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Last week we discussed working across boundaries and implementing a systems approach. This week, I am continuing the theme with an expansion of what it means to work across boundaries and some suggestions to help you do so successfully.

Working across boundaries means many things to many people… It can mean:

… working across organizational lines

… working across supervisory or leadership levels

… working across functions

… working across corporate entities (partners, resellers, etc.)

…working across customer lines

… working across physical confines

… working across cultural differences

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Let’s talk about what it means to work Across Boundaries…. because the reality is that it can mean many things to many people.  In my world, working across boundaries is about lateral thinking… really comprehending that you are a single piece of a much larger puzzle and that your piece has a significant impact on the larger whole. It also means having the capacity to move across those boundaries to absorb knowledge from one context or discipline and apply it back into your area of expertise to create a free-flow of information – increasing your knowledge and the potential to “create a better mousetrap”. Think Leonardo DaVinci:

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Working across boundaries, more than anything else, means working together to solve problems that cannot be solved ~ or easily solved ~ by a single person, department or business unit.  It is critical that you, as a leader, consider (and learn from) the overall system and expect every person across every department to work together to figure out how to improve the overall experience for customers both internally and externally – the rest will naturally follow. The reality (whether you want to acknowledge it or not) is that you are part of a system… a network… an interconnected structure involving many people and multiple linkages.  Without each component part of the whole, there is little to offer the customer… or the market.

Despite the necessity of collaboration,  organizations are complex – engaging across boundaries can present several challenges. Because Networks are inter-organizational, cross-departmental and interpersonal, different stakeholders across that network have differing:

  • Points of view (by default)
  • objectives and missions
  • micro-cultures and perspectives
  • methods of operation – purpose, policies, procedures and systems.
  • financial models (i.e. cost centers versus profit centers)
  • degrees of power
  • challenges/opportunities
  • decision-making capacities
  • Sources of conflict within network and with the customer

Despite the challenges, continually improving organizational performance is what matters and that can only happen with collaboration across both horizontal and vertical boundaries. It is critical for your company to get everyone working together in order to “build that better mousetrap”. We all know how important it is to work effectively across organizational boundaries, however multi-functional, multi-cultural, multi-level teamwork is unnatural. The innate tendency of organizations is to optimize within a business unit or department rather than understanding that every aspect of the company is part of a living system and optimizing for the global customer experience or enterprise acceleration. Too often, the sum of the parts doesn’t create a high-performing whole. Getting people to collaborate and learn from one another across boundaries typically requires a crisis… or aggressive edicts from organizational leadership (which can also backfire if not delivered appropriately).

Suppose for a moment you are the Chief Operations Officer of a multinational company and you want to improve the experience of customers worldwide, while also reducing the cost of overall operations. Who do you need to involve in improving the process?

Product Development creates the product…

Operations produces it…

Sales sells it…

Legal reviews it and creates the contracts…

Implementation Management implements it…

Customer Relations maintains the relationship after the sale…

Finance invoices and tracks financial progress…

BUT the customer will ultimately pay for the product and decide if you are a good partner overall.

In a typical scenario, each department is a separate business with its own objectives, business practices, culture, and information systems.  However, without all the component parts coming together to deliver the product or service, there is nothing to offer the market.  As a leader facilitating people working effectively across boundaries you need to understand, accommodate and help people understand that:

  • Departments and their people have ongoing, critical inter-dependencies that require cross-boundary interactions on a regular basis
  • It is natural that every department or business unit will have both common and competing goals – they must find common ground and “third best ways” of operating for organizational and customer benefit
  • As part of an integrated workplace, your people work in an elastic environment – groups will expand and contract as needed
  • Members need to be both participative and authoritative, depending on the circumstance
  • People need to see both the forest and the trees – understanding the system as a whole is critical, but they also must consider the people and components within the system in order to be successful
  • They must balance advocacy and inquiry, again depending on circumstance

If your organization truly wants to maximize shareholder value (and be around in another 10 years), continually working across boundaries to improve organizational results and the customer experience is the answer – which will drive competitive advantage, revenue and contract viability.

With the inherent challenges  (and opportunities) that come with working across boundaries:

How can you, as a leader,  leverage a multi-functional, multi-level, multi-cultural network of people to optimize overall operations… rather than optimizing each business units objectives?

