My latest Articles

(Thought and Vigor, Fast Company, Talent Culture, Switch and Shift, and more)

  • 3 Ways For Senior Managers To Keep A Broad Perspective
    Get far along enough in your career, and you'll more than likely end up a specialist in something. Whether you've mastered systems integrations or become an expert in a certain product category, you'll have your own focus for which your company relies on you. That expertise may even have propelled you into senior management—which is another specialty in itself. Whatever your specialization, though, having too narrow a focus on anything can blind you to other important issues. That's why we have to keep broadening our horizons at every stage in our careers. Here's how to do it. Look Beyond The C-Suite From the vantage point of upper management, it can be easy to forget how things look for those on the front lines. But that's where the bulk of employees' and customers' experiences are shaped. If you want to know how things really work, you need to understand it. Rightly or wrongly, many employees believe senior managers don't want to hear their opinions. Getting access to that perspective isn't always easy, though. Rightly or wrongly, many employees believe senior managers don't want to hear their opinions. That assumption can be tough to overcome. Just saying, "I want to hear your opinions, here's an email address" won't do the job. To most employees, it will just sound like hollow talk rather than a sincere overture. Instead, actively seek out employees in all roles and on all levels to talk personally with about their work. Listen to what they have to say,… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2015-08-28By Mark Lukens
  • We Never Lead Alone
    Isaac Newton famously said that if he had seen far then it was by standing on the shoulders of giants. Yet dramatic as the statement is, it makes a poor model for understanding leadership, implying rising above others. When we achieve great things as leaders, we do so by standing shoulder to shoulder with others, not above them. Even the top woman or man at a leading firm never leads alone. Teams and Alliances The fact that we do not lead alone becomes particularly obvious when we ally with other businesses to achieve our goals. Audi, BMW and Daimler have banded together to try to buy Nokia’s Here mapping service, as part of their goal of taking the lead in putting a self-driving car on the road. If they succeed in their aim then none of them will be able to claim that they are the leader in self-driving cars. None of their CEOs can claim that they alone are leading the project. It will be the result of collaborative leadership, of leaders working with and relying upon one another. But the truth is that we do this every day. Unless you’re a one-person business, you work alongside others. It hardly seems accurate to see yourself as the top of a pyramid if there is someone else in the organization better skilled than you at tracking the finances, designing products, maintaining IT infrastructure, or any of dozens of other jobs. You are all leaders at something within the organization, down… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-08-26By Mark Lukens
  • How To Stop Managing And Start Actually Leading
    Plenty of leaders don't really lead. They think they do, but in reality they follow the paths forged by other businesses rather than set their own course. Others just shift indecisively with circumstances. In effect, they're little more than overpaid followers replicating what they've seen done before. So what's a better approach? Lead, Don't Manage It can be dangerous for those in leadership roles to compare themselves too closely with others. The spread of benchmarking from the Total Quality Management model has led to an obsession with mirroring the performance and working styles of others, which can lead to crippling sameness rather than innovation. This isn't to say that making such comparisons isn't useful at all, just that we need to be careful how we do it. If you're leading a team or organization that doesn't add more to the world than it takes, it's time to take a step back. After all, it's worth pointing out that benchmarking is a useful tool of management, not leadership. It lets us see what's already being achieved, offering a point of comparison for judging performance. But that doesn't align with the main goals of good leadership. Leadership is about choosing a direction, which you can't always do by imitating someone else's best practice. If you do, you're following, not leading. Lead Toward Substance The work of true leaders adds something to the world they work in. As author and business coach Ruth Schwartz has pointed out, the call to "give back" through… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2015-08-26By Mark Lukens
  • Getting Passionate: Employee Engagement
    Employee engagement was one of the most discussed topics of 2014 and the first half of 2015, as leaders looked for ways to get the most out of their employees. Engagement was discussed so much that it risked becoming just one more hollow buzzword, trotted out to justify whatever the speaker was looking to do. But the year ahead will force us to treat engagement seriously, to get to grips ever more deeply with what employees want and what makes them passionate about their work. The Economic Challenge After years of slow recovery, the economy finally started to take off in 2014, and this looks set not only to continue but to accelerate, with a predicted 3% growth in the US economy and related increases in both employment and wage levels. While this is great news, it also creates a challenge for those responsible for employee engagement. As long as the economy remained stalled, a larger proportion of employees remained in their jobs. There were less jobs to apply for, and a greater sense of fear about the consequences of rocking the boat and being left jobless. As the job market picks up, more employees will look to move on, or to ask for more from their employers in return for staying in place. Engagement, that elusive emotional attachment to the job and passion for getting it done, is a great way to keep employees happy and in place, and even more important in 2015. The Personal Challenge The growth… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-08-24By Mark Lukens
  • How To Lead Collaboratively
