Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIN

Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “CEO”.


Quote:  “You can’t lead without imagination”  ~  Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Imagination is seriously lacking in today’s corporate environment.  We are knee deep in a status quo that no longer serves us and that in many ways, makes us mediocre.  To change that, we need to spark imagination in all our employees.  But first, we must spark it in ourselves as team leaders. To create the spark you need to embrace experimentation.  I’m not talking about creating a department or a committee to look into experimentation.  I mean changing the way you lead your team so that experimentation is always encouraged and rewarded.  When an idea doesn’t work out, it isn’t perceived as failure but as a learning experience that enriches the team and the lesson learned can be utilized to fuel the next experiment.

Experimentation is the final but core concept in the C.A.R.E. System.  It is what ties it all together. In these posts, I have showcased Starbucks and its CIO to illustrate the key principles behind the C.A.R.E. System.  At the very core of Gillett’s success was his innate acceptance or need to experiment. None of the examples would have been possible if Gillett had not embraced experimentation. Let’s recap all the ways he experimented:

  • When he took on more responsibility in the face of daunting IT problems that needed resolution
  • When he went to work at a Starbucks retail store, not knowing what he’d find or how he would do,
  • When he showed the Executive team a live simulation highlighting the shortcomings of their existing POS system
  • When he proposed the new business unit called Digital Ventures,
  • When he chose an entrepreneur to run the new business unit,
  • When he made IT and Marketing equally responsible for the new business unit
  • When he asked employees for their ideas on making IT better,
  • When he let employees select their IT devices,
  • When he applied his knowledge of networks to help spark solutions in Starbuck’s retail business.

All of these examples illustrate that Gillett was open to experimentation. He may not have been comfortable with all of it but he chose not to play it safe.  At some level, he understood that taking risks was critical to Starbuck’s survival and he, as well as his CEO, faced the challenge and came out ahead.  I’m sure that there were ideas that didn’t work out.  In fact, the article highlights one. Apparently, Gillett is a big gamer or lover of video games. Actually,  he’s a guild master in the online video game called World of Warcraft.  That’s a pretty big deal in the gaming community. Instead of playing down that passion, he  set up a meeting between the executive teams of Starbucks and Blizzard, the owners of World of Warcraft so they could look into the possibility of doing business together.  After all, both companies had a huge fan base and Starbucks needed to find ways to engage customers online the way that Blizzard did. 

At the end, the experiment did not end up in a partnership.  But all was not lost.  The experiment sparked new ideas among the Starbucks executives that led to new offerings for their customers.  Embracing a spirit of experimentation almost always sparks the imagination and that leads to more possibilities for innovation.

For companies to be relevant in the future they must make experimentation a core objective for all departments.  It needs to be nurtured, rewarded and imbedded into the corporate culture.  More importantly, it is a pivotal component if we are to transform the way we lead.  Millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce in less than 5 years.  As leaders preparing to pass the baton to the next generation leaders, I believe it is our obligation to embrace change and find new ways to lead.

So you may be wondering what happened to Ben and his direct reports? As I dissected the Starbucks case study, Ben was able to see real world examples of C.A.R.E. in action.  It sparked their curiosity and an eagerness to try new approaches in their organization as Gillett tried to do in his.  Ben, as CIO, made a very important decision that day.  He chose not to play it safe.  He realized the future required new ways of seeing things and new ways of leading.  The Millennials were their new audience not just as employees but as customers. He realized that if transformation was going to happen, it needed to include the Millennials in the workplace.  And he was ready.

I’ll end this series by quoting Seth Godin one last time.  In Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us, Seth writes:

“The safer you play your plans for the future, the riskier it actually is.”

My questions to you are:  How safe are you playing your role as leader? What one thing can you do today to get you slightly uncomfortable? What one thing can you do to get to know a Millennial in your workplace? 

