SR SSD 2001-20
Participants' Experiences in the First Portion of the SR BLAST Program.
Jon W. Zeitler
One of the most rewarding training experiences we've had in the National Weather Service occurred the week of June 10, 2001, when 11 participants and 12 facilitators met in Atlanta for the first Southern Region Building Leaders for A Solid Tomorrow (BLAST) workshop. BLAST is an appropriate acronym, as the program quickly ramped up in May and reached a milestone with the Atlanta workshop. This attachment describes the initial phase of BLAST, reviews three books on the foundation of leadership and change which are part of the program, and summarizes the Atlanta workshop. One key for all leadership activities is to know there are no absolute answers - we learn from each other. The following sections should be viewed in that perspective.
After the BLAST participants were selected last April, three books were provided as preparation for the workshop. Each highlights different perspectives or aspects of leadership and change - cementing the notion that there is not a leadership prescription for all situations nor for all personalities. However, three overarching themes emerged:
1. Communication is vital. No matter what skills, ideas, vision, or plans a person or group has, they must be able to effectively communicate for success to follow.
2. Action is required. Similar to communication, no matter what skills, ideas, vision or plans a person or group has, they must act to effect any change. The simple equation:Intentions - Action = Squat says it all.
3. Leadership is service for others. Too many have the notion that leadership is self-serving. In reality, effective leaders serve those they are leading.
Leading Change by John P. Kotter
Leading Change is an excellent blueprint for successful organizations in the twenty-first century. Pressures on the NWS and other organizations will increase - we need to develop a plan for our future and get there before the competition. Leading Change explains how previous attempts to change companies succeeded or failed. Various management and leadership paradigms such as total quality management, re-engineering, right sizing, restructuring, cultural change and turnarounds have routinely fallen short of goals because these plans fail to alter behavior.
It is important to understand the difference between management and leadership. Kotter defines management as "a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly." Leadership is defined as "a set of processes that create organizations in the first place or adapt them to significantly changing circumstances." Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen. A group or team comprising good managers but poor leaders will not succeed.
Kotter outlines an eight-step process that every company, including the NWS, must go through to achieve successful change. Moreover, he indicates where and how people often fail to complete organizational change. The eight stage steps for creating major change are:
Establishing a sense of urgency. Examine the market and competitive realities, identify and discuss crises, potential crises or major opportunities. Supplanting complacency is a key factor involving developing a successful change.
Creating the guiding coalition. Put together a group with enough power to lead the change, and get the group to work together like a team.
Developing a Vision and Strategy. Create a vision to help direct the change effort and develop strategies for achieving that vision.
Communicating the Change Vision. Use every means possible to constantly communicate the new vision and strategies. Have the guiding coalition role model behaviors supporting the change.
Empowering Broad-Based Action. Get rid of obstacles; modify or eliminate systems or structures that undermine the change vision; encourage risk taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, or actions.
Generating Short Term Wins. Plan for visible improvements in performance, or "wins"; create those wins and visibly recognize and reward people who made them possible.
Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change. Use increased credibility to change all systems, structures, and policies that don't fit the transformation vision. This includes hiring, developing, and promoting people who can implement the change vision.
Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture. Create better performance through customer- and productivity-oriented behaviors, more and better leadership, and more effective management. In addition, articulate the connections between new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.
The change process can fail at any one of the preceding steps. Kotter identifies eight paralleling failures. The first four are: allowing too much complacency, failing to create a sufficient powerful guiding coalition, underestimating the power of vision, and under-communicating the vision by a factor often. Many change efforts fail with these first four steps. However, even those that get a successful start can perish through one of the remaining four mistakes: permitting obstacles to block the new vision, failing to create short term wins, declaring victory too soon, and neglecting to anchor changes within the organizational culture. Kotter notes that the consequences involving these errors are: poorly implemented new strategies, acquisitions not achieving expected synergies, lengthy re-engineering, downsizing without cost savings, and quality programs falling short of benchmarks.
Vision is essential to successfully create change within an organization. Kotter defines vision as "a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future." Vision clarifies the general direction for change, thereby simplifying hundreds or thousands of more detailed decisions. Vision also serves to facilitate major changes by motivating action that is not necessarily in the organization's short-term self-interests. Vision helps align individuals, thus coordinating the actions of motivated people in a remarkably efficient way. Communication is vital in the vision process. If the vision is properly communicated, employees become empowered to successfully complete the task at hand.