    Isaac Newton famously said that if he had seen far, it was "by standing on the shoulders of giants." Dramatic as that statement is, it's a poor model for understanding leadership. Leaders don't rise above everyone else. The best leaders achieve what they do by standing shoulder to shoulder with others. They never lead alone. Building Alliances Take big, industry-wide leadership efforts, for instance. Audi, BMW, and Daimler have banded together to try to buy Nokia's mapping service, called Here, as part of their shared goal of putting a self-driving car on the road. They're competitors, of course, and if they succeed in their aim, none of the three will be able to claim to being the leader in self-driving cars. The achievement would be shared, the result of collaborative leadership, with the top minds at all three companies working together and relying on one another to do something great. We need input from others, however painful it may be. But the truth is that we do this every day. Unless you're a one-person business, you work alongside somebody else. It's hard to see yourself at the top of a pyramid if there's someone else in the organization who's more skilled than you at something, no matter what it is—tracking finances, designing products, maintaining IT infrastructure, managing the mailroom, you name it. In that important sense, at least, you're all leaders in your given area. It's by leading together that we succeed. Understanding Ourselves Through Others Leaders can sometimes stand… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2015-08-20By Mark Lukens
  • Improving The Workplace Culture In Your Value Stream
      We talk a lot about improving workplace culture. But it isn’t just the culture that influences your business and the outcomes for your customers. Every business in your value stream has its own culture, as does the value stream itself, the ways that those organizations interact up and down the value chain. The same thing applies when working in partnerships across organizations. The relations between different cultures can create friction. When faced with an outside group people easily revert to defensive behavior. In both these cases you lack the control to directly step in and tell others in the process how their culture should be. So how can you improve the culture across your value stream or partnership? Build Trust Through Small Wins Any healthy culture is built on a bedrock of trust, and shared successes contribute to that in a big way. Start the partnership with some small, easily achievable wins. This will build bonds between employees in the different organizations, and demonstrate that they can succeed together. This will make it easier to trust each other. Be doubly careful to avoid the kind of behavior that can undermine trust in any organization. It’s always difficult to undo the damage when people stop trusting you, but it’s even more challenging when you don’t have regular access to many of them because they work in a different company. Make Use Of Young Attitudes Generation Y have different expectations from those who came before them. They are used to moving… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-08-12By Mark Lukens
  • Are You Ready for the Millennials to Grow Up?
    We’re used to talking about the millennial generation as the fresh young things whose exciting outlook is shaking up the world of business. But the reality is that a decade and a half has passed since we watched all those zeroes line up on our calendars, and the millennial generation is growing up. Millennials generation have made their mark through the different outlook and expectations they bring to work. So the question is, are you for when those expectations meet the life changes of middle age? Founding Families The past twenty years have seen a lot of talk, and even some action, on achieving a work/life balance for working parents. It’s not long since flexibility and the freedom to achieve that balance were aspirations we looked forward to, but by now they’ve become such a common talking point that this isn’t just something millennials want – it’s something they expect. So how can you achieve that? Working from home is clearly going to be central – it’s something 92% of millennials want. Letting people adapt their hours also helps, both in creating flexible shift patterns and in allowing varying degrees of part time work to suit different needs. It’s better to have great talent on hand for 80% of the time than to see it leave you entirely. Developing Careers Millennials have hit the job market in the aftermath of the end of jobs for life. They aren’t looking for stability as their parents did, but for opportunities. 74% of… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-07-28By Mark Lukens
  • Making Principles Make a Difference: Putting Purpose into Practice
    I’ve written many times about the importance of having a sense of purpose, a cause that drives your business forward. It can be a unique product you’re passionate about, a principle you stand for, even an approach to service that you want to bring to the world. But while a sense of purpose is important, it’s equally important that you’re able to put it into practice. So how do you ensure that your purpose is usable, that it drives your business rather than becoming window dressing. Build the Right Framework A purpose will achieve nothing if your business practices don’t spread and encourage it. As Amanda Shore has pointed out, you need to build a framework within your business to do this. There should transparency about how the purpose is applied, positive feedback for those following it, and a clear statement of what it is and how it works. But you also need to get into the nitty gritty details. If you want employees to embody your organisation’s purpose then there need to be goals in their work that reflect the purpose, and measures of whether they are achieving those goals through their specific work. You need to make sure that business practices and procedures match the purpose. The purposeful framework has to reach every corner of your business. Build the Right Teams Your rules and procedures are only one part of what makes up your organisation. Without your teams there would be no-one to follow your purpose, and so… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-07-13By Mark Lukens
  • Here’s to the Rebellious Leaders
    Being a true rebel leader means more than dressing down and spouting the latest buzzwords. ... Read More» Read more
    Source: Switch and ShiftPublished on 2015-06-09By Mark Lukens
  • Avoiding The Pitfalls Of Employee Engagement
    Employee engagement is ever more vital for modern businesses. As social media and big data make it easier for us to hunt out potential employees and try to lure them to work for us, so we face the growing risk of having our own best talent lured away. Employee engagement remains largely about getting the most from your staff, but it is also becoming ever more important for hanging on to the staff you have. So how can you get the most out of engagement and avoid its most common pitfalls? A long Term Investment Shifting from thinking about employee engagement to employee investment might sound like a change of labels rather than substance, but it does reflect a revival in thinking about the subject, and one that matters. When employee engagement was originally discussed it shifted the focus to the employee’s experience and how the business affected them. This is a vital part of creating engagement, making employees central to their own workplace experience, focusing on seeing the work from their point of view. But as time has passed this focus has become watered down. More companies looking at engagement means more snake oil salesmen looking to provide cheap, easy wins for the sake of the business and its managers, not its employees. Thinking about employee engagement as investment in that employee and their future in the company helps to shift the focus back onto people and what will be good for them. Without that shift there is no… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-05-20By Mark Lukens