How can you create an environment that embraces  the objective of cost reduction, while at the same time “thrilling” the customer?

And how do you do this when changes to the system may create winners and losers – internally and externally?

Leonardo da Vinci once said:

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

He was right. Taking action is critical to enhancing operations and elevating the customer experience. Every single BU has the capacity to see through “new eyes” and gain new perspective by working within the system, as opposed to working only within its own boundaries. Remember – Arms, Wings, Flying Machines… the possibilities are endless!

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you view working across boundaries.

Stay tuned – we will discuss the answers to these questions!

Have questions or need an expert to help you in your global organization? Contact me at SheriLMackey@gmail.com.

Welcome back to Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders!  I can be reasonably sure, most of you would tell me that you are efficiently managing your resources – cutting costs, increasing productivity, etc.  – all good and honorable duties respectable leaders are expected to perform. However, For the next several weeks I will be discussing resource maximization of a specific type – Human Resources… People Potential – and your ability to leverage your resources across the organization and across the globe for all-encompassing  corporate and interpersonal success.

 

Many of us like to believe that, with a good plan, we can direct an action, change a process, standardize the business, etc., but if that is all you are focused on, your likely percentage of success is very low.  The reality of any business situation is that you need people to DO something in order for your plan/action/change/etc. to succeed.  How, in a globally dispersed environment, you inspire employees to bring their talents, initiative, imagination, and passion to work every day is the very delineation between success and failure.  It may seem like a lofty concept, but it is absolutely essential to your long-term success – first and foremost, never forget PEOPLE are absolutely essential to your success. Continue Reading…

This past week, I found myself in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. I went with the idea that I would relax and enjoy the long holiday weekend… and I did. However, as I observed a forest with both old and new growth, I also could not help notice the trees ravaged by sickness and fire. I found myself thinking about what the forest has to teach us about business…

The forest is a global entity made up of individual components with very different characteristics, yet at the same time is very interdependent upon one another.  In business, the term “Think Global/Act Local” was originally based on the idea of customizing standardized products and services for regional consumption in accordance with the local language, currency, culture and regulatory climate. The challenge arose as we lost sight of our interdependence as a global entity. Not surprisingly, localization encourages each country of operation to develop its own customized solutions and operational procedures. This results in data silos around the world and companies operating with huge information blind spots across the spectrum – the forest can not thrive as it should. It can take weeks, even months, to collect, reconcile, translate and analyze regional performance – much less consolidate a global view of the corporate picture. As I looked around and considered this, it occurred to me that if global is seeing the forest, then local is tending the trees. With only a view of the forest as a whole, it is possible to overlook the trees that need attention. Up close, it is easy to focus on the detailed care of each tree, but lose sight of its contribution to the overall forest. Balancing both viewpoints is critical to keeping the trees in the forest healthy. Global corporations are like a forest – a sum of its parts – consistent, meaningful and effective local practices must contribute to the success of the whole. Continue Reading…

As those who have been reading this blog for a while know, my passion is global business. I love to travel and interact with different people from different places.  Everywhere I go (and I have lived, worked or traveled to over 70 countries), I truly enjoy observing distinct cultures and taking away lessons learned from each place and every culture I engage with.  In

Vienna

fact, a good deal of my life’s work is based on this very concept.

This summer, while attending Board Meetings in Vienna, I had the privilege of engaging with several colleagues – global executives and academic experts – to discuss some rather interesting views relating to the differences in business perspectives between Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.  It became interesting as the various views on doing business in different regions shifted… but today, Vienna:

Vienna is a beautiful city filled with exquisite buildings, powerful opera halls, sophisticated clothing and incredible art. The Viennese people themselves, without a doubt, embody “Culture” with a Capital C. From high art to street art, from music to theater, dance to interpretive movement, architecture to fashion – it’s all there…and it’s simply a way of life.

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LetsConnectBigThe past couple of weeks I have been doing a considerable amount of thinking around the value of networking. Last week I was in meetings with clients and we spoke extensively about the value of networking to the Extreme Leader and how life in the global economy has changed us. This week I am preparing for board meetings in Vienna, and guess what? Still thinking about networking and how it has changed as we now commonly work across boundaries and borders.

Here are some fundamental insights and observations:
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