pre-recorded books with my voice, and returning with educational surprises native to state or country I had visited. As the girls grew, I introduced them to my work and to travel. Both are dynamic young women, have had successful starts to their careers now, and have become experts in traveling internationally.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Being “played” as a woman and not being treated as a professional. Early on in my career, I became aware of the gender inequality that still exists today. My formative years were spent working for a national food company where I was the only woman (and the youngest) on a male dominated sales team. Soon after, I held an internal consulting role with a global defense contractor and a heavily male dominated workforce. Above and beyond demonstrating competence, I learned very quickly I had to work harder and longer hours to prove myself. I dressed for success. I was careful not to talk about family too much. I found getting results while being authentic, inclusive, thinking creatively, acting with speed, and taking a “no fear” attitude to conflict and chaos became a recipe for my success. The bottom-line: take control of yourself and your future. The realities are real. Women still lack the opportunities men have in the states and across the globe. The salary gap hasn’t changed markedly in 30 years. Choose your direction, know your audience, and make your mark. Don’t lose who you are in the process – you are your greatest tool for success!
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
There are so many ways mentors show up in my life: formal and informal, in-the-moment and planned, intentional and unaware. I’ve experienced all of these and the culminating result had an indispensable impact on both my professional and personal life. They have reinforced my being, challenged my beliefs, given me a plethora of learning tools, and reminded me of the freedom to act – so I do, mentoring others along the way.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Being such an eclectic individual, it’s hard to narrow the field down. My mom, for demonstrating unconditional love. Mother Teresa, for setting the example of charitable living. Malala Yousafzai, for her courage and relentlessness in education, even in the face of danger and personal harm. Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Board Chairman, and other women who are the first women leaders in their roles. My daughters, as the next generation of leaders already making their mark and setting a tone of integrity and excellence in their respective circles of personal friends and professional colleagues. And Maya Angelou, for her gift of words: “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s Creation.”
What do you want Excel Leadership Solutions to accomplish in the next year?
Quite simply, we want to help our clients get what they want and need to drive their mission and vision. Since we are entering our second year, this means accelerating the awareness of the value we bring to businesses and organizations in solving problems that address their toughest leadership, people and change challenges. It means demonstrating a solid foundation, building trust, and securing engagements with a greater number of clients. It means seamlessly collaborating with our strategic partners. It means delivering on our promise.
The single most effective inventory management strategy to control and reduce inventory costs is…
A strategy of discipline. Regardless of size, large or small, most companies work to achieve two primary objectives – grow the business by satisfying the customer and manage costs. Businesses seek big data to deliver strategic recommendations based on assessing the customer experience and measuring the cost of inventory. Working under a discipline strategy, companies can effectively mitigate two potential risks – dissatisfying customers by promising a product when there is none and increasing cost by losing tack of outdated stock in the warehouse.
Inventory management techniques that support a strategy of discipline include the following:
- Leading by Example: Discipline must be fostered from the top down, starting with senior management. Leaders must develop effective routines and set clear expectations regarding financial and operational objectives.
- Determining Appropriate Levels: Before launching an inventory process, appropriate levels must be benchmarked on competitive standards, researched for full process integration, and communicated across the organization. These levels should be clearly understood by all and reviewed regularly for maximum efficiency.
- Creating Quality Processes & Systems: Checks and balances must be implemented to streamline inventory management processes. How and when will assessments be conducted? Who completes them? What systems aide the processes? How do you know they are efficient?
- Accelerating Data Knowledge: Leveraging technology is a key differentiator to establish a competitive advantage in the industry. Staying up to date on inventory tracking measures and utilizing data analytics to make business decisions, inventory managers must work with technology to continue driving down the bottom line and manage inventory costs.
When it comes to sales funnel management, should you build relationships with prospects or look for smart ways to use social channels for lead conversion? Should you focus on pulling leads through the funnel or flex as prospects enter in at different points in the process? Should we stick with the way we’ve done it before or change our approach? The best answer may be “yes.” Here is my advice for sales funnel management…
- Sales and marketing.
- Focused and flexible.
- Continuity and change.
Paradox thinking is “and” thinking. It enables balanced management of interdependent and seemingly conflicting objectives toward a singular goal or aim. Adopting an appreciation for paradox can be the “fix” for your sales funnel management mistakes.
As complexity grows, so does the need for paradox thinking. And today’s world is indeed complex. Today’s customer is frustrated, fearful, and forgetful. There is simply too much! So, you need to engage them in the experience from the very start, after they buy, and when they are in conversations with others. Below are but a few of the key paradoxes in sales funnel management.