Like me, you’ll find that staying in your comfort zone as a leader is actually riskier than embracing a little discomfort to prepare for the future. Once you step out of your comfort zone and see all the possibilities that it offers, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…

Quote: “What they needed was a leader to bring the organization to a new audience in a new way.”       ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us.

If you’re not quite sure why Millennials are an organization’s “new audience”, I invite you to read through some of my past blogs to get a thorough understanding of this unfamiliar group.  As leaders, we won’t be able to really reach that new audience unless we are willing to create a new way or at the very least question our existing way to see if it will work going forward.

That’s why it’s so important for us to ADAPT and find a new way so our next generation employees are engaged and productive in our teams.  ADAPT is the second module of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership and it’s an important one because it has to do with a leader’s state of mind. ADAPT is all about mindset and getting comfortable testing your boundaries.

So what specific things can we do to ADAPT our leadership style?  Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for ideas.  As the new CIO, Gillett embraced 3 things that got him out of his comfort zone and ready to ADAPT and find a new way to lead his IT team.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

1.     He was curious and courageous. The article quotes Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as saying that Gillett “had an insatiable curiosity and wasn’t afraid of pursing big, bold ideas.” Curiosity and courage are key components of the C.A.R.E. System.  To change and adapt to a new way of doing things and of leading is not easy.  You are fighting yourself and those in the organization that want to keep the status quo alive.  Without being inherently curious, asking lots of “why do we do it that way” questions and being willing to fight the good fight, it is very difficult to ADAPT and give your new audience – the Millennials – a new way.

 2.    He asked for even more responsibility.  In early 2009, Gillett has been in Starbucks for just one year and realizes he inherited what can only be termed an IT nightmare. At the same time, Starbuck’s new CEO, Howard Schultz,asks the company executives to give him ideas on how to turn the company around. He urges them to think outside their corporate functions. Does Gillett ignore his boss’ request because he legitimately reasons he already has too much on his plate? No. He goes ahead and pitches an idea for Starbucks to make a venture capital investment in a new business unit designed to push the company’s mobile and online strategy.  That was a gutsy move.  Instead of sticking to what he knew and focusing on just that, Gillett saw a rare opportunity to be part of a transformation at Starbucks.  It required him to take on more than he probably could chew at that time. He got out of his comfort zone and adapted his mindset to take on a strategic challenge and he succeeded. According to the article, since creating the new venture “Starbucks has become a retail leader in mobile payments”. By stretching yourself and getting uncomfortable you push yourself to try new things.  Like a muscle, the more you use it, the more comfortable you become letting go of your status quo.

 3.   He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit into IT.  That’s very rare to see.  IT departments in most large organizations these days are all about following the rules, often playing it safe, and saying a lot of NO in the interest of “security”.  In the next post, we will see examples of what Gillett did that went against these typical IT practices.  The examples were possible because he elected to run IT not so much as a corporate business unit but rather as an entrepreneurial venture. They opened themselves up to try new things.  The focus was to address the needs of its customers – both inside and outside the corporate walls. That ultimately showcased IT as an enabler instead of  a cop.

 In today’s super competitive, global marketplace,  organizations that don’t want to fall behind need to be run by leaders that are open to adapting their frame of mind and leadership frameworks to make way for the future. They need to ADAPT and find new ways for their new audience – the Millennials.

Quote“ If you’re not  uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”  ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Being uncomfortable is how transformation begins.  When I first started hiring Millennials, I didn’t want to change.  The more they perplexed me, the more I dug my heels in my comfort zone.  It wasn’t until I decided to understand why they perplexed me that the transformation in my leadership style took place and led to the creation of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership. That led to first seeing the potential Millennials brought to the workplace then tapping it then capitalizing on it.

The first step in doing that is to CONNECT.   Many of us who cut our management teeth in the 20th Century approach leadership like this:  I, leader, have a certain leadership style that you, employee, will need to get comfortable with.  It is not my responsibility to figure you out or adapt my style to meet your needs.  You need to conform to my style and work effectively under that style. 

