8 Lessons in Military Leadership for Entrepreneurs

8lessonsThis post is more personal than most. Not because I was in the military, I wasn’t, but because my best friends from early childhood were, and one of them didn’t come home.

On October 23, 1983, in Beirut, Lebanon, two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forces killing 299 American and French servicemen.

Pfc. Rui Manuel A. Relvas, my friend since 1st grade, was in one of those buildings. To this day, I often think of him, and visualize what further impact he would have on this world had he had the opportunity to execute upon his dreams.

Along with Rui, my other childhood friends, then US Marines, would often tell me stories of how service in the military was shaping the people they would become. While many years have passed since that period, reading Robert Kiyosaki‘s book 8 Lessons in Military Leadership for Entrepreneurs gave me a unique insight as to what they had been talking about.

Setting the stage

In the first 2 chapters of 8 Lessons in Military Leadership for EntrepreneursRobert Kiyosaki addresses the “why” you might choose to be an entrepreneur, as well as the value entrepreneurs bring to our economy, etc.

“The very first step any aspiring entrepreneur should take is making the choice between Freedom and Security—or, said another way, between being an entrepreneur and being an employee. It’s up to every individual to make that choice for themselves based on what excites them, where their interests lie and what resources they have available to them.”

The 8 Lessons

From Chapter 3 onwards, Robert dives into the 8 lessons of

  1. Leaders Are Role Models
  2. Are You a Loner or a Leader
  3. Discipline Delivers a Higher Quality of Life
  4. The Power of Respect
  5. The Need for Speed
  6. Unite to Win & Divide to Conquer
  7. Leaders Are Teachers
  8. Leadership Is One Big Sales Job

Anyone reading this post, and familiar with this blog, will understand where these lessons incorporate a viable Business Operating System, and or Strategic Execution Framework.

SEF Model

But it’s the context behind these lessons, and what’s unique to a military training environment, that accelerates & further guarantees a successful / scalable entrepreneurial venture.

In a recent interview with Melinda Emerson, Robert states that he wrote his book to remind everyone that the great leadership skills taught in the military are transferable to entrepreneurship. The training, discipline, and leadership skills taught in the military can be leveraged for huge success in the world of business.

In his book, Robert Kiyosaki walks readers through these practical lessons.

The art of “Always Be Caring”

Robert’s most profound revelation comes in his statement, I think this is one that non-military entrepreneurs may find surprising. In the world of business, especially sales, you always hear about the “ABCs”, or “Always Be Closing.” In the military, it’s “Always Be Caring.”

The order of caring is defined as

  1. Mission
  2. Team
  3. Self

This will be the DNA you stamp on your enterprise, and a non-negotiable cornerstone required for success.

Call to Action

What leadership & entrepreneurial lessons could you immediately apply to your journey from Robert Kiyosaki‘s book 8 Lessons in Military Leadership for Entrepreneurs? The great take-away from this book is that even if you’ve never been in the military, you can still apply these valuable lessons. And if you have been in the military, then here you’ll find great reminders of what can take you from good to greatness.

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Can Entrepreneurship be Taught?

Hand pointing at a Entrepreneur word illustration on blue background.

This post is inspired by its namesake, posted by Eleanor Carman on FounderDating. Eleanor asks “Many universities across the U.S. have started offering an entrepreneurship major/minor. The theme I hear from most entrepreneurs is that you really learn as you go. And if these skills can’t be learned, then what is the value of these programs?”

Shades of Gray

There is no black & white answer to this question. Like the world we live in, only shades of gray. For context, let me preface my sharing via Gary Vaynerchuk’s observation that “for every Instagram there’s 5 million Instashits”. That said, my experience is that it’s more of a nature / nurture vantagepoint:


1) Entrepreneurship, of the instagram type, requires attributes like resilience, courage, curiosity and others that you don’t learn in an MBA program. I also don’t believe it’s a DNA thing, but rather about being raised in an environment that fosters entrepreneurial attributes required to succeed as an entrepreneur. To varying degrees, we can all be entrepreneurial (i.e. think outside the box & take initiative), but that doesn’t mean you’re an entrepreneur.

This includes “collision theory”, as expressed by Steven Johnson in WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM.

Entrepreneurial (Business) Operating System

2) The right MBA, or any other entrepreneurial education framework, can provide you with the tools, insights & operating system required to increase your probability at succeeding as an entrepreneur. It gives you the Business Operating System, which otherwise you would have to learn on your own, but they are indeed out there. i.e. The Founder’s Dilemmas, The Business Model Canvas, Lean Start-up, Strategic Execution Framework, Sales Operations (including a 4 funnel system), Agile Manifesto Principles, Cascade Planning, etc. are all features & functionality of an Entrepreneurial (actually any Business) Operating System. The key being knowing when, where & how it’s appropriate to install a relevant component.