Sales and Marketing.
Be engaging and relevant as you choose which social networks and tools are best fit to guide prospects through the funnel. For example, millennials are always online, yet traditionalists are not. Make it easy for both of them to reach you in personally attentive ways. Then, put on the charm and solve their problem with your product or service.
Focused and Flexible.
The sales funnel is still a valid focusing tool for sales and marketing professionals, yet being flexible and acknowledging prospects enter at any point is critical. So, shape your funnel to capture the spontaneity.
Continuity and Change.
Testing everything (even ideas) and often will indicate when it is time to hold or make a change in your approach.
A company wants to be known for innovation at the same time customers embrace it for its stability, to thrill shareholders with strong short-term revenue results and concurrently take actions to ensure long-term health. From those two examples alone, it should be easy to see how failure to manage a critical pair of opposites results in the company stumbling and, perhaps, failing.
Paradox thinking is “and” thinking. It is thinking that identifies pairs of opposites and determines how they are interdependent relative to a key goal. In the previous examples, one pair of opposites is “short-term revenue and long-term health.” They are interdependent because both are vital in achieving the goal of a thriving organization. Failure to manage the pair of opposites may result in the company going out of business; at the very least, it will result in its slow decline.
Affirm Health (real company with name changed) has ascended to the summit of its industry during its 100+ year history. It is one of the largest hospital systems in the United States, and in staying true to its aim to provide care regardless of ability to pay, it is a top provider of care to people who are uninsured and underinsured.
Affirm Health has a corporate structure that inherently involves two set of needs because it is a health-care system and a collection of hospitals. Affirm Health’s mission is to serve the healthcare needs of all people, including those who need assistance with paying. At the same time, the organization’s vision statement refers to a strong, vibrant health care business, which is something that cannot be accomplished without decent margins. The analogous tension between addressing needs of the community and corporate, or hospital, needs is also central for Affirm.
There are situations where paradox thinking is exactly what you need to solve a problem, and then, there are times when you need to decide between options. Unfortunately, many environments engender and reward either/or thinking; in fact, people in leadership roles often associate that false dichotomy with confidence and success. A colonel decides to send troops to one location rather than another for a surprise attack. A football coach chooses between Play A and Play B to win the game. A doctor relies on quick either/or thinking to make a life-and-death decision. In situations like these, choosing one possibility over another may be necessary to solve a problem.
The decision maker who seems decisive earns admiration as long as most of the decisions lead to good outcomes. The pressure on individuals, team leaders, and senior executives to make decisions quickly, to zero in on the better option—spotting the advantages of one over another—is intense. Those who ponder too long can put their jobs at risk.
However, much to the detriment of all kinds of organizations, this mentality has led to either/or decision making as the default approach instead of one that’s consciously chosen because it fits the circumstances. Ironically, either/or decisions—which are often necessary—come more easily and are better informed when coming out of the context of both/and thinking.
The colonel, coach, and doctor have limited ability to replicate their success if they lack the foundation of both/and thinking. Without being able to consider the both/and model, they could find themselves relying on fallible intuition and an uneven ability to analyze situations quickly. They all face strategic tensions prior to making problem-solving decisions. When they recognize what those tensions are and the needs they are based on, the choices they may have to make down the road can be informed decisions. For the colonel, those conflicting needs might be troop strength and high-tech weaponry. The coach could be faced with the prospects of luring a star quarterback and a handful of solid, mid-level players. For the doctor, it might be long-term therapy and a surgical quick-fix. Focusing on such interdependent opposites is generally not an intuitive thing. It’s a learned process.
In looking at Affirm Health’s two dozen conflicting needs that came out of my conversations with one executive, the first pair to take shape was “clinical needs and facilities needs.” An isolated focus on the requirements for providing superior care means that elevators might break down. Making the needs of facilities the priority means that Affirm could build the wrong building very well.
Hospital CEOs are often doctors, so the challenge of caring for buildings often strikes them as secondary to patient care. Using patch solutions to address facilities issues can seem acceptable. A focus on facilities needs means making sure the structure is well-maintained, but from their perspective, this could come at the expense of having the resources necessary for good clinical care. The CEOs needed headquarters’ executives to identify both a threshold and a cap on the dollars that the CEO could spend for facilities and should spend on facilities.
Adopting an appreciation for paradox ends the practice of viewing conflicting needs separately and addressing one over the other. Paradox thinking unravels the assumption that, if we analyze a situation thoroughly, one option will trump another in terms of problem-solving. Organizations do not reach their potential when they habitually use that kind of either/or approach to challenges. Their profit, morale, and ability to innovate suffer.
- Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier is President and CEO of Excel Leadership Solutions and author of “The Power of Paradox: Harness the Energy of Competing Ideas to Uncover Radically Innovative Solutions.”
By Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, Guest Blogger & CEO, EXCEL LEADERSHIP SOLUTIONS – Posted on May 16, 2014
Are you often faced with conflicting situations and mixed-message demands from your board, your team, key stakeholders, and the market? Take risks to grow dramatically and protect your current stability. Seek to maximize sales and watch the bottom line. Build future leaders and prove leadership excellence now.
Paradox thinking is “and” thinking. It enables balanced management of interdependent conflicting objectives. Adopting an appreciation for paradox ends the practice of viewing conflicting needs separately and addressing one over the other. Organizations do not reach their potential when they habitually use that kind of either/or approach to challenges. Their profit, morale, and ability to innovate suffer.
Think through the challenges of your organization as I unpack the struggles of one healthcare company to reveal priority paradoxes to drive focus for today and tomorrow. The name of the organization has been changed to ensure confidentiality.
Many of the conflicting needs that emerged from my conversations related to Affirm Health’s organizational challenges took on the veneer of either pro-facility or anti-facility, or pro-corporate or anti-corporate. That actually made it fairly easy to find pairs of conflicting needs.
Someone in a senior position for facilities management might be parked on one side of a conference table across from a physician who is the CEO of one of the many hospitals in the system. They would potentially have conflicts about where the money is spent and how best to support the mission of the company. Disagreements such as these are precisely how you can unearth valuable paradoxes. Don’t sit down to the conversation with the attitude “let’s all get along.” Instead, use the disagreement to establish a sense that you’re both on the same team, out to achieve the same Aim (best case scenario) and avert the big Miss (worst case scenario).
Here are selected pairings of conflicting needs for Affirm Health that came out of the conversations:
- Clinical needs and Facilities needs – Without ever losing focus on quality patient care, there needs to be a coordinated effort to maintain structures in a first-class way.
- Reducing costs and Increasing growth – The reality of reduced funds from key sources does not necessitate a hunker-down mentality when it comes to building the organization’s talent, impact, and potential to serve more people.
- Slow, steady growth and Agility – Pacing growth in consideration of resource constraints does not preclude moving quickly in some areas to keep up with changes in the environment and changing needs of constituents.
- Strategic plans and Business plans – Vision and standards give an overarching sense of direction from headquarters while the individual hospitals keep their focus on day-to-day actions.
- Mission and Margin – Staying true to a healing mission driven by compassion and dedication to care for those most in need requires money.
- Centralized control and Distributed leadership – Individual hospital CEOs need the freedom to act on what they know is the best way to serve their populations; at the same time, it’s important they adhere to best practices, budgets, and other corporate mandates.
- Nurturing relationship with managers/leaders and Asserting expertise – Self/team-awareness of and confidence in skill areas must be coupled with an appropriate regard for authority.
- Tight systems and Flexibility in care – Efficiency and adherence to protocols at the service end combine with tweaking the rules and “staying loose” to deliver personalized and customized care.
With Affirm’s twelve pairs—grouping the pairs thematically— took shape like this:
SHORT TERM AND LONG-TERM
- Business plans and Strategic plans
- Reducing costs and Increasing growth
- Slow, steady growth and Agility
CONTROL AND FREEDOM
- Tight systems and Flexibility in care
- Centralized control and Distributed leadership
- Nurturing relationship with managers/leaders and Asserting expertise
WHY AND HOW
- Mission and Margin
- Clinical Needs and Facility Needs
Exploring paradoxes by looking at the positive outcomes of managing them well over time¾and the negative outcomes of over-focusing on just one part¾should increase your situational awareness. The next step is determining action steps that will get you where you want to go!
Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, president and CEO at Excel Leadership Solutions and a former partner at the Clarion Group, is a results-driven executive with a doctorate in management. She is author of The Power of Paradox: Harness the Energy of Competing Ideas to uncover Radically Innovative Solutions (Career Press).
When this year’s Corvette Stingray rolled out, critics lusted. The slick GM (GM) sports car, they wrote, has throaty vroom and plenty of zoom. Plus the ride gets 28 miles to the gallon. A fuel-efficient muscle car? It’s possible, if businesses can tackle more than one vision at once.
At Excel Leadership Solutions, CEO Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier points to the latest Stingray as an example of a new brand of broad thinking. Her lesson to executives: You can have it all — if you’re willing to stretch your mind.
