Empty words speak volumes

Empty words speak volumes Doug Guthrie, in his article, Miami Dolphins: Leadership, Organizational Culture and Empty Words touches on so many things that resonate with those focused on organizational leadership, values and culture. He cites two recent and highly visible scenarios in which there’s complete inconsistency between the words said, and the actualized behavior. The leadership says that there are noble values in place, but no action to follow through, so other values seep in and become dominant. It does not dismiss leadership’s role and responsibility. They typically fire someone below them and claim they’re blameless—but they should really be looking in the mirror. Empty words can speak volumes.

Simply put, “Leaders drive culture. Culture drives behavior. Behavior drives performance.” Just like Doug, I’ve been equally amazed at the Gov. Christie bridge fiasco. The media continues to look for a secret email or smoking gun. But it really has nothing to do with whether the Governor actually knew about the bridge closure. Somehow, through deeds, words and actions, the Governor has created a culture in which his staffers believed the bridge closure retaliation would be [quietly] approved if not sanctioned. In the case of Jonathon Martin, I had the pleasure of watching him play for four years while he was at Stanford and met him at a fund-raiser for a kids sports program. He was truly a student scholar and giant gentleman. To leave an organization because it was so vile, had to be such an affront to Jonathon’s own values that he had no recourse. For the Dolphin’s owner to suggest that this vile behavior somehow was also an affront to himself is to have one’s head buried deeply in the sand.

At most organizations, the notion of values has been heard. Their values are sometimes posted on the company web site. On a rare occasion they are mentioned briefly at new employee orientation. They’re almost never examined, re-examined, tested, assessed and ‘worked.’ Organizations and their leaders who truly care about their culture will listen, will observe behavior, and they’ll routinely assess the current state of their values. I personally leverage a suite of simple, inexpensive web-based tools from the Barrett Values Centre that can easily and accurately determine the current beliefs, behaviors and values of employees, executive teams, and individual leaders. These assessments determine what employees, teams and individuals are living and acting on now. These tools can actually deliver an entropy (or organizational dysfunction) score. A high score equals high dysfunction. But more than the score, these anonymous web tools instantly reveal, not just a score, but what exactly is going on (e.g. lack of trust, bureaucracy and information hoarding). And on the positive side, it shows what’s going right (e.g. customer orientation, shared vision and team work).

But, as Doug says, in his article, this is where the work starts. If your employees tell you what is causing the entropy or dysfunction, there’s a very good chance they can tell you why, and what would fix it. Then, you can lead your management team, talent specialists and consultants to creatively and diligently put processes in place. Collectively your leadership can now educate, set expectations, hire/fire, reinforce, and model the change that’s needed. That’s right, it takes work…and seemingly work that does not produce one widget, one vote, or one touchdown. But in the long run, it does matter. There will be an impact on performance—negative if ignored, positive if assessed and worked.

Dr. Michael Looney, Ph.D is a Principal Consultant at Korora Partners, with over 25 years of senior level operations and P+L management in companies including Apple, Adobe, Claris, Digital Equipment Corp., NY State Health Department, well-known universities and Silicon Valley start-ups. Mike is an executive mentor specializing in organizational transformation, and individual or group assessment programs and consults on entropy in the corporate culture.

The Boston Red Sox: what does leadership have to do with it?

With the beginning of Spring Training season, I was thinking about the mysteries of failure and performing at our peak recently in the context of the Boston Red Sox. Boston Red Sox

Being a Boston native, I have watched for years the glories and failures of that organization. None are more apparent as the 2012-2013 Red Sox. The Red Sox finished in 2012 at the bottom of their league. A lot of this was blamed on the combative coaching style of the former coach and his inability to get his team to perform.

Compare that to the 2013 World Series winning Boston Red Sox under manager John Farrell. A coach who not only brought the best of his talent, but managed to change the culture of the organization. Whether it was unifying the team behind the city after the horrific Boston bombings or unifying the team culture by what became “fear the beard”, the team pulled together.

Yes, an executive’s ability to read the culture can hugely determine success or failure of the organization.

Worst to first?  Not impossible—a good coach and leader can make a big difference.

Roberta Linsky is a Principal Consultant at Korora Partners. She’s an accomplished Human Resources executive mentoring high tech companies and their directors on executive management performance, compensation and succession planning.

10 reasons you need professional help for your team’s next offsite meeting

10 Fatal MistakesFNL_300
Despite the best intentions, too many team meetings fail to deliver meaningful results. Here are ten reasons you should consider getting professional help for your team’s next offsite meeting.

  1. Crafting a value added agenda
    A strategic agenda that drives toward the desired results of the meeting fortifies your investment of time and resources.
  2. Providing a neutral party
    Objective observations, without bias, creates a healthy forum for idea exchange.
  3. Keeping the agenda on track
    Limit the opportunities for non productive discussions to ensure that the important issues are addressed.
  4. Managing the process
    From pre-meeting and in-meeting to the end results, a professional can strategically chart a longer term path for change in the organization.
  5. Maintaining balance
    Accomplishing organizational strategies, goals and objectives are obviously important, but attention must be paid to balancing the human/health interests of the organization as well.
  6. Ensuring productivity
    A keen observer always keeps tabs on the mood in the meeting to optimize participation and retain a high, production level of energy.
  7. Facilitating discussion
    A professional is skilled at helping facilitate interaction through exercises, tools and assessments. They’ll achieve deeper levels of involvement, discovery, equal airtime in discussions and meaningful results.
  8. Assessing core metrics
    Professionally developed assessment tools provide valuable metrics and data on the team’s current and desired beliefs, behaviors, values and culture.
  9. Personal guidance through transitions
    For teams in transition: 100 days within new leadership, new money, an acquisition or crisis—the right professional can help you avoid devastating and costly missteps.
  10. Enables your leadership to actively participate
    With the process being driven and recorded by a professional, your leader is free to actively listen, participate and reflect—creating better results.

Download a copy of this list in presentation format.

Michael Looney, Ph.D is a Senior Consultant at Korora Partners, with over 25 years of senior level operations and P+L management in companies including Apple, Adobe, Claris, Digital Equipment Corp., NY State Health Department, well known Universities and Silicon Valley start-ups. Mike is an executive mentor specializing in organizational transformation, and individual or group assessment programs and consults on entropy in the corporate culture.

We need smart practice

Smart Practice_300I was recently listening to Daniel Goleman, author of “Focus:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence” on Forum, the news and public affairs program hosted by Michael Krasny on KQED-FM (San Francisco). As he points out, distraction is a reality of today’s life and we have to be more intentional about strengthening the factors of attention.

His contention is that systematic repetition of a skill does indeed strengthen that skill.  However there is both good and bad type of focus. If you practice a poor skill over and over again, you will in fact reinforce that skill.  If you have a bad golf swing and practice it for 10,00 hours it will reinforce your poor swing.

What we need is smart practice. Most performers and athletes have a coach that is someone with a practiced eye that can reinforce and improve their skills. They assist in what to practice next and provide a feedback loop to see if its working.

This brought me to thinking about mentoring. We all need to take the time in our professional and personal lives to focus on improving our skills in a positive direction.  Just like other skilled professionals, leaders need someone with a practiced eye to provide guidance and feedback and to focus attention on themselves.

Goleman contends that in order for leaders to focus the organization on a desired strategy, they must focus on themselves first and make sure their house is in order. In my work with Korora Partners, I have found that mentoring can provide that focus by clarifying current skills and behaviors, put plans in place to strength those skills, and providing feedback to ensure ongoing success.

Roberta Linsky is a Principal Consultant at Korora Partners. She’s an accomplished Human Resources executive mentoring high tech companies and their directors on executive management performance, compensation and succession planning.


Situational Leadership – An Effective Way to Lead

Situational leadershipIn my 35+ years of leading organizations, I have found that Situational Leadership is a powerful and effective leadership methodology. Although Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard researched and developed the principles of Situational Leadership in the 1970s, it is as effective today as it was then. In this short article, I will simplify the concepts and provide practical advice on how to use Situational Leadership to your advantage.

Spectrum of Leadership Styles

First, it is important to recognize that there is a spectrum of leadership styles from autocratic/directive to relational/democratic. Autocratic leaders are highly task oriented and demanding. They tell people what to do and often how to do it. Democratic leaders are relationally oriented. They permit subordinates to make decisions on what to do and how to accomplish tasks within certain limits. There are variations of these two styles between the ends of the spectrum—from directing to coaching to supporting to delegating. But by nature people tend to have a predominant, preferred and more comfortable style of leadership along the spectrum. They tend to manage according to that preferred style of behavior.

Varying Maturity Levels of Subordinates in Performing Tasks

At the same time, subordinates vary in their maturity level to perform their jobs. Subordinates who are capable, engaged, and experienced at their job-related tasks exhibit high levels of maturity according to the Situational Leadership paradigm.

On the other hand, subordinates new to a job or task have a low level of maturity even though they may be bright and highly effective in previous roles.  Poor performing employees are not engaged in their work, not trained, or not successful due to low levels of maturity at the tasks they need to perform.

Effective leaders have the ability to recognize the maturity level of their subordinates in given situations and have the ability to vary their leadership style as the situation requires. Leaders who are stuck in their preferred and predominant style of leadership will struggle when situations demand a different style of leadership.


Individuals recently promoted from regional sales manager to director of worldwide sales will need direction on such tasks as how to develop sales plans and quotas for regions around the globe and will need direction on cultural issues they will experience in this new role. This will require the new regional director’s manager to spend more time initially to guide and direct them in this role and with maturity of the employee begin to step back.

Employees who are not performing will require direct and even confrontational intervention by their manager. The manager will need to be specific on what and when to do tasks and will need to closely monitor behavior.

As a counter example, an employee who is at a high level of maturity in tasks requires no direct management. Leaders do well to provide a hands-off, delegating style of leadership and need to check on performance infrequently.  Leaders whose style is autocratic and directive, however, will frustrate mature employees if they don’t adjust their style of leadership.


Situational Leadership provides a framework for effective leadership. To perform effectively leaders need to adjust their style of management to the situation at hand and to the level of task maturity of their subordinates. Leaders, of course, must understand their preferred or predominant style of leadership first and learn how to adjust their behavior. Assessments and mentors can help leaders both understand their preferred style and learn how to adjust behavior.


This article has provided an overview of the richness of Situational Leadership.  More information can be found in Management of Organizational Behavior by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Korora Partners is also available to help by mentoring managers who are new to a leadership role or struggling in their performance.

Vincent “Skip” Vaccarello is a Principal Consultant at Korora Partners and mentors CEOs and executives for business and non-profits. Skip has held several President/CEO roles in multiple high technology companies.  www.kororapartners.com/skip/

Why do many Mergers/Acquisitions fail to deliver optimal results?

Mergers_FNL300pI asked a colleague of mine, Webb McKinney, a trusted advisor to Fortune 500 companies like HP, Adobe and Deloitte, who has had several years experience in working on large-scale M&A deals, to talk about the optimal path to success and why the end results often disappoint.

Considering the large expense associated with M&A activity, surely the stakeholders would want to ensure that the anticipated ROI is delivered — but that’s often not the case. Following are what Webb described as the four phases of a structured approach to an M&A project:

    The up-front work, done by the two boards, that defines the logic and conditions of the merger.
    The vast majority of the detailed integration planning will happen before  the deal has legally close.
    Much of the actual integration will happen in the first 9-12 months after  close.
    Most large mergers have areas where integration is key to success, but  take multiple years to achieve.  These areas are unique to each merger, but culture, technology, and organizational effectiveness are often multi year efforts.

Seems straight forward enough, but the outcome is derailed by these mistakes:

  1. The project has no Program Management Office.
  2. Insufficient resources are applied to the process.
  3. The CEO loses focus too early into the implementation.
  4. Executives in the new entity declare victory too soon after the close.
  5. Insufficient attention is paid to understanding the culture/values of the individual entities and defining/communicating the culture and values to be applied in the new entity.

Eliminating these mistakes can create more successful results by being proactive:

  • Proper, internal and external professional resourcing,
  • Effective use of Assessment tools and techniques to identify and correct misalignment relative to culture and values,
  • Strong ongoing focus by the CEO and Executive team,
  • An effective communication plan, and last but not least –
  • Expect the unexpected.

Webb McKinney is a Principal Consultant at Korora Partners. He brings 34 years of experience as an HP executive leading merger integration, global citizenship, organizational effectiveness and governance initiatives. Webb mentors executive level leadership in mergers, integration and leadership development.

Graham Freeman is Founder-CEO of Korora Partners, a consultancy specializing in assisting business executives and their leadership teams to effectively navigate through periods of uncertainty or transition caused by dramatic shifts in business dynamics. Korora works with CEOs and senior executives to achieve heightened levels of performance through executive mentoring, organizational transformation and individual or group assessment programs. 

The Mystery of Failure

Business confrontation.Two equally sharp, equally qualified execs can enter  new roles and within 30 or 90 days it’s painfully clear—one is succeeding with flying colors and the other just isn’t.

Spencer Stuart researchers William Alexander, Ignacio Marseillan, Karen D. Quint and Victoria Xiang theorize four reasons for executive failure to launch:

  1. Misaligned expectations
  2. Failure to adapt
  3. Underestimating the power of relationships
  4. Lack of self-awareness

Regarding the first critical error, they write:

Expectations can fall out of alignment when the needs of the business change, but the leader does not recognize or respond to these changes. Companies can be slow to replace an executive when the business suddenly calls for a leader with different skills — for example, in a merger or acquisition when the scope and scale of a job can expand dramatically. As one senior HR leader explained, “When an executive’s competencies are misaligned, this can be a source of failure for otherwise strong executives. Some leaders are great for growth environments; some are great for restructuring.” And in modern matrix organizational structures, executives might have to meet the varying expectations and accommodate the different work styles of multiple bosses.

It’s clear that in today’s modern company, roles, especially for executives are fluid and dynamic and often somewhat vaguely defined at the outset. Indeed, allowing new leaders leeway to define their own responsibilities and capacities creates innovation and drives growth, but when a leader fails to see the needs of the organization he or she is trying to lead, that’s when better role description and a clear articulation of the exec’s competencies and the groups needs would have meant all the difference.

Just as a vaguely defined role can hamper performance, a rigidly defined style can cripple a fluid transition from one company to another.

Executives taking on new responsibilities or moving into a new job within an organization often fail to recognize that the skills that they relied on to be effective in a different or narrower role may be counterproductive in the new context. “I can think of very specific instances where what caused someone to be successful in one role caused the individual to struggle in another, for example, moving from managing a small team of high-level professionals to overseeing a large organization with multiple layers,” said one HR executive. “If you don’t evolve and create a different kind of operating rhythm and new ways of interacting with the organization, and perfect the way you communicate, you won’t be successful.”

The same skills and styles that motivate and inspire confidence in one workplace may be considered unprofessional, confusing or worrisome in another. An executive’s ability to read company culture and determine the needs of his or her organization—and then modulate his or her leadership style to provide for them—hugely determine success or failure in that early transitional period.

The authors go on to define the troubles created by cultural missteps—refusal to delegate, playing favorites and so on—and what happens when you let your ego stand in the way of your own self-critique and performance as a CEO. It’s truly a great read and aligns perfectly with the guidance Korora seeks to provide.

Full article here. 

What makes us Perform at our Peaks?

url Why do some athletes, musicians and business pros consistently perform “in the zone”—exceeding expectations and overcoming obstacles—and loving every minute of it? What factors contribute to this optimum performance mode? McKinsey Quarterly has an interesting piece about the self-reported factors that executives feel contribute. You may not be surprised to learn than more compensation or career advancement, the Meaning Quotient (MQ), is what keeps top performers driven and engaged:

When a business environment’s MQ is low, employees put less energy into their work and see it as “just a job” that gives them little more than a paycheck. The opportunity cost of the missing meaning is enormous. When we ask executives during the peak-performance exercise how much more productive they were at their peak than they were on average, for example, we get a range of answers, but the most common at senior levels is an increase of five times. Most report that they and their employees are in the zone at work less than 10 percent of the time, though some claim to experience these feelings as much as 50 percent of it. If employees working in a high-IQ, high-EQ, and high-MQ environment are five times more productive at their peak than they are on average, consider what even a relatively modest 20% increase in peak time would yield in overall workplace productivity—it would almost double.

The McKinsey survey goes on to describe four factors that create a high MQ among employees—and they all have to do with creating impact on others and self:

1. Society—for example, making a better society, building the community, or stewarding resources
2. The customer—for instance, making life easier and providing a superior service or product
3. The working team—for instance, a sense of belonging, a caring environment, or working together efficiently and effectively themselves—examples include personal development, a higher paycheck or bonus, and a sense of empowerment
4. Themselves—examples include personal development, a higher paycheck or bonus, and a sense of empowerment

The piece goes on to highlight seemingly small but hugely effective methods for instilling a greater sense of making a difference to society, the customer, one’s team and oneself at the workplace—and in so doing, creating a boost in MQ across the entire organization. Read the entire McKinsey Quarterly article here.