Sometimes the Best Way to Win is by Finishing Third

19 09 2011

I had the pleasure of hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak last week at a tech conference in Milwaukee.  You may be familiar with his books, which include The Tipping Point, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw.   Mr. Gladwell opened his discussion with the Bekaa Valley Air Battle which took place in 1982.  Considered one of the most lopsided battles in military history, the air battle represented the use of modern warfare which saw the Israelis decimate their Lebanese foes in just a few short days.  The mismatch was so bad that it has been labeled “The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot”.

What Mr. Gladwell recognized here was Israel didn’t use any technology they developed.  Instead they mastered what others had innovated.  For example, the Soviets were master strategists.  Their centralized power allowed them to bring great minds together to think of the best ways to fight in modern warfare.  However the Soviets did not possess the technology their strategy utilized.  The Americans are a different case.  Their fractioned yet highly entrepreneurial military had developed many of the technologies and weapons necessary to successfully lead the fight.  By combining the best of the two, the Israeli military was able to carry out an attack with such precision, they completely shut down the Lebanese.

We often place too much emphasis on our need to be first in the race.  Yet in many businesses where the business model may be new or evolving, it can actually be better to enter third.  Mr. Gladwell pointed out that Steve Jobs and Apple have been the best at this.  They weren’t really the first to develop anything.  What they did do was take the idea and make it better.

The most important phrase Mr. Gladwell shared was culture dictates innovation.  If you have the right culture, you can do great things.  What you need to do is create a culture that will allow you to be successful.  Yet cultures can be difficult to change.  As leaders, it is necessary to take the time to define what you want to become.  The direction you take your business is the choice of you and your culture.  What direction is it taking you?





A Laundry List to Accomplish Through Five Steps

15 09 2011

In a recent client meeting we were reviewing the business numbers and talking about the next steps for the growth of the operation when the subject of incentives came up. During our talk, the owner asked if the incentive package could be repeatable in another company. My answer: it depends. This led to an in depth talk about why some companies can be highly successful and others not.

My client, the owner of a very successful business as well as a grand inquisitor asked me to define what made his current revenue sharing so successful. I threw the question back at him. I said, “First, why don’t you tell me what has to happen in order for your plan to work?” Through this, an extensive list was built:

  • The current business has no debt
  • They have highly productive people working
  • There is a culture of empowerment to get things done
  • They are Mission/Vision centered
  • They developed a pattern of growth
  • The leadership character of the owner
  • No assumptions are made. Evidence supports the program.
  • Problems are dealt with immediately
  • Everyone in the organization is treated as important
  • Loyalty matters (to customers and also vendors)
  • Team will go above and beyond because they are respected
  • Communication is high
  • There is trust in the environment
  • Outside support through mentoring and coaching
  • Owner is willing to be coached
  • Owner knows his weakness
  • Owner knows his Vision for the business

We addressed that because there are a lot of things working right, his compensation is successful where in other places it might never pay out. This brought up a greater observation; there are a lot of things that make organizations successful and if it weren’t for several factors impacting all these outcomes, the business wouldn’t be where it is today.

Many business leaders focus on the laundry list that needs to be accomplished. Yet even with a large list such as this, it can all be running right with just a few simple practices.

  1. A Vision-centric culture. Everyone knows what the organization stands for, what they will accomplish and how their role plays into accomplishing that goal.
  2. Goal focused and communication driven. Each person knows what they need to achieve and there is ongoing communication to help them succeed.
  3. The right people. people matter. Period. When leadership has the right behavior and people work from a position of strength and empowerment, amazing things can be accomplished. The wrong people or even the right people doing the wrong things can be costly.
  4. Working process that is always a work in progress. In an environment of change where people are continually taught and updating best practices makes for a winning combination. By honoring systems for their consistency, but being willing to question everything for improvement, people are able to maintain a high level of productivity.
  5. Measures that mean something. Data is abundant. The right data is far more important. Knowing what to measure, how to measure it and empowering people to be accountable and track their data, team members are able to help reach their targets as well as the growth goals of the company.

By following these steps, business leaders are able to develop great performance along with happy, engaged employees. What is your laundry list and how will you be tackling it?





The Impact of September 11

12 09 2011

Yesterday marks 10 years since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC, and the failed attempt which led to the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Over the past week, many of my friends and colleagues have reflected on this event and how it changed our world. Like many, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news first broke. In the weeks following the incident, we became a unified nation committed to overcoming our differences and moving forward through our pain. Ten years later, life has moved on. The pain and grief are still there though more subdued compared to a decade ago.

Though our world changed, we still enjoy a good quality of life here and we owe much to those who have given their lives for the freedom we sometimes take for granted. Today we face new challenges with mounting debt and a sluggish economy. These too can be overcome if we commit to the same resolve we had on that fateful day. It involves each of us taking an active role in growing this nation. We must be accountable. We must be responsible and we must use our strengths to innovate and compete on a global scale. I hope we can learn how to come together to get things done much like our grandparents did in World War II. They sparked a growth in this nation that continued a generation of prosperity. We too have to tap into that work ethic and provide direction and leadership not only for this generation, but future ones as well. Remember September 11. Remember how it unified us towards a common cause and let’s apply that to the other challenges we now face.