“People achieve the impossible by striving for goals that don’t seem as though they belong together,” she wrote in The Power of Paradox.
Try twisting either/or thinking to both/and strategy. “If you see an opposite that is right in front of you, grab it,” she told IBD.
Start with these tips:
• Explore. Schroeder-Saulnier urges executives to take a candid look at their companies. Profit-charging polarities hatch when you ask probing questions:
How are things going with you?
What’s working well?
What do you want long-term?
How will you get there?
• Stabilize. You can be level and still bring the sizzle. Listen to cynics and traditionalists. Their chorus will steer your insights, Schroeder-Saulnier says. “It’s not just looking at what we are moving away from, but it’s also ‘What’s the as-is we want to hold onto?’”
• Map the gap. Disagreements spark new conversations. So Schroeder-Saulnier encourages colleagues to keep talking — with an eye on possibilities.
For example: One corporate hotel chain she advised was lagging. The issue? Inns held tightly to unique character. Customers liked that. But to survive globally — and go after big goals — the chain had to have some standard procedures.
• Harness. Schroeder-Saulnier taught the company to understand that its corporate coordination didn’t need to trump the charming, local flair of each inn. Balancing between global and local was an ideal way to work, she told leaders.
• Equalize. “The team immediately had a fresh focus,” she said. “They now saw a situation in which their company had a strong presence around the world both because of the standards established at the corporate level and because general managers at the individual properties had the freedom and creativity to manage that presence as they saw fit on the local level.”
• Train. Ready to shift? Work daily to boost both/and thinking, recommends Amy Hillman, dean at Arizona State’s business school.
“The key to this is mental discipline,” she said. “Every article or headline you read, make yourself think through the options, either/or or both/and. If you can practice this dispassionately about companies that aren’t yours, then when you need to, you’ll have the discipline to do it regarding your own company.”
• Cooperate. “Both/and thinking requires a safe environment that focuses on celebrating and rewarding team achievements,” said Brent Daily, co-founder of the office-culture adviser RoundPegg.
• Campaign. Idea drivers: Leverage both/and thinking to gain buy-in from a variety of key players with different needs, suggests Christian Gaiser, CEO of online shopping platform Retale.
“Have an open and unbiased discussion style,” he said.
• Explain. “Either/or thinking would just lead to a loss in acceptance among team members,” said Gaiser, “and ultimately negatively impact execution, which is most important of all.”
Bringing the skeptics on board — and hearing them out when they resist your idea — adds verve to new initiatives.
IT professionals need to value the inherent paradoxes that lie within their field of endeavor, and embrace them as a means of ensuring that a balanced, inclusive approach is taken to managing conflict and achieving the objectives of the organization.
That’s the advice of Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, PhD, a leadership consultant and author of the book, The Power of Paradox: Harness the Energy of Competing Ideas to Uncover Radically Innovative Solutions. I recently spoke with Schroeder-Saulnier about the paradoxes that confront IT professionals, and about how “paradox thinking” can help identify the potential of seemingly conflicting options.
During our conversation, Schroeder-Saulnier demonstrated an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge about the IT profession. She said the receptivity of IT leaders to paradox thinking—taking a “both/and” approach to conflicting ideas—runs the gamut.
“It’s interesting, in that IT professionals don’t all come from the same background base into IT,” she said. “What I find is there is clearly a sense of openness to listening, because of a desire to be more innovative, and to look for whatever’s coming next. When there’s that openness, I find that it turns into almost a hunger to delve deeper into it. … It’s all about exploring, or being creative.”
At the same time, she said, some IT leaders are more analytical and formulaic, and may not be as open. She described that group as “those who are the more traditional computing people, who have been trained in the sciences, who in the past have had limited tools. They’re the black-and-white thinkers who have experienced change as more evolutionary than revolutionary.”
What’s important, Schroeder-Saulnier said, is to appreciate the validity of both mindsets, and to embrace the paradox around logic and creativity.
“Inside an IT organization, you may have some of those who are more rules-based, and others who have a much more visionary mindset,” she said. “So you have the grounded and the visionary, and it’s critical that both be paid attention to.”
That’s essential, she said, in order to understand the broader issues.
“IT professionals need to go beyond the computing,” Schroeder-Saulnier said, “and have a broader background, with more of an integrative kind of thinking.”
There appear to be plenty of other paradoxes that are readily identifiable in IT organizations.
“If we’re talking about an IT organization that creates and produces IT products, the awareness of ‘high tech’ vs. ‘high touch,’ right there is a paradox,” Schroeder-Saulnier said. “So the higher-tech we go with a service or an offering, we should also be mindful of the higher touch that’s necessary in, for example, a communication device.”
Another one, she said, is “technology focus” vs. “relationship focus.” It made me think of the stereotypical coder, who enjoys being head-down, alone in his corner writing code, but who out of necessity collaborates with plenty of others in the organization to get the job done.
So when organizations that adopt the paradox thinking model fail to achieve the results they’re hoping for, I wonder, where did they go wrong? Schroeder-Saulnier said often it amounts to a timing issue, and there may not be a failure at all.
“Do they really fail to achieve the results, or are they still on the way to achieving the results that they desire? A lot of that can reside in the complexity of paradox,” she said. She cited a company’s growth strategy, which may entail both growth by acquisition and organic growth.
“It’s possible that we’re focusing on one side of the paradox at the neglect of the other,” she said. “If we focus on growth through acquisition at the neglect of organic growth, and we don’t achieve the results we’re looking for in Year One, is that a failure? No. It’s just the outcome of Year One.” It’s all about managing the paradox of stability and change, she said, and recognizing that growth by acquisition is short-term, and organic growth is long-term.
Interestingly, Schroeder-Saulnier mentioned during our conversation that her background is in the exploration of religion and religious studies. I shared with her the fact that I’m a member of the Bahá’í Faith, and I noted that in Bahá’í consultation, the aim is to foster an environment that harnesses the power of conflicting opinions. The idea is to detach oneself from the opinions he expresses. So once I express my idea or opinion, say, in a meeting, that idea no longer belongs to me—it belongs to the group. I asked Schroeder-Saulnier whether that approach is consistent with the paradox model she espouses. She said it’s very consistent, in that it addresses the basic paradox of self and other:
“So if I’m going to try this on, let me go ahead and listen to your ideas in addition to sharing my ideas, because with this approach comes the realization that we aren’t looking at the whole, at the completeness, unless we look at both,” she said. “That’s what this model does. It takes the personal attachment away, to focus on what is our shared aim, and what the interrelationships and interdependencies are.”
Career Press Releases New Book by Expert in “Paradox Thinking”
Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier’s The Power of Paradox Available March 24;
Launch Event on March 26 in St. Louis
(PRWEB) February 28. 2014
Rudy Agency author Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier’s debut book, The Power of Paradox: Harness the Energy of Competing Ideas to Uncover Radically Innovative Solutions will be released by Career Press on March 24. Schroeder-Saulnier, who holds a doctorate in management, takes an approach to business that is consistent with a philosophy of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr, who said, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” (The Man, His Science, & the World The Changed)
President and CEO of Excel Leadership Solutions, Schroeder-Saulnier says, “It enables balanced management of conflicting objectives. Paradox thinking identifies pairs of opposites and determines how they are interdependent relative to a key goal.”
In business, inherent tensions are mistakenly viewed as problems to be resolved once the “correct” answer is found. But if only one direction is considered—either A or B—only part of the picture is visible. The best and most innovative solutions are frequently realized not by choosing one option rather than another, but by pursuing two contrasting options at the same time—the both/and option.
The Power of Paradox insightfully guides one on navigating through a world where black and white solutions rarely exist. – Ward Klein, CEO, Energizer Holdings, Inc.
“Paradox thinking enables balanced management of conflicting objectives,” notes Schroeder-Saulnier. “A company wants to be known for innovation-change at the same time customers embrace it for its stability, to thrill shareholders with strong short-term revenue results and concurrently take actions to ensure long-term health. From those two examples alone, it should be easy to see how failure to manage a critical pair of opposites results in the company stumbling and, perhaps, failing.”
In the book, Schroeder-Saulnier reveals a dynamic critical-thinking process anyone can use to define the strategic tensions within his or her organization. She shares the same steps she’s used to help Fortune 500 companies as well as regional not-for-profits.
Complete with detailed case studies of companies that achieved a competitive advantage with this breakthrough strategy, The Power of Paradox will help executives face chronic challenges with confidence and uncover unexpected and infinitely better solutions.
“When you begin to think in terms of ‘and,’ you have a powerful tool for solving problems and achieve goals,” states Schroeder-Saulnier.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, president and CEO at Excel Leadership Solutions and a former partner at the Clarion Group, is a results-driven executive with a doctorate in management. She has devoted her career of more than 24 years to partnering with CEOs and top leaders to clarify focus and accelerate the pursuit of critical market, business, and leadership priorities. Her work with a variety of Fortune 500 companies worldwide, including Scottrade, Georgia-Pacific, and Boeing, has been centered on collaborative and integrative approaches that solve problems. She is based in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Power of Paradox