I’ve worked with enough serial entrepreneurs worldwide to confidently state that when they learned about some of these “transferable practices”, they immediately realized how they could have suffered less, scaled faster, and often did so in their next venture. The majority of which, by the way, didn’t have an MBA to begin with.

What the right MBA program will definately fast-track is the network you’ll need to succeed faster / easier as an entrepreneur. Surround yourself with smarter people than yourself, and the collective intelligence will elevate your own if you’re purposeful in how you go about it.

Like any other valuable contribution from an educational framework, you will have an opportunity to learn about market dynamics, channels, etc. And all of that you can also learn on-the-job.

In Short

In summary, a formal education and or entrepreneurial education system will increase your probability of success, but it won’t make you something you already aren’t.

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How to get more engagement from your team

knowledgeworker2While reading HBR’s article entitled “What Peter Drucker Knew About 2020”, I found a very good & simple descriptive of knowledge workers, including why we can seem to break the barrier to greater engagement of today’s workforce.

It’s not an old problem, it’s just one that many people don’t seem to know how to properly address because they use gimmicks & so called best practices, instead of calling upon a professional that experienced in more than just creating a powerful mission statement.

The secret is in converting the attributes of that mission statement into catalysts for decision making in everyday business. Identify the attributes of your Mission Statement, categorize them into long term (brand building) or short / medium term (results building), and them keep them at the top of every decision matrix you employ. Don’t know how to easily do that? Ping me & I’ll show you how.

Start out by providing a much stronger sense of purpose

Survey after survey reveals that the vast majority of employees are not engaged in what they do. One big reason is the failure to connect people’s jobs with a larger sense of purpose. Too often, the organization seems to be an end in itself; no meaningful link has been forged between the daily tasks of the enterprise and how they serve the customer and better society. “What motivates – and especially what motivates knowledge workers – is what motivates volunteers,” Drucker wrote. Among other things, “they need to know the organization’s mission and to believe in it.” A paycheck, even a fat one, is not enough. No longer can organizations expect to inspire “by satisfying knowledge workers’ greed,” Drucker counseled. “It will have to be done by satisfying their values.” (excerpt from “What Peter Drucker Knew About 2020”)

What’s simple isn’t always easy

It’s not a layup that employees can identify with a corporate purpose. Consider the following, also found in the Deloitte study:

  • 47 percent of executives strongly agree that they can identify with their company’s purpose, compared to just 30 percent of employees.
  • 44 percent of executives say leaders set an example of living that company’s purpose. Only 25 percent of employees agree.
  • 41 percent of executives say the company’s purpose plays a role in major business decisions, compared to 28 percent of employees.
  • 38 percent of leaders say their organization’s purpose is clearly communicated, compared to 31 percent of employees.

In other words, even if you think you do a good job of bringing your company’s purpose to the forefront, you might very well be wrong. Gallup has also created a seven-step plan for developing your company’s mission statement, specifically for the purpose of leveraging employee engagement. (excerpt from “How a Sense of Purpose Boosts Engagement”)

Gallup’s Employee Engagement Hierarchy

Employee Engagement Hiearchy

How does your company stack up when asking these 12 questions? What can you do about it within the next 90 days? need help with that? Ping me & I’ll show you how.

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How you’re losing at least $2.5m per year

Prioritization-Matrix-e1361917461533Red Flag: Only 12.5% of organizations look at their projects to see if they align with corporate goals.

Consequence: 86% of organizations under-deliver on their project portfolio’s value by at least 25%. If you’re spending $10M a year on your project portfolio, this means that a typical organization is losing at least $2.5m per year, and poor prioritization is a key contributor.

Do these numbers shock you? They shouldn’t, it’s happening all around you! Question is, are you part of the 12.5% good news or the 87.5% bad news?

Project Prioritization FAQ5 Signs That You Need Project Prioritization are two MUST READS regardless of your answer. I’ve seen too many organizations that fall into the bad news category, and ironically the solution is simple.

Let’s start with some solutions for the 5 Signs That You Need Project Prioritization.

Number 5: Your Departments Set Their Own Priorities

Cascade Planning based on a One Page Plan (OPP) is guaranteed to fix this problem because everyone has to fall in line & contribute to the top 3-5 priorities of the organization north of you.

