Challenges & Triumphs
Here are some examples of how Smart Work has partnered to help leaders and organizations.
Getting Decisions to Stick - and Beyond
In 1999, we introduced Smart Work collaborative skills and protocols to reinforce a new decision-making process in a small division of a premier chip manufacturer.
A new organizational story emerged from that training: they became, "An organization that makes and keeps commitments." Over the succeeding 12 years, we've been delighted to see them growing their story to become, "The platform that holds the rest of the organizational ingredients together."
It's a marvelous example of how a compelling story can influence an organization entirely out of proportion to its hierarchical power.
Emerging from our initial training, the group's goal became "Organizational Excellence:" improved accountability supported by consistent behavior, increased leadership skills, and "flawless execution" of complex manufacturing processes. In response to employee feedback, committed managers developed a Management Discipline and Accountability document which incorporated many of the Smart Work skills as the standard for manager behavior. Their internally-developed training supporting desired behaviors is still revisited within the division, keeping key skills fresh.
In 2002, those skills supported the division through a redesign of how products are developed and a transition to globally dispersed, around-the-clock development teams, along with a significant cut-back in resources.
Despite these changes, the organization delivered double the number of SKU's to market, grew its volume almost 40% and its market share almost 50% while cutting costs nearly in half. In 2004, this division delivered 20 MU and became a $1B business within this $35 B business.
A Powerful Story Changed the Game
In 2010, we resumed work with a client who'd been promoted to run a product engineering group inside a major high tech firm. The organization he reported to was suffering from a bad case of "Bright Shiny Object" syndrome: grasping at one possibility after another, with no coherent story about who they were or what they were trying to accomplish.
We worked with his leadership team to develop a compelling story for the organization, and coached them all in collaborative leadership.
Over the next 18 months, our client's story was adopted by the larger organization and became the platform for decision-making and direction.
The group with the best story wins. Now the team is working on the next generation story, confident that it, too, will significantly influence the overall organization.
Community Leadership Roundtable
In 2010, we started a Leadership Roundtable with 5 local entrepreneurs. Ranging from high tech business to construction, this group has now met monthly for two and a half years. Using an Action Learning Model, with periodic reading assignments to provoke thinking and challenge assumptions, the Roundtable works together to help each other develop strategies, skills, practices, and compelling stories for and about their organizations.
Learning to ask for help was a big challenge for all of these spirited entrepreneurs. It has been the most important "lesson learned" from the on-going experience, and participants now regularly bring issues to the table for group input. They refine each other's business models, and advise one another on next steps in growth, job transitions, and hiring lessons learned while they continue to grow their various businesses.
As facilitator and "holder of the container," Smart Work points out leadership challenges - both missed and stepped up to, suggests articles and books, and uses "teachable moments" to share information on neuroscience, interpersonal effectiveness, team and group dynamics, 21st century strategic planning and the art of building compelling stories that others want to join.
While our area was protected from the worst of the downturn in '08 and '09 due to the large university presence, the Great Recession arrived here with a bang in 2010. Each of these very diverse businesses has managed to thrive in a very difficult business environment. Several alliances and referrals have also resulted, as trust has built and participants became eager to work with one another. The leadership coaching, refining of business models, development of stories and streamlining of processes has unquestion- ably contributed to their ongoing success.
Hometown Growth (pro bono)
Six years ago, Smart Work helped start a brewpub in Millheim , PA. As that institution grew and prospered, we began to think about how to build vibrant local economies that can provide some counterbalance to the roller-coaster ride the global economy is taking us all on. From those beginnings, we have seen six more businesses open in our tiny hamlet of 800 people, started a community conversation about local investment, developed a directory of nearly 250 local businesses and seen an influx of young people into what was a dying rural community.
Using inquiry and collaboration skills, we've helped catalyze a new story in our community - that this is a lively, enterprising community with great internal resources -and an economy that is on its way to standing on its own two feet.
Rapid Leadership Development
Rapid growth in the information assurance business created an unprecedented need for development of leadership skills in a management consulting firm. Senior leaders at the company needed a high impact method to build leadership competency. An innovative 6-month program that focused on a cohort of mid-level managers who had recently been promoted was developed. It included 8 action-learning sessions with one-on-one coaching during the intervals between the meetings.
Each meeting focused on the challenge of one of the eight members. The sessions were supplemented by leadership skill-building, using the leadership story framework. Partners in the firm noted an improvement in participant performance during the 6-month program. The value of action learning plus coaching was clearly demonstrated as a tool for leadership development, problem solving, and building group cohesiveness.
Leadership Development in the Federal Sector
Smart Work collaborated with EDIN Associates to support NASA's Creative Learning Groups as they developed leadership through creating extraordinary learning communities. Using the Leadership Story, we supported the Code 400 group in telling its story and sharing its heroic message to the world: "Civil servants deliver America 's dream." We've helped develop similar Learning Groups at EPA. We've also helped teams develop compelling stories for themselves at the Dept. of Energy and elsewhere.
Getting Leaders to be Heroes
Our coaching focuses on getting clients to step up to being the hero in their own story, by getting them to play in the biggest game they're capable of playing in. Individual coaching clients currently include leaders at Intel, Ensco, G-Tech and Accenture. In some cases we're working with individuals, and in others, entire leadership teams. Coaching usually includes some combination of one-on-one work and on-site "shadowing" with feedback, over a period of 6-12 months.
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