Really?  Do we really want to lead that way?  Does it work for us?  If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that working for a boss that took the time to know us and spend quality time with us are the ones we liked working for and worked the hardest for.  Now more than ever, making a special connection with each of our employees is not only critical but expected.  The more removed we are from our staff, the less effective they will be and that will reflect back to us.  We also minimize our message and our vision.  We need that direct connection to our teams to spread our message and communicate our goals.

So how can you begin to CONNECT?   Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for real world examples. Here’s the link to the Information Week article. 

As the new CIO for Starbucks, one of the first things Stephen Gillett did was connect with the people in the trenches and with Starbuck’s customers.  How did he do that? He shadowed them by actually working in one of the retail stores. This is one of the key components in the C.A.R.E. System.   As a leader you need to spend time with your target audience whether it’s your employees or your customers.  It’s important for 3 reasons:

  1.  You see firsthand how employees work.  You can observe their thinking process as they complete their tasks.  How is that thought process unique and can you leverage it in other areas or functions in your team?  You also see how they do their tasks.  Are there shortcuts that they are taking and are unaware of that help speed up the work? Can those shortcuts be applied in other areas of your operation? Or perhaps they are missing important steps that require more training?  Is there duplication of work that you were not aware of?  No report or spreadsheet analysis will give you that kind of intelligence.
  2. You see if the process works or doesn’t.  In the case of Gillett, as he worked at a Starbucks store, he quickly realized that the point-of –sale (POS) system was broken.  Even though the Starbucks brass knew the limitations of the system they were more focused on growth strategies and opening stores.  They didn’t realize that the limitations of the POS were contributing to problems in opening new stores.
  3. You are able to make better and more intelligent decisions when prioritizing projects based on your firsthand experiences in the trenches.

If shadowing is effective downstream – working directly with your employees and/or customers, it is equally effective upstream – with your executive team.  After spending time shadowing downstream at a Starbucks store, Gillett decided to bring the same experience upstream, to the executive team. He created a Tech Derby which is really a live simulation of a problem showing the pain points and a proposed solution to the problem. The simulation acted as a shadowing opportunity. Through a large-screen display, the executive team, including the CEO, Howard Schultz, shadowed a barista painfully placing an order in the outdated POS system.  They got to see not just hear about how much time was wasted as the baristas had to translate orders so the POS system could capture them. Then, through a mock up of the proposed replacement system, the executive team was able to shadow the new process to see how much faster and more effective it was. 

According to the article, “When they showed both to Schultz, ‘he just turned around and said, When? And whatever you’re going to tell me, it has to be faster’”.  That’s how effective shadowing is and how powerful the concept of Connecting is to introduce change.

Imagine how connecting with your Millennials or others in your team can give you a bird’s eye view to what’s going on in the trenches.  Imagine how many things you’ll be able to discover, uncover and identify that can be game changers to your team and ultimately your organization.  The days when leaders could run teams by just interacting with their direct reports without a strong connection to their team members are disappearing quickly.  The opportunity for innovation and real transformation lie with the ideas and creativity of those closest to the problems your team faces every day.  You need to connect with them to tap and harness that creativity and find innovative solutions.

What examples do you have that illustrate how you CONNECT with your employees?

Being a left brain type of person, I always struggle with the more touchy feely or intangible aspects of life.  Topics like the law of attraction or self-help or some of the personal growth stuff doesn’t always make sense to me but yet I know that keeping a positive mindset & envisioning a certain outcome are powerful things to practice.  For example, I think the book,” Think & Grow Rich”  by Napoleon Hill is a great book and although written decades ago, its principles still make a lot of sense today.

One of my goals for 2011 is to embrace one or two things that are outside my comfort zone.  So I picked personal growth/prosperity thinking as one of the two uncomfortable things I would work on this year.  I started listening to Randy Gage, who is a well known speaker who focuses on prosperity & ridding people of self-limiting beliefs.  I picked Randy because he lives in South Florida and I’ve heard him speak many times.  He’s a bit controversial & unorthodox in his approach & I happen to  like that because controversy always challenges your thinking which I think is good.