Is Leadership Killing Your Company?

7 09 2011

Recently I had the chance to touch base with a long-time client who had taken a leadership role in a new company. I had worked with his previous organization for about four years until he left for a new opportunity. This was my chance to see what differences he noticed in the new business.

The company he is working for now is in the same industry as the last place he worked with a noticeable difference. The current organization has struggled while the company he came from was doing quite well. For the past few years, his current employer has been in a constant state of transition. He is the third president in about as many years. Business is down and morale is down.

This person is no stranger to building a company up. For the past ten years he had improved the performance of the business to make it a market leader. He did observe some new challenges here. As we began to talk about the people he was working with, he pointed out this group had never seen success and wondered if they had the confidence in their organization. Many of the employees had not worked here long. Most staff members had only worked here a few years compared to over ten at his last company. He observed that overall, the energy of the staff seemed low.

My client knew the history of most of the employees and many had come from other struggling companies. What added to the challenge was the commitment of the leadership team here. He pointed out that his leaders didn’t seem to have the same level of care as in his past company. By his opinion, they had taken much of what they were doing for granted. What’s worse is the problem was somebody else’s fault. Whether it be the economy or a poor performing employee, the leadership didn’t take ownership and weren’t accountable. This meant a lot of hand holding by the president followed by a lot of frustration.

People are the most important asset to any organization. Yet leadership is absolutely critical to gaining the most value out of that asset. When leadership fails, the company is sure to follow. My client knows this and is taking steps to improve the problem. Unfortunately there is a lot of repair work that needs to be done from the shortcomings of past managers.

What challenges do you face with leadership in your company? Top level executives know the strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports, but are they doing most to strengthen their skills? Much like a stone tossed into a pond, the impact of leadership creates ripples throughout the entire organization. We may take for granted a leaders lack of skills and hope they improve on their own, but do they ever? Coach, mentor, and be accountable. Most important, make others accountable as well. What you save in time and expense up front could cost you greatly in the end.





Short Week Equals Short on Writing. So Here’s an Article From a Friend.

7 09 2011

Believe it or not I took the holiday weekend off and spent time with family.  Now with the short week I have been playing catch up on work so until my posts start again tomorrow, I invite you to view an article from a friend and colleague of mine.

John Ingrisano is a fellow consultant and he puts out some pretty good stuff.  I liked his recent article and think it is well worth sharing.  Read and enjoy!

To Survive the Recession, Ditch the Hunker-In-The-Bunker Mentality





When is OK No Longer OK?

31 08 2011

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of young professionals about leadership. During the discussion, the group brought up complacency. Their observation was that many people were just fine where they were at. One person recognized that people take into account what they hear in the news. “If we hear the economy is bad,” he concluded, “then I should be happy where I am at.” I can relate that to comments I hear from some business leaders who are happy to be doing as good as the market is. While they are not seeing growth, they are happy to at least be holding their own.

However, this satisfaction is not reflected in the news we hear. Confidence is at an all-time low. We point our finger at whichever political party or country we believe to be at fault. In the end we accept things for the way they are and move on. So when did OK become the norm?

In order to improve our outcomes, we must never settle. We must always strive to be better, both personally and professionally. When times are good, it is easy to hit cruise control. “Just keep the pace,” we say. When business drops off we wonder why. Fortunately there are leaders that say OK is not good enough. They continually strive to be better. That is what I saw in this group today. They were active, engaged and motivated. Their willingness to share ideas and be part of something bigger is exciting. In fact, their energy could help motivate others. For them, good enough isn’t good enough.

What about your organization? Are you utilizing the best talent to grow? Or are you willing to settle? You have the power to change the situation you are in. Accept the challenges around you and do something about them. More importantly, if you are unhappy or complacent about your current situation, only you can change it. Becoming settled is unsettling because if you are not willing to change your outcomes, someone else will do it for you.





What is Your Risk Factor?

31 08 2011

Business innovation, growth, profitability, and long-term success. These are traits virtually every business aspires towards. Yet how many companies do all these things? Do they all matter? What about stability, safety and being cautious in order to protect the business?

Many companies are risk averse but does that really equate to stability? If you were to speak to many leaders today they might say no. A bad economy will quickly expose what can be a company’s greatest weakness. Their unwillingness to change.

As much as we would like things to be the same, they never are and as much as we would like to avoid risk, we never can. In a recent New York Times article (http://nyti.ms/jobs_risk) Steve Lohr highlights the benefits of risk taking using the example of Apple and Steve Jobs. Because of Mr. Jobs willingness to take risks, Apple, Pixar and Next all benefited from his leadership. Apple has been the big winner. Under Job’s tenure, Apple has experienced an innovation premium with stock price. This premium is an investor’s bet that the future of the company will be even better than today because of innovation.

When done correctly, risk is actually the least risky venture of all. In order for innovation to take place, diversity in experiences, creativity and a willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things is necessary. However the greatest skills for growth are often the least developed. What are you willing to do to develop these skills in your company?








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