  • The Art and Science of Leadership
    Truly great leaders are both artists and scientists.... Read More» Read more
    Source: Switch and ShiftPublished on 2015-05-18By Mark Lukens
  • Forging a Unique Workplace Culture
    Trying to forge a workplace culture for your business can easily go wrong. A culture imposed from the top down can create resistance and disengagement as people feel that it has nothing to do with them. This is in part because such an approach misses the point of any culture. A culture comes from its parts – the skills, values and interests of the people within it coming together to create something far greater. So if you want to create a strong, vibrant workplace culture that employees will engage with, your first step should be looking for what those employees bring. From Work Many employees will bring positive values and attitudes from their previous jobs, and these can be incredibly useful if allowed to shape your workplace culture. For example, ex-military personnel often bring a goal-focused approach to their work, something reflected in news articles, interviews and books on the subject. The disciplined approach to business improvement that became Six Sigma was born in large part from wartime supply and manufacturing concerns. Look at what positive attitudes and approaches your employees have brought from previous work, however different it is from your own, and help them to spread these approaches. This can create disciplined and motivated workers without a top down approach. From Home People are often far more passionate about the lives they lead outside the office than they are about their work. This needn’t be a bad thing when shaping your company culture, but can instead become… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-05-15By Mark Lukens
  • Human-centered Business Trends for 2015
    You might not know it from the way we sometimes talk, but business is all about people. In the spirit of keeping that in focus, here are some of the human-centered trends that we can expect to see in 2015. Customer, Customer, Customer British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said that his top three priorities were education, education and education. In a similar way, if we really want to work well then the customer should be our first, second and third priority, with everything else following along behind. Customer focus is hardly a new trend, but as social media empowers customers to become our best advocates or our greatest critics, customers should appear in all of our discussions. For many businesses this will be a matter of smoothing out the wrinkles in their processes, making customer service extra smooth or resolving complaints with speed and a smile. But for others it may go deeper, using customer-focused models such as lean process improvement to redesign ways of working from customer needs up. The most visible arena for customer focus is social media. As we leave behind old mass advertising trends we move into an age of personalized messages and ongoing interaction, in which our work truly revolves around the customer. Tracking Technology From work tracking software to wearable gadgets, technology is giving us ever greater opportunities to measure what employees are doing. This has the potentially to be enormously liberating or terribly oppressive, depending upon who it empowers. But for better… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-05-04By Mark Lukens
  • Three Principles Of Good Communication
    Communication is the bedrock of all relationships, whether professional or personal. Getting it right can be particularly hard in the workplace, where people with wildly different ways of thinking and talking are all heavily invested in the topics under discussion. We risk causing offence or difficulties, and fear of that risk can be just as damaging, leading people to hold back key information. So what can you do to ensure good communication? Have Courage We often hold back from communicating what we mean out of fear. Particularly with bad or awkward news, this can be because we fear facing the emotional consequences, because we don’t want to face the argument or disappointment our words will bring. But putting communication off for this reason only delays the inevitable, and can make the message harder to receive. If bad news has consequences then people are better off knowing it soon, so that they can plan for it. Holding back can also come because we fear appearing stupid or being ignored. We doubt the value of our own opinions, and so keep them back. But this can be equally damaging. It can stop your best ideas from being acted on. It can lead to venting your frustration in other ways, unconsciously showing your discomfort and so creating bad feelings. Have the courage of your convictions. You are in the position you are in because your ideas and opinions add to that role, so don’t be afraid to express them. Have Substance Recent experience… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-05-04By Mark Lukens
  • Why is Values Based Leadership so Powerful?
    The idea that business should be value driven is an increasingly influential one, and rightly so. The days when we could be content to make profit our only value, and when we could delude ourselves that that in itself was not a value judgment, are far behind us, and values are now being used to anchor leadership in all sorts of businesses. Making the best use of this, like any insight, involves understanding why it works. Fortunately management is a field that draws on many disciplines, and in this case we can learn much from French philosopher Albert Camus. Rights In his 1951 book The Rebel, Camus discussed at length how values shape us, our behavior and society, and also the nature of values. Drawing upon Andre Lalande’s Vocabulaire Philosophique, Camus said that values ‘represent a transition from facts to rights, from what is desired to what is desirable’. In other words, values let us step away from the world as it is and demand that it be better, to leave behind the material and mundane, saying that there is something more to us than just flesh and bones, or in the context of work more than the money we are paid. This idea that we are something more, and that the world can be something more, is hugely appealing and gives values much of their power to motivate. Values let us step away from the world as it is and demand that it be better. @MarkLukens Rebellion Given the book’s title, it’s no… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-05-04By Mark Lukens