So like many speakers today, Randy has a You Tube channel where he shares his ideas, his rants & beliefs on prosperity.  His latest video gave me a lot to think about & I thought the idea applied to those leading & managing teams in corporate America today. Randy starts out the video by asking a powerful question: 

                         ” What would you do  if you knew you could not fail?

Interesting question, right?  But even more interesting are the possibilities that it offers if you apply it in a work setting.  One of the things that I see happening a lot in the corporate world is that people play small.  Everyone plays it safe because there’s so much fear of failing or looking bad or not making your target to get that bonus at the end of the year.  When I talk to companies & ask about what they are doing to innovate, many times even those ideas are rooted in safety.  One of the key reasons I think this happens is that leaders in organizations today are afraid to fail & they bleed that fear into their teams in subtle ways. 

 Time and time again, I have seen team members, those on the front lines, come up with great ideas.  When they try pitching the idea to their bosses,  the little “yea-but”  beasty rears his ugly head & squashes the idea.   Everyone who has worked in corporate is familiar with the “yea-but” beasty.  As soon as the beasty hears of an idea that’s outside of the norm, that is even slightly risky, he quickly invades the body of one of the decision makers and the conversation goes something like this: ” YEA, Sally, that’s a great idea BUT what’s the ROI on that?” or ” YEA, Bob, that’s a great idea BUT where are you going to get the money to fund it?” or my personal favorite “YEA, Nick, that’s a great idea BUT we don’t have any time to work on that right now?”  As if there was a “good time” to experiment & try out new ideas. The beasty wins again & the company misses out on a great opportunity to explore something that might lead to a new profitable product, new revenue stream, a new & more efficient process.

The “Yea-But” beasty works on our inherent discomfort to try new things because we are afraid to fail and corporate entities suffer from that as well except they make up good excuses to cover it up.    These days, I think the beasty is working full time on keeping leaders from recognizing the amazing talent that is sitting right under their nose in their Gen Y staff.  As I travel internationally to speak on the topic of Gen Yers & leadership, I hear the beasty all the time.  Leaders still believe that the Gen Yers will ultimately succumb to the way corporations have been managed since the 20th Century.  My response to that is simple “  Why would we want that”?  Anyone who has worked in corporate knows that there are a lot of things that could use a little fixing, a little overhaul, a little 21st Century upgrade.  So why don’t we merge the unique talents that Millennials bring to the workplace with our corporate experience & brainpower to create something better?  That could be risky & most of all it would require some work.  I can hear the beasty now…

But what about if we took a baby step every day to remove failure from the equation?  What if, like Randy Gage says, we carried out our leadership responsibilities as if we couldn’t fail?  What if we set a goal to experiment with one new idea or concept this year?  Imagine the boost of confidence you’d give your team?  The creative juices would wake up & the possibilities to develop a new product line, a new revenue stream, a new software tool could make all the difference to your bottom line.  But you’ll never know as long as the beasty is allowed to flourish.

When I struggled to understand & accept Millennials in my team years ago, the beasty was in full force & I, too, held on to the leadership principles that I had used for years.  At first, the beasty was winning big time but then slowly, with every uncomfortable baby step I took,  I got stronger & I fought the beasty back.  It was a great feeling to remove failure from my leadership equation & forge ahead with new ideas & experiments that produced bottom line results.   I was able to conquer the beasty and so can you.

So how about it?  What will you do today to fight the “Yea But” Beasty?  What will you do this week to remove failure from the equation?  What can you do if you knew you could not fail?  All it takes is a baby step…

Isn’t that a great question?  Well I didn’t think of it myself.  I heard it from one of today’s leadership gurus – Mr. John C. Maxwell.  I was in my car Saturday morning heading off to attend a workshop & as I do when I’m in my car, I slipped in an educational CD.  Driving is a great time for me  to absorb information because I am ususally by myself & can give the person talking on the CD my full attention.  It also helps me focus on something other than the horrific traffic that seems to plague South Florida 24/7.