To develop a winning NWS or other organization in the future, Kotter describes the ideal structure which can achieve the goals set forth by an excellent vision statement. The organization should be: non-bureaucratic, have minimal rules and levels of management, organized for management to lead, managed at lowest-level possible by employees closest to the customer. The organizational structure should also be characterized by policies and procedures that produce the minimal internal interdependence to successfully serve customers.
A successful twenty-first century organization will depend on performance information systems to widely distribute performance data and offer management training and support systems to all portions of the company as well as customers. The culture of a successful organization should be oriented to the customer, empowering, quick to make decisions, open and candid, and more risk- tolerant. The National Weather Service has to embrace these concepts to not only remain ahead of potential private industry competitors, but to survive in this rapidly changing business, technological, and customer-oriented world.
From Worst to First by Gordon Bethune
In 1994, Continental Airlines was simply the worst among the nation's ten biggest airlines. The airline was despised by travelers, employees, and shareholders. Continental had not made a profit in ten years. Employee morale was near rock bottom. The company had ten CEOs in ten years, went into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy twice in the preceding decade, and was on the verge of going broke again. Then they hired a Boeing executive named Gordon Bethune. After first taking over Bethune commented "We weren't just the worst airline. We lapped the field. We had problems where we flew, what we flew, how we flew, and with who was flying."
Bethune came up with a Go Forward Plan, which had four parts. They included the Market Plan, Financial Plan, Product Plan, and the People Plan. He realized all four have to be undertaken constantly and simultaneously. The Market Plan (Fly to Win) was about making their product fit the market in price and position, finding the amenities customers want, and making it easy for customers to get the product. The Financial Plan (Fund the Future) determined where to reinvest and where to pull out. Bethune wanted better information, greater understanding, more control, and better decisions. The Product Plan (Make Reliability a Reality) provided a product they were proud to sell. The only way to enhance a service was by making employees want to provide it. The People Plan (Working Together) was the most important component! Bethune made it a corporate goal to change how people treated each other: to find ways to measure and reward cooperation. He also wanted to improve how it felt to come to work.
After being hired as CEO, Bethune showed employees things were different. He unlocked the executive suite and began open houses at headquarters. He instituted casual dress on Fridays and during the summer for most employees. His new rule for all meetings: they start and end on time. He told his employees the truth, no matter what the news was. He began holding employee meetings twice a year all over the system. Bethune got the word out through weekly voice-mail message, newsletters, and magazines. He gave some employees work manuals to set on fire in the parking lot. He then sent word into the field that employees should use their judgment, not blindly follow manuals. When faced with an atypical situation, employees were instructed to do what was right for the customer and right for the company: balance the interests and use good judgment to solve the problem.
He hired first rate executives. Specifically he says: "If you want great performance, you're going to have to pay for it. We hired talent and team players. I wanted risk takers and achievers." He simplified the Continental fleet by removing planes with special requirements. He went to his creditors and lessors and accepted responsibility for the past ten years of mistakes. Bethune gave them reason to believe things would improve, and hoped for the best. He replaced financial systems, trained people to follow them, and hired the right people to manage them. He counseled poorly performing employees, giving them a chance to get on board with company's direction - or leave.
Some of Bethune's quotes regarding change include:
The first step in solving any problem is deciding whose problem it is. What does it cost not to fix it?
Not admitting mistakes is what causes organizations to get sick. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over in exactly the same way and expecting different results.
My definition of a leader is pretty simple. The leader is the person who looks at the big picture and says, "Okay, everybody, go west! Now west is precisely a compass heading of 270 degrees, but anywhere from around 240 to 300 degrees is heading generally west. So if I say go west, and one person is heading at 295 degrees, that's ok with me. On the other hand, the guy who's going 090 degrees, which is due east, is a problem. Maybe he needs to go to a company that's headed east, but he's not going to work out here unless he can go west with the rest of us.
A boss's job - a leader's job - is to facilitate, not to control. You have to trust people to do their jobs. That's the strongest leadership there is - trusting your employees.
Probably the most important management principle there is: What you measure and reward is what you get. Most simply, what gets measured gets done.
The Servant by James C. Hunter
The Servant is a very practical book which shows how to put others first. It teaches a bottom-up paradigm, not top-down. This book stresses the importance of walking your talk and true customer service. These principles of leadership, if practiced throughout the NWS, will revolutionize our agency by putting our employees and our customers first.
The Servant can be read in one sitting. It can change your heart to help you become a very effective leader. The main storyline is about John Daily, a businessman whose outwardly successful life is spiraling out of control. He is failing miserably in each of his leadership roles as boss, husband, father, and coach. To get his life back on track, he reluctantly attends a week-long leadership retreat at a remote Benedictine monastery with a small group of others in leadership positions.
To John's surprise, the monk leading the seminar is a former business executive and Wall Street legend. Taking John under his wing, the monk guides him to a profound realization: the foundation of leadership is not power, but authority; authority built upon relationships, love, service, and sacrifice.
The monk teaches the principles of how to unselfishly serve and love others including those entrusted to your care. The monk modeled and taught these timeless truths that are best exemplified in The Bible. They can be summed up as "all the good intentions in the world don't mean a thing if they don't line up with our actions." The abbreviated form would be: Intentions - Actions = Squat. Serve and love are verbs - we must do them in order to become effective leaders. We must walk our talk.
When you think of BLAST, remember "Be-last and let others be-first." A leader must think first about the needs of others before he or she thinks about his or her own needs. According to the author, this will at times require sacrifice, but reap huge rewards.
Atlanta BLAST Workshop
The background provided by Bethune, Kotter, and Hunter was a vital base for the Atlanta workshop to build upon. The following sections summarize each unit of the workshop. What cannot be conveyed easily in writing was the spirit of camaraderie between the facilitators and participants. This spirit was quickly developed at a Sunday evening icebreaker and continued through the ending luncheon, and to the present. The willingness to participate in active listening and be open to diverse ideas made for a rich learning environment.
Fundamentals of BLAST - Gary Grice (Deputy Director, SRH)
The workshop opened with a presentation by Gary Grice on the fundamentals of the BLAST program, with a particular focus on the workshop. The need for BLAST is evident - a significant number of leaders and managers within the NWS will retire in the next 5-10 years. We have potential leaders who are early on in their careers - but can they effectively replace the retiring leaders? More important, can the current leadership ensure the future leaders' success by providing training and mentoring now? BLAST was developed to answer these questions on both the local, regional, and hopefully national level. The goals of BLAST are straightforward: to assist all NWS employees become the best leader they can possibly be, to look within (develop/change) themselves, and to become ambassadors of good leadership for not only the organization, but for their families, communities, and NWS customers/partners.
Obviously, becoming a leader in all areas of one's life is not a one-time event or a task to be completed. Rather, it's a lifelong learning process. BLAST quickens the learning curve which life experience provides, but without some of the negative consequences. In other words, learn from other's successes and mistakes.
Foundation of Good Leadership - Bart Hagemeyer (MIC, Melbourne)
Bart Hagemeyer followed with a presentation on the foundations of good leadership. The overriding message was to always be aware of your environment, others around you, and your actions - because these are the ingredients to exercise leadership. Many times we forget how we got into our current situation - the decisions we made, actions we took, etc. One major component of leadership is the simple awareness that you have great influence over others - your family, co-workers, neighbors, community.
Leadershift Video - Joel Barker
A video called Leadershift by Joel Barker was shown to the group. Mr. Barker made the following seven points:
Understanding the Leader Within You - Walt Hogan (International Training Associates, ITA)
Walt Hogan followed with a session on uncovering the attributes of leadership each person values. The utility of the session and exercises within it were to underscore the main points, that there are different leadership styles, each person has different paradigms of what leadership means to them, and analysis and understanding of leadership attributes allows each person to develop those attributes and apply them as necessary in leadership roles. Each participant and facilitator completed a series of questions used to develop a personal leadership profile. The profiles are subdivided into four foci - Character, Analysis, Interaction, and Accomplishment. These are each further divided into three dimensions. The dimensions of character include: enthusiasm, integrity, and self-renewal; the analysis dimensions are: fortitude, perceiving, and judgement. The accomplishment is split into: performance, boldness, and team building. Finally, the interaction focus is divided among collaborating, inspiring, and serving others. Walt facilitated small and large group discussions and exercises for further examination of individual profiles.
Giving and Seeking Feedback - Jose Garcia (MIC, Amarillo)
Jose Garcia built on the previous sessions by describing how feedback is one of the most effective tools for a leader to be successful. Feedback is important because it gives the leader the ability to create positive, trusting relationships, clarifies/sets positive perceptions, and serves as a slowdown mechanism to stay grounded with those around you. One tool for increasing feedback is to consider your personal Johari Window (named after the creators Joe Luft and Harry Ingram). The Johari Window is a 2x2 matrix of what you know about yourself (e.g., attitudes, beliefs, biases) and what others know about you. The goal is to have a large, open Johari Window - meaning that you know yourself and others can trust you by knowing you. Creating an open Johari Window includes:
1. Ask! Find out more about yourself and others.
2. Really listen - silence is golden.
3. Be willing to use feedback for self-improvement.
4. Avoid misinterpretation and defensiveness.
Speed, Simplicity, and Self-Confidence - Jack Welch
The next session was a video interview with Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, who is regarded as one of the best leaders in industry. General Electric is roughly 40 times the size of the NWS and geographically spread throughout the U.S. and world, yet it manages to be a dynamic organization known for innovation, change, customer service, and quality. Some of Mr. Welch's key points included:
Servant Leader - Lans Rothfusz (MIC, Atlanta)
The session on servant leadership seemed the most challenging and rewarding as leadership principles were found to be important in one's personal, as well as professional, life. Lans outlined the basic principles of The Servant by James Hunter and expanded on various sections with illustrations and examples. The main activity was an exercise where each participant related a personal story of how a servant leader affected their life. Each story demonstrated different aspects of servant leadership - but many of the profiled leaders had common traits of: integrity, high standards, awareness of the human spirit, courage in relationships, and breadth of life experience. Other exercises included the opening of pre-workshop assessments of each participant by family-members, friends, and co-workers, and a pledge to improve servant leader skills in one or two areas over the next year.
Developing and Communicating a Vision - Jim Stefkovich (MIC, Jackson)
Jim Stefkovich led a session on how vision is critically important for effective leadership. However, actually understanding and implementing vision is one of the more difficult tasks a leader faces. Therefore, defining vision, deciding if an individual or group needs a vision, how to develop visions as a leader, and how to communicate that vision must be undertaken for a leader to fully utilize vision.
Defining vision can be summarized as finding out where you are going; developing a clear statement of purpose. Deciding if an individual or group needs a vision involves two issues. First, vision is not necessary for some things - such as deciding where to have lunch. Second, vision is necessary for important things, and critical for change. Developing vision as a leader involves assessing the significance of the need, understanding greater personal/professional/ agency goals, being open to possibilities, developing relationships, and painting the picture of the vision for others. Communicating vision relates to understanding what others see, knowing how to change/modify perceptions, and repeating the vision in any way that clarifies it for others.
Responding Aggressively to Customer Needs - John Feldt (HIC, Southeast RFC, Atlanta)
Once some of the basics on leadership, vision, and change were addressed, the focus shifted to how these ideas can be implemented in the NWS. The session by John Feldt focused on leadership to improve customer service - in fact, change the focus of the NWS entirely toward the customer. John first described a typical scenario of a major winter storm, heat wave, or flood event expected to impact the service area. What is the foundation of the NWS response based on - policies and procedures, or customer requirements? In most cases the answer has been policy, procedure, and product, not the customer.
The New England Confectionary Company (NECCO), the ones who make the candy valentine hearts, is used as an example of customer-focused service. NECCO has been around as long as the NWS, yet manages to blend its heritage with flexibility, nimbleness, and cutting-edge methods to maintain or improve the quality of their products. The questions then for the NWS include: What are our base products? Can we be cutting edge? Are we flexible and nimble? Do we have a "We can do that!" corporate attitude? One important anecdote John relayed is that being cutting edge can be very costly (e.g., high tech companies). A better tack might have the NWS being a fast follower - quickly implementing new technology or ideas once they are shown to be viable and effective.
Assuming the NWS (or at a personal/local level) answers yes to the above questions, then what is the framework for creating a customer-centric organization? John suggested the following: measure value (customer demand vs. cost of production); monitor customer experience, irregular surveys are not nearly good enough; deliver a total customer experience; and care about your customers and their outcomes.
Leading a Diverse Organization - Crystal Williams (ITA)
Crystal Williams has worked with NWS on diversity, equal employment opportunity (EEO), and human resources issues. This session capitalized on her experience to help the participants understand how these issues impact leadership, the organization, our communities, and us personally. Crystal began with a history of the employment paradigms the NWS and to a larger extent the Federal Government and society had over the past 30-40 years. The result of legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the culture at that time into the 1980s held the following paradigms (EEO Program Model): people were handled by a "Personnel Department" (e.g., hiring/firing/promotion); the remedy for discrimination was to treat people equally, which was thought to mean the same as fairly; employment security and promotion (especially with the Government) were viewed as an entitlement if one performed adequately and remained with the organization a long time.
However, changes in society resulting from globalization, immigration, entry of women into the workforce, and others caused the paradigms to become increasingly ineffective and unrepresentative. Since the late 1980s, the following new paradigms have emerged (Diversity Program Model): people are handled through a "Human Resources Department" - underscoring the need to consider how many issues such as dependent care and health, impact employees and their contribution to the organization. Diversity has become a critical concept both externally (globalization means a more diverse customer base), and internally (employees increasingly come from a varied background). People are different, so treating them equally may not in fact be treating them fairly. Employment security is based on the contribution of the individual - if your contribution is not valued, your job is at stake; individualism has been supplanted by teamwork.
Given the past and present, the big question is where should we go in the future? Does the NWS culture have to change? How? What can you do as a leader to make the changes? To illustrate how a leader should approach these issues, exercises were completed on how to separate fact from inference, and how to apply critical thinking to hypothetical work situations where diversity, culture, and perception pose challenges to successful resolution.
The leader in a rapidly changing world - Ken Graham (MIC, Corpus Christi)
Ken Graham led a session on how to understand and develop change. The session began with information on the consequences of not being open to change (increasing irrelevancy, insecurity), and inability to "think outside the box." In regard to the latter, where does "the box" come from? In most cases, the box is self-imposed and in reality does not exist.
Once the wide-open possibilities are realized, how does a leader create a positive work environment where people and ideas flourish? Ken presented the Fish! video - the motivational story of how the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle has become a world famous enterprise where the employees love to work and the customers love the service. Fish! describes four principles for making an exciting, invigorating workplace where employees feel creative and both employees and customers have a fantastic experience. These four principles are:
Power through Empowerment - Steven Cooper (Chief, CWWD SRH)
Steven Cooper followed with a session on empowerment. The term empowerment is overused and its meaning a bit cloudy. The purposes of the session were: to understand how empowerment differs from delegation, to learn the benefits of empowerment, to understand why information sharing is critical, and to help empower others and avoid sapping their creativity and initiative. The benefits of empowerment include: reduced stress, greater productivity, increased visibility within and outside of the organization, self-growth, greater job satisfaction. Some of the salient points in the presentation and following class discussion include:
The importance of a personal network - Ken Graham (MIC, Corpus Christi)
Ken Graham returned to lead a session on networking. You might associate networking with a glad-handing, shallow type of interaction with others. In reality, effective networking encompasses many of the traits already demonstrated by good leaders - active listening, a servant-leader paradigm, fulfilling the needs of others, etc.. In fact, an effective network allows a leader to be effective by providing a base of support. One component of networking is the PIE principle outlined by Harvey Coleman in Empowering Yourself. In short, the PIE principle stands for:
Performance ~ 10% Image ~ 30% Exposure ~ 60%
This implies your standing in a group, organization, community, etc. is determined 10% by what you do (work performance), 30% by the outward image you maintain, and 60% by getting the message out about what you do (exposure). Again, the temptation is to view this as a get-ahead exercise. Mr. Coleman points out the 10% from performance is the most critical - image and exposure will not go far if there is no performance. In addition, overexposure could negatively affect your image. Ken added an improved paradigm might be to view how your interaction in the community alters perceptions about the NWS. For example, being a good neighbor to the sheriff's deputy next door might lead to a more effective relationship between your office and the sheriff's office during severe weather. The key is to understand the traits of a good leader are the same ones that can deepen these types of relationships in your community.
Turning Failure into Success - Norman Bowles (Director, FAA Logistics Center)
The capstone of the Atlanta workshop was a case study on the turnaround of the FAA Logistics Center in Oklahoma City, by Norman Bowles. The BLAST participants split into two teams - each team was given the task of taking leadership principles to devise a turnaround plan for the Logistics Center. These plans were presented to the entire group, including Mr. Bowles. Mr. Bowles then led a session on how he engineered the turnaround, including additional leadership lessons, and how to simultaneously carry off multiple initiatives. Some of the leadership bullets included:
1. Vision - it's critical for the leader to develop and communicate the vision of where the organization is going.
2. Self awareness - Try to observe your actions from a third party point of view. See yourself as an instrument to accomplish goals. Try to minimize emotions - especially "hot buttons."
3. Stay on the high road - Achieve your objective through others' interest. Understand why - do not get caught up in false paradigms.
4. Perseverance and risk-taking are critical.
5. Know the drivers - what motivates others? What do they value?
6. Understand the peculiarity of the culture - just because it worked somewhere else or in theory means it is unlikely to work exactly the same in your endeavors. Each group or organization has a unique culture that requires unique ideas or adaptations.
Overall, Mr. Bowles made a world class organization out of one that was failing by anyone's standards - in the federal government setting. The question then is whether the NWS can become and maintain a world class organization?
Wrap-up and Luncheon - Bill Proenza (Director, SRH) and David Huff (ITA)
A final session and luncheon served as the backdrop for presentations by Bill Proenza and David Huff. Bill focused on the importance of leadership for the future of the NWS, hence the launch of the BLAST program. David concentrated on the servant-leader model and importance of leadership in all aspects of our lives.