Preventing Strategic Gridlock

Dr. Relly Nadler:
 This week we have our interview with Pam Harper, an internationally known business performance expert and professional speaker. She is a founding partner and CEO of Business Advancement Inc (BAI) based in Glen Rock, New Jersey. Since 1991 BAI has helped companies by accelerating progress toward their business objectives. Pam has in-depth knowledge and impact on organizational issues such as innovation, business growth, and profitability based on 20 years of internal and external consulting to entrepreneurial, mid-market and fortune 500 companies; In a wide range of industries all going through extraordinary growth and change.

We are going to talk about the book that she has that is critically acclaimed, Preventing Strategic Gridlock: Leading over, under and around organizational jams to achieve high-performance results.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Pam Harper delivers keynotes, seminars, and workshops on topics related to business growth, strategic leadership, and organizational performance. She has also been an adjunct faculty member with the New York Universities Management and Marketing Institute, and in addition, she is a frequent guest on business radio programs just like ours. Pam graduated with Honors from North Western University, majoring in organizational behavior and she is on the board of directors of The Association for Corporate Growth, New Jersey and The Commission on Accreditation for Home Care. She is also a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Society for Advancement of Consulting. There are so many things I’d love to tell you about Pam but I’d rather get Pam right on the show, talking to us about all the things that she knows and loves about, human performance, emotional intelligence.

We always like to start off with a question, Pam, about you personally. So, if you could indulge us, who are some of your greatest influencers or leaders in your life that have made you who you are today?

Pam Harper: Well, first of all, I want to say, it’s a pleasure to be on your show.

In thinking about that question I’d have to say that, first and for most; It would have to be my parents. These are people who absolutely experienced so much hardship and yet, on the other side of it, they always had a philosophy that there was a way to go over, under, and around difficult times and get to where you really wanted to go – that stuck with me.

As I went into my work life, I was very blessed to have two managers, in my first two companies, they were not only excellent at what they did but they were coaches. I was listening to you talking about this and they were absolutely coaches for me, they guided me, they mentored me and I grew to love the world of organizational development They helped me get through a lot of the challenges of those companies that I was with.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s great Pam. Give us an example of the work that you do now when clients call you, what kind of issues are there? Also, an overview of what you do for them.

Pam Harper: Certainly. Since 1991, I have been working with companies in helping them to accelerate progress toward their key business objectives and, really, I’m talking about growth objectives. The companies that I have worked with have spanned all kinds of industries but the common denominator is that they have all been going through extraordinary growth and change. Usually because they have been involved in globalization or the technology behind their product or service which had changed and it changed everything that they had to go through. So, whether it was a Fortune company or a small company or a mid-sized company, all of it happening. The reason that people tend to work with me has been because they had issues where they were moving very fast and they really were looking for ways to have their organizations or aspects of their organizations perform at a higher level. So, people had to do things differently or better and they had to do them more quickly and that’s when that accelerating progress came in.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Now, it’s interesting, we talked about gridlock and gridlock cycles. In your book, you outline a lot of these components but can you talk a little bit more about why you chose to use this strategic gridlock cycle and what it is?

Pam Harper: Well, being on the east coast, I’m based in the New York City area, I do a lot of driving on the highway. I was sitting in traffic one day and I was on the turnpike and I noticed this sign that said “gridlock, New York City” and I was just sitting in this traffic and I was creeping along, and couldn’t tell where any of the problems were coming from and at about that point I saw a helicopter overhead and it was hovering. There was a traffic reporter on there, I tuned in.

The reporter was talking about an issue that was all the way in New York City, and they were pinpointing where it was, and I happened to be working with a client at that point that was going through some very mysterious issues, couldn’t figure out no matter what they had done up to that point, where the problem was coming from. I said, that’s it; Gridlock. We are talking about gridlock, strategic gridlock because thestrategy that they had been working on, which was, in this particular case was aggressive growth and they were going to go through mergers and acquisitions. We couldn’t figure out why there was mysterious moral, a real moral problem. I said, the source of this problem, this gridlock, is coming from somewhere else. We are not hitting the right point. That’s when I started looking at it, and thinking about it, and seeing it that way.

The cycle that I’m talking about is one that’s somewhat predictable, to a certain extent, when you stand back. A lot of times, and you’ve probably seen this, where you have a mission, a vision, and everything is going along and things should be happening in a certain way and then what happens is that – I’ve found that leaders tend to make common but mistaken assumptions about their organization and how it behaves in reality. So, instead of getting expected results, they get unexpected results, such as this mysterious moral problem in a company that was doing its best ever. Financially it was doing quite well, and people didn’t leave but something was the matter. So, what had been happening, they had these unexpected results, and if you can envision a circle, they were introducing all kinds of initiative, this should solve it, that should solve it. So, they were looking at training was the issue and there were all kinds of things that they were throwing at the company and the organization was still not in the place where it needed to be – It went around and around and around. That is a typical gridlock cycle, it’s not unique to that company.

What I discovered is that, if we as leaders can uncover these common but mistaken kinds of assumptions that we make about our organizations, as they are in reality, the cycle reverses itself. In other words, you don’t ever get to that point of gridlock. Things happen much more quickly, you have fewer problems, obviously, the world is changing very quickly. That’s in a nutshell where it came from.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Tell us a little bit about what your process of going about that, then we will get back into some of the stuff you’ve got in the book. Is it an interview process or how do you uncover some of these things that you are mentioning?

Pam Harper:  Well, one of the first ways, of course, is to speak with people and it starts with understanding what leaders are trying to accomplish, what the outcomes are and what they have already have been doing. What’s been going on, how long it has been going on for and speaking with various stakeholders in the organization – External stakeholders as well as internal stakeholders sometimes can provide some surprising insights. Also, through observation and through survey and through a variety of ways but it starts with understanding what’s happening, what they are trying to accomplish and where that gap is. Then, of course, collaborating with leaders to come up with what we are going to do about it, not just looking at where the gap is, but how we can address it.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So, as far as the data gathering then, it’s interviews, it’s surveys, it sounds like you do, what we may call a ‘shadowing’ – where you are actually there and you get a good chance to experience the culture and climate itself.

Pam Harper: Absolutely, it really depends upon the particular need of that organization, what they already have done, who’s involved but all of these best practices that you’re talking about are things that need to be done. I’m a big believer that you need to have more than one way to get at this information, a lot of time people will make assumptions based on only one method of gathering information.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’m sure you’ve seen this Cathy, we get called in saying, “we need team building, that’s what we need, I think we need team building.” And you go, why team building? Is it team building? Is it conflict resolution? Is it skills? But they are kind of, and I think that’s what you were saying, assuming. People come in and often we need to unpack that, is that accurate, sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not.

Pam Harper: Exactly, I think that’s the piece that I’m talking about as well if somebody says training – what is it that you’re looking for people to do differently, or better. That isn’t always articulated, at the time.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, I think that one of the things that people get stuck in is, they think that because they have been there, where ever there is, that it should be easier for them to be able to get around and get through the system because of their social network or their political network. But in today’s fierce, I want to say very competitive and challenging, leadership environment, it’s how well you interface with people, and how well you influence them, not necessarily how well you do your job.

Pam Harper: I would absolutely agree with that. The component of communication is so vitally important and if there is anything I have seen, it’s usually that a lot of these assumptions come in the form of one way, shape, form or another of communication assumptions.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I know it seems to be kind of the key issue, everything comes down to it.

What’s the two common things that we see all the time that are generalized, communication and accountability? In almost every organization, you could figure that you would see those two. We would like to get your take on that, what else in addition to that are you seeing.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Pam, what elements of your book, Preventing Strategic Gridlock, would be most important for a leader to really dig into, to understand why emotional intelligence is so important for their success, long-term?

Pam Harper: I would say that, the most important aspects of what I’m talking about really mesh, very much, with what you’re talking about which is that we must really be looking at both, the strategy – which I see leaders looking at, but in order for a strategy to succeed, in order for the results to actually happen we need to engage our organizations. We need to be engaging them in new ways, and we need to understand that organizations are very complex, they are filled with many different types of stakeholders with all types of different needs. We need the ability to have the emotional intelligence to be able to deal with all of these different stakeholders, it’s critical to being able to achieve high performance.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Where can someone pick up your book?

Pam Harper: They can go to,  that’s the fastest way to do it. Preventing Strategic Gridlock is there, it’s available now, it’s also available on Kindle. So, talking about different ways that people receive their information, its available in hard copy as well – that’s the best way.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: How can people contact you, Pam, after the show if they want to ask you some questions about the content or about your book.

Pam Harper: They can call me at 201-612-1228, eastern time zone. They can also email me at [email protected].

Dr. Cathy Greenberg:  One of the things that Relly and I see quite often is, that we get questions about quite often, what is coming down the pike, what do you see as perhaps some of the single most important leadership development issues that people should be aware of coming into 2011?

Pam Harper:  I think in addition to some of the issues that you’ve talked about with different generations and the need to increase their emotional intelligence, I also think that it’s the need to be sensitive to the fact that an organization consists of more than just employees on the pay roll, and not to just think about it intellectually, but to really get in touch with the fact that I am seeing more and more companies that are depending on, increasingly, alliance partners, outsource providers and that they are having a bigger and bigger impact. So, the ability to relate in a strong way to people, where the only control you have is influence, is going to become more and more critical and these people come from all parts of the world and so, you are dealing with having to have the ability to relate to people who now are not part of your organization, per say inside the walls, but they are also may be located in Thailand.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: One of the things that you talk about in your book, and I don’t know if we have gotten any detail on it, is this acronym, U.N.L.O.C.K., do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Pam Harper: U.N.L.O.C.K. Is an acronym that I came up with, it really is highlighting different guidelines of what I have come to call, organizational reality. The acronym itself would be ways, tools really, of coming up with developing strategies and working with organizations so that you could minimize problems and get even more of the results you want. There are different aspects to that. We spoke, for example, about credible communication, communicating credibly.

Listen to the entire interview above.


Leave a Reply