This particular CD was from one of my favorite monthly series. It was the December edition of Success Magazine’s wonderful complimentary ( yes, it’s free!) CD hosted by its publisher, Darren Hardy.  I’ve raved about Success Magazine & their CDs before so I’ll refrain from gushing again.  In every one of their CDs, there’s a segment with John C. Maxwell where he shares his leadership insights. In December’s CD, Mr. Maxwell was talking about how important it was for people to start or initiate something in order to be successful. He then went on to explain all the reasons why it was important to get going on something. The first place he recommended we start was with ourselves. According to him, starting with yourself gives you experience, confidence, integrity and influence.

It was when he was describing how starting helps you gain experience that he caught my attention with the analogy of leaders being either travel agents or tour guides.  What a great analogy.  I perked up right away.  Basically, Mr. Maxwell explained that travel agents typically send you places they’ve never been themselves.  They arm you with brochures and maps and other information to get you ready for your trip. But tour guides do something else.  They take you by the hand & show you where they’ve been.  That enriches your experience because they have the inside track & can share little known secrets about the location you are visiting that makes it special.

The concept of being a travel agent vs. a tour guide leader resonated with me because of what I see happening in corporate America these days as it relates to our newest entrants, the Millennials.  I think many leaders would say that they are trying to be the tour guide for this new generation of workers but that Millennials are refusing to listen to the advice they, as leaders, have garnered from years of corporate experience.  It is true that the many years of working for a corporation is certainly valuable and leaders should be tour guides by all means.  But what happens if, as a tour guide, you haven’t visited a particular destination in years?

Although you may still know your way around & are still familiar with the old landmarks, etc., there may be new things that have sprung up in that location that you don’t know or aren’t familiar with – new restaurants, new neighborhoods, etc.   For tour guides to be effective & relevant to their customers, they need to stay current with what’s going on in the destinations they are experts in.  If not , they run the risk of becoming more like travel agents as time passes.  So it would appear that a pre-requisite for someone to continue being a relevant tour guide would be for them to keep up to date with the destinations & the clients they serve, to be frequent travelers themselves so they don’t lose touch with the latest trends & happenings in the destinations for which they provide tour services.

The same applies to leadership.  Although those of us with years of corporate management experience can be great tour guides, we can only be so if we stay relevant to the employees we are leading today and not just those that we led yesterday.  Many things have taken place in the young lives of Millennials that make them very unfamiliar to us as employees & as people.  They grew up very differently than most of us did & that impacts how they perceive work, the world & those around them.  If we don’t understand & accept this unfamilarity, we won’t be very good tour guides because just like the destination tour guides,  our skills & knowledge will become outdated. That puts us at a disadvantage and could make us irrelevant to our ”customer base”, the Millennials.

On the other hand, if we let them,  Millennials can be our  tour guides into the world of work in the 21st Century.  I’ve said many times that the future will look more like what Millennials are used to than what we are used to as current corporate leaders. That means we need to get to know them better, figure them out, live in their world & harness the goldmine that is waiting to be found.  If we are  not careful, our status as tour guides can quickly downgrade to that of a travel agent.  That would not be a good thing at this critical juncture.  Millennials need our guidance & direction.  We just need to provide it in ways that are meaningful to them and not just to us.

In my C.A.R.E. Sytem of Leadership,  I show leaders how to maintain their tour guide status in these changing times so that they are not downgraded to travel agent.  I show them how to shadow Millennials to see how they think & work, how to break down silos by bringing Millennials from different teams to collaborate together, how to leverage Millennials’ social media & tech savviness for strategic advantage.   I show leaders how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and experimenting with new techniques & practices.  As leaders, it is imperative that we make adjustments to our way of leading & thinking to stay relevant to the workforce of the 21st Century.

So what about you?  What are you doing today to maintain your tour guide status?  Are you at risk of becoming a travel agent?