The skills involved in leading an existing set of micro-battles are fun and pretty easy to define. On an 80/20 basis, you’d do pretty well by just staying out of the way of your micro-battle teams. But we’ll be a bit more specific in this blog post. The exam question is, “How do a group of senior incumbent leaders help a micro-battle leader get on with it and win the battle without a lot of interference or second-guessing?” To get this right demands three sets of skills:
- listening and role modeling;
- giving and coaching; and
This ain’t that complicated, so we’ll get through it quickly.
Listen and role model (or, less politely, get out of the way)
It’s really hard to identify the most important failure point in a strategic initiative and then develop a prototype solution to test with target customers. You might be extremely good at this yourself, or you might be terrible. But it’s the Lead-Learn team’s challenge to develop hypotheses about the failure point and the best prototype for each battle. It then becomes the job of the micro-battle leader to come back to you after each four-week cycle with an evolved hypothesis based on market tests, research and deeper learning. You’ve empowered the micro-battle teams to become the experts. Now your job is to:
- Listen. Be in the moment and listen to each team. Ask smart questions so you can better understand what they’ve learned.
- Understand the facts. Probe on customer feedback. Focus on how the prototype performed against the “facts” you all agreed would best measure success. Encourage the team to deliver the bad news that will lead to the next pivot. Discourage the positive spin they’ll be tempted to give you.
- Collect what you need for subsequent pattern recognition. We have a set of questions you’ll want to ask the teams that will help you in your learning sessions. But the most important are:
- Resources. Who do you need in terms of talent? Are there multiple demands on each person’s time? There will be, because as we argue later, everyone wants Fred.
- Timing. When do you think you’ll be finished with prototyping and ready to move to testing on transferability and repeatability? When will you be ready for rollout? The answers to these questions will help you manage the portfolio.
- Rollout. What is your preferred rollout model?
- Role model. Praise the failure and encourage learning from it. These are the skills of the scale insurgent, and it is critical that you role model them.
Give and coach (or, less politely, do what they ask)
The overriding message here is to make it worth their while to meet with the Lead-Learn team. Your job is to:
- Respond to their specific requests with specific answers. Help make the problems the micro-battle team is encountering smaller so you know you can deliver what they need. Setting up what we call a “learning center” is helpful here. If the micro-battle team asks for help on a pricing issue, resist the urge to talk about big problems with pricing decisions across the organization. Just work as a team to solve the specific issue, but track on a flip chart how you solved it. In learning, you can come back to patterns.
- Give advice if they ask for advice. Deciding the next pivot for the micro-battle prototype is hard. The team might have a strong hypothesis but also be looking for feedback. If you can help, help. But if the team isn’t asking for help, don’t offer a lot of opinions about alternative solutions.
- Speak with one voice. If you are the Lead-Learn sponsor for a particular micro-battle, it is important that you are on the same side of the table as the micro-battle team, not in opposition. “We” means you and the micro-battle leader, not “we the executive committee.” It’s “We’re all in this together.” Not, “We are here to approve what you’re doing.”
- Be quiet unless you’re in a unique position to help. In our winning skills blog post, we talk about the need for micro-battle team leaders to focus the group on “deep work” and avoid the distractions of organizational noise. Don’t be part of that noise. Short meetings are better than long meetings. Fewer voices are better than input from everybody on the executive committee. You’re not paid by the word here.
Celebrate (or, less politely, clap a bit when all else fails)
It is critical to fight each micro-battle as a microcosm of the company you want to become. You are trying to create teams of insurgents and have those teams influence all around them. You should be working hard to find examples (both positive and negative) of this in action. Your job is to:
- Celebrate with the team. Each four-week cycle is a chance to learn. Most likely, the micro-battle team has failed to nail the prototype in a given round, but they’ve learned a lot. Celebrate the failure.
- Single out role models within the team. Ask the team leader which team members are doing incredibly well and whom you can thank. Then thank them.
- Find heroes outside the team. Ask the team leader who outside the team has done extraordinary things to make their lives easier. Then thank those people, too.
The skills here are really about responding to requests and giving energy to the micro-battle team in all you do—not sapping energy by erecting new barriers or making problems bigger. The main thing that will go wrong is not that you can’t develop these skills but that you fail to shed all your old incumbent behaviors. We have covered that elsewhere, but it is so critical that we want to end this with a very simple plea: Recognize that the biggest risk in leading is that you will be part of the problem. So, when in doubt, stay out of the way.