Aug 8

Managers Solve Problems, Leaders Create Momentum

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

Last year, I attended a one day seminar of John C. Maxwell, the famous American leadership guru, who has sold more than 16 million books worldwide. I can say that he is one of the most gifted speakers I ever met. If you ever have the chance to meet him, go for it. He started his presentation at 9 a.m., sitting on a kind of a bar chair on the stage of the conference room and finished by 5 p.m. He was able to hold the attention of the approximately 500 people in the audience until the very end while using only one single power point chart during the whole day. Truly remarkable! He widely used story telling as his main technique to connect with the attendants and to get his message across. Most of the people in the audience were busy taking notes until the end of the seminar. Everybody to whom I spoke after the event or during the breaks was highly impressed by John Maxwell.

For me, the “Aha-Moment” of the day came when John pointed out: “Managers solve problems; leaders create momentum.” I thought this statement sums it up all, when it comes to leading an organization or a team. He explained that if you focus always only on problem solving, then, one day, the problem solving itself becomes the problem. However, if you understand the concept of creating momentum, “The Big Mo”, as he called it, the organization picks up steam. And when you are in motion, ongoing momentum makes it easier to overcome challenges and obstacles when they occur.

Maxwell pointed out that only a leader can create momentum. Followers catch it and, through momentum, get inspired to perform. And managers are able to continue it, once it has begun.

While Maxwell elaborated on his momentum – concept, my own hugely successful signature momentum creating – event came to my mind.

At Merck Thailand, since the year 2000, always during the second half of January (by then, all data of the previous year has been compiled and evaluated), we took along all our employees (about 180) for our Annual Corporate Take-Off – Meeting. It was scheduled from Friday to Sunday (yes, if you have highly motivated and energized staff, you can hold once a year such an event at the weekend – however, you might wish to credit all employees one day extra annual leave for compensation). The meeting typically took place in a 5 star hotel (yes, you should take good care of your staff, if they are willing to sacrifice their weekend for the company) just about 3 – 4 hours drive from Bangkok.

The objectives of the meeting were:

  • To share with our employees the results of the previous business year (by the way, not only from a shareholder point of view, but from a 4 stakeholders perspective!)
  • Reinforcing our mission, vision and values
  • To inform everybody of our strategic direction and our goals for the coming year and beyond
  • To generate buy-in and commitment for the above
  • To align everybody in our company
  • To foster team spirit and strengthen team bonding across the whole organization
  • Last, but not least, to have fun together

During the years before 2000, we used to have similarly structured annual take-off – meetings, from Saturday to Sunday, however, we separated them into three different meetings for the Pharma Division, the Chemicals Division and the supporting functions (Finance, Human Resources, Logistics and Information Services). When one of our employees suggested to combine the three events into one only where everybody can participate, I was initially skeptical and hesitating. Frankly speaking, the first thing that I saw was the one working day lost (Friday), because we had to close down the whole company. However, it turned out to be one of our best decisions ever when we followed the employee’s suggestion to have only one single annual take-off – meeting for the whole company. It proved to be a huge success and is the highlight of the year where staff is typically looking forward to.

I haven’t come across other companies of a comparable size who are doing such a thing.

Most companies take only the sales force or only one business unit along, however, for us, our approach has worked very well enhancing team building and bonding across the whole organization. The money that we make available for our annual event is well spent. And the meeting is one of the key success factors of Merck Thailand.

During the three days, we have internal as well as external speakers who give presentations centered around the strategic intent of our company for that year. In order to move from a purely internal to a broader external business view, we brought in experienced and highly successful external speakers. In most cases, we were able to sign them on free of charge. However, we made donations on their behalf to CARE Thailand / Raks Thai Foundation, our NGO – partner. You always could see a big smile on the face of these speakers when they received a big round of applause from our staff, after it was announced after their presentation that they have agreed to donate their signing fee to the Raks Thai Foundation.

The Annual Take-Off Event was structured into four parts in line with our overall business philosophy: a) care for employees, b) care for customers, c) care for shareholders and d) care for society. Like this, we were able to address the different needs of our employees which obviously go beyond the pure well-being of the company and its shareholders.

We always reserved half a day for CSR – activities, like workshops or volunteering actions. For example, on one occasion, our employees assembled bicycles for handicapped children while at another time, we visited a school for the blind located near our venue hotel to read books for them or to play, sing or dance with them.

And, last but not least, Saturday night was always the highlight of the year with a mega party for all staff where we brought in famous TV personalities, singers, VJs from MTV and / or bands.

All in all, I can say, plenty of momentum was created in a rather unique atmosphere. In our employee caring survey that we used to carry out one month after the event, our staff confirmed that they are very clear about the strategic direction and the goals of the company.

Due to the significance of the “creating momentum” – topic, after attending his seminar, I decided to buy John Maxwell’s book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – Follow Them and People Will Follow You” to learn more about the concept.  In his book, John calls momentum “The Big Mo”. He says: “Momentum is really a leader’s best friend. Sometimes it’s the only difference between winning and losing.” As a leader, your responsibility is to understand momentum, to get it moving for your organization or team, and to sustain it over time. In his book, Maxwell states that U.S. President Harry Truman once said: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But for leaders, Maxwell suggests, that statement should be changed to “If you can’t  m a k e  the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Getting started with the momentum creation is the most difficult part. It’s never the size of your problem that is the problem. It’s a lack of momentum.  Momentum is what happens when you get going. A train moving at full speed will smash through a brick wall and will keep moving. However, a single rock that is placed in front of the wheels of a standing train can prevent it from getting started.

Momentum grows through team victories in which numerous people can claim to have played a role. The level of celebration on a team depends upon the level of participation. The more joint victories you can come up with, the more people in your organization or your team will be motivated to produce further success, even at a higher level, enabling you and them to reach your targets, maybe even your most optimistic stretch goals.

To emphasize once more: It is the leader’s responsibility to initiate momentum and to get it going. Momentum begins from inside the leader and spreads from there. It starts with vision, passion, enthusiasm and energy.

Finally, I would like to ask you to reflect for a while and to recall those times where you were able to generate momentum in your workplace. And then, you should think about what you can do in order to make “The Big Mo” even more often your best friend.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 8th, 2009 at 19:17 and is filed under Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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