Number 4: You Cannot Write Down a List of Prioritization Criteria

Hold yourself to no more than 3-5 priorities for any given period. More than 5 isn’t a priority, it’s “busy work”. Less than 3 and you’re putting too many things into the same bucket! You’re not differentiating the 20% (80/20 rule) that’s really going to move the needle.

Number 3: Project Prioritization is Highly Political

An OPP is your solution because it’s based on delivering your organization’s topline Mission (WHY you exist), Vision (WHAT you want to achieve WHEN) & Core Values. When you start with core ideology as your catalyst for decision making, it’s always an objective & simple conversation. I said “simple”, not “easy”. Politics is subjective. A good preamble I always like to lead any discussion off with is “alignment is key, and it doesn’t require agreement”. I can disagree, from a personal perspective, on what should be declared a priority. But if I have an open mind, a tool like an OPP, and I believe in my organizations core ideology, then I can align with what the rest of the team identifies as a priority.

Number 2: Your Projects Are Obsolete Before They Are Finished

For more than 20 years I’ve followed an Agile Manifesto approach to project management, and or any execution initiative. The world & markets move way too fast these days, what’s true today is not as true tomorrow. The 12,5% that succeed are running on an agile vs. waterfall project mindset. From the very beginning they’re setting an ROI threshold that will determine an early release and or pivot when forecasted ROI drops below a predetermined percentage.

Number 1: 75% of Your Projects Are Priority 1

If you can’t get down to 3-5 priorities, and or have everyone around the table align on those 3-5 priorities, then you’re either asking the wrong questions, and or you need an outside / neutral facilitator. Not just because I am one, and have done this in hundreds of companies across 5 continents for over 20 years, but because I use neutral facilitators myself to give me nonemotional 20-20 vision when I need to make important decisions.

Call to action

How many of the above 5 reasons resonate with you? What are you going to do about it?

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Do your training efforts drive performance?

Training Success PicDo your training efforts drive performance” by Mckinsey & Company’s Insights & Publications newsletter caught my eye because at it’s core there are 3 fundamental problems that company’s aren’t addressing.

Quite simply, too often training is taking place as an activity without a true north or quantifiable end in mind.

1) ROI: What’s going to be different about the current state vs a future state? When you’re making an investment in training, and or development, you should have a solid objective & key result(s) that you want to see at some point in time after the event has concluded. I prefer to talk about objectives & key results (OKR’s) because by being more story-telling based, they become more significant for employees to understand the right context. That context being that your employer is making an investment in you as a professional, so that in turn you can deliver a higher degree of performance (ROI).

An OKR for training should have both a timeline & a measurable deliverable, both of which can be incremental in order to make it more inspiring & effective. i.e. 10% increase in sales within 60 days, 20% increase within 120 days & 30% within 6 months. Question: do you have both internal & external ROI objectives as a consequence of your training investment?

2) Cascade Planning: Assuming that you have clearly defined & measurable priorities for the year, and most importantly for the quarter, what’s my contribution toward that success? Too often the aspirational part of the business plan, the one that’s most engaging, isn’t quantified and or effectively communicated. I use a one page plan to cascade meaning & inspiration throughout the organization.

As a side note, this also becomes an effective exercise to identify the detractors in your organization that for one reason or another have fallen out of love with your company, and aren’t willing to make peace with whatever cause the rip in the first place. Detractors in an organization are the meaning of “if you’re not with me, you’re against me”, and they will typically take a lot of casualties with them.

Detractors aside, when your OKR’s align with & contribute toward your aspirations, when your measurable priorities align with & contribute toward your OKR’s, and when the activities your teams are executing in any 90 day period align with & contribute toward nailing your measurable priorities through a subset of OKR’s, then you have achieved cascade planning. Question: how is your training activity aligned with your cascade planning?

3) Practical Application: Whether in an automated platform or a live human being, stay away from any solution that doesn’t directly understand how their activity will drive your success. Customer Success has become a popular concept since the birth of SaaS companies like Salesforce.com, but it has been at the epicenter of every role I’ve executed long before Salesforce.com ever existed. When I first took over the education division of Fortune 500’s from 2003 through 2006, one of the first things I did was to remove all “professional” trainers.

From our strategic partner pool I “borrowed” real world people doing real world work in the very clients my company was selling to. Instead of reading from a script, these new breed instructors were delivering content based on practical & immediate applicability, providing workarounds to custom situations, and thus improving our own success metrics as a consequence of improving our customers health first. We bundled a consultative approach to cohorting & identifying OKR’s for our customers, becoming a strategic partner like no other before.

From 1991 to 2000 the same approach was taken at another Fortune 500 company I worked for, there, in addition to our customers success, our own gross margins topped 40%. This approach also had us develop new products based on predictive needs. Question: how is your education platform in-sync with your business priorities & OKR’s?


Too often metrics / KPI’s are being established without the proper context in mind, in your own company and or departmental silo. i.e. how many of your metrics are linked to your customers success (they overachieving their own metrics, KPI’s & or OKR’s)? Better yet, how is your training (first & foremost) focused on driving your customers success as a consequence? Second, how is your training having a cascade effect within your organization so that everyone is on the same page? And third, how are you measuring ROI both internally & externally?

Whether you’re a Fortune 500 or a 10 person start-up, the fundamentals are the same, the main difference being that in a larger organization there’s an HR team aligned (hopefully) with each business units OKR’s, whereas in a smaller organization each business unit / functional lead is also an acting HR consultant.

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Top 5 Tweets from Week 10 & 11 @ 2015

Here are what I consider to be my most relevant Top 5 Tweets of the past week.

#1: Why the Most Important Success Metric in SaaS is Misleading (@OpenviewPartners) It’s unfortunately too common for most organizations to investigate no further than face value of the metrics they’re tracking. Every metric tells a story, and so I always encourage you to turn several pages & look deeper into the story that’s behind the first set of numbers.

#2: Questions of Priority (@Zenhabits) I often say that “if you don’t have your own plan, then you’ll be the servant to someone else’s plan”. In addition to making sure you know what your priority is for the day, take a quick break (at least by noon) to check-in with yourself on how you’re progressing on that priority. Don’t be surprised, especially at first, if you find you’ve got to make a change in your activity in order to nail that priority you had established.

#3: 7 Traits of Companies on the Fast Track to International Growth (@HBR) Very simple attributes that help you grow internationally & scale. How many of these are on your radar?

#4: The Power of Silence for Effective Communication (@CloudMcBride) 5 very effective behaviors that you can adopt to become a better communicator. Don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t succeed at all of them. Try practicing one at a time until it becomes an ingrained new habit. And remember that it’s practice that makes perfect.

#5: LinkedIn’s Culture of Transformation (@wadors) Very powerful & simple example of establishing the cornerstone behind any success story. Culture always starts with a WHY & is followed by a WHAT (“who we aspire to be” in this case). In todays workforce, if you’re not starting with WHY, than you’re already fighting an uphill battle in trying to get your team consistently engaged & hold themselves accountable. Values (HOW) are what help people ensure they’re executing with right behavior.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve added the source of each article included in the tweet as depending on the status of your subscription to these online publications, you may have difficulty in following some or all of these links.

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Top 5 Tweets from Week 8 & 9 @ 2015

Here are what I consider to be my most relevant Top 5 Tweets of the past week. Followme Twitter

#1: When and Why to Part Ways with a Customer (@HBR); because sometimes we forget how beneficial it can be to simply fire a customer that’s not delivering value.

#2: How to energize and engage your team at work (@Resultsdotcom); There are 2 forces at work in this post, physical & emotional energy. Time Out For Renewal & Ability to Focus are physical and simple to resolve, whereas Feeling Valued & Having a Core Purpose are emotional a more complex to resolve. These emotional anchors that drive our energy & engagement, are what Christine Comaford calls mattering issues in her book Smart Tribes.

#3: 5 Common Misconceptions That Make You Bad At Networking (@FastCompany); great outline, and in summary, it’s all about the value you bring to each new relationship.

#4: The power of “small wins” (@Resultsdotcom); because making progress is the next best thing to achieving your goal. And it’s the only way to achieve your potential, one small step at a time.

#5: Use Behavioral Economics to Achieve Wellness Goals (@HBR); there’s great wisdom in appealing to our intrinsic motivators, such as these below. Forget for a moment that the originating article is about wellness, and how could these core behavioral science principles move your employees to action toward higher productivity & over achieving your goals?

  • Instead of giving a reward only to people after they meet a goal, give it to everyone in an account that they can see (like an online bank statement or even a physical gift card that isn’t yet activated). And take it away only if success is not achieved. This approach makes the reward tangible and within reach today, when the action needs to happen. It also takes advantage of our natural aversion to loss (people work harder to retain something than to earn it).
  • Use separate checks or gift cards to deliver benefits that would normally be buried in a pay stub. In short, make the smaller incentives easier to see and, therefore, