A mantra for effective leadership

March 18, 2008

yogainsun.jpgDo. Feel. Think. Like a steady pulse, I keep turning this monosyllabic trance over in my mind. Not only are these three words ubiquitous to so many things in life, but they also seem fitting for the start of a new year. More importantly, I can’t help relating them to an on-going Tatham theme: how to effectively execute strategy. But before I tell you how I stumbled upon this mantra, allow me to backtrack for a moment.

Late last year, a discussion was held at Tatham headquarters about developing a DVD as a sales/marketing tool. As we began to apply the Tatham Systematic Method, our customers proved us wrong. They did not want a slick sales pitch – they liked having an informal conversation. Instead, they expressed the need for a ‘post-sales’ tool to help them market Tatham internally. “The problem,” they said, “is that without additional educational material we are having trouble convincing our peers to endorse the Tatham method, even when it’s successful elsewhere.”

Surprising, given that Tatham has been using internal marketing for years to obtain business: almost all our clients have come from word of mouth. However, any such efforts in the past have been informal, and as a result, very few tools exist to help our ambassadors when they run into roadblocks.

According to David Taylor, author and managing partner of Brandgym, internal marketing tools are necessary to communicate strategy. Many companies rely on events, power point presentations, intranet sites, webcasts, blogs, newsletters and company magazines to connect with their staff. For example, Converse talks to its staff using loyalty programs, game-based simulations, social networking and storytelling. Unilever introduced The Balanced Score Card, using pamphlets, seminars, meetings and one-page communications sheets. Apple gave its employees a brand-new iPhone when it first came out to get them familiar with the product, and to let them know they’re important.

Despite these efforts, Taylor says in many cases managers fail to engage their staff in change. He believes the problem is “brandwashing”: when leaders demand much more from their employees in living the brand values, but don’t put their money where their message is. This highlights a disconnect between what leaders say and what they do.

Taylor believes the reason for this disconnect is that internal communication methods traditionally cause people to think – which is about understanding, then feel – which is about engagement and finally do – which is about alignment. By the time people get around to doing, they’ve already lost focus. He suggests a more effective approach reversing the order: Do, feel, then think. This encourages leaders to start with actions that make employees feel things are changing, which eventually are explained rationally.

Perhaps one more component that could be added to Taylor’s approach is to measure. Measuring allows us to confirm that what we’re doing is right, and if not, to refocus. The ABN AMRO Banking group is a good example. Their internal communications team kept encountering resistance and fought back by creating a one-page scorecard to track how effectively leaders were engaging their staff. They asked staff four questions, tracked responses and fed this back to management. The end result was that managers adjusted their behaviour based on their results.

Nevertheless, Taylor’s approach fits well with the Tatham Systematic Method, which requires managers to lead by example and to champion change within the organization. The challenge to implementing a new product or service, however is to get managers onside so that they in turn will engage their people.

Laurie Clarke, COO of the Tatham Group says one way to counter this is by involving a high-profile senior manager in the re-design of a high-stake process. This will make them accountable for results, which will lead them to actively participate in the change, creating a feeling of positive contribution. The hope is that with a successful redesign, the manager will see the value in using the Tatham method to drive change.

Internal marketing is crucial to execution, but our tools will only be as effective as the managers using them. Just as Taylor suggests, it’s up to us to develop products we are proud of using, to hire the right people, to provide rewards for using our method appropriately, and to lead by example. And what better way to start the New Year with a mantra for change: do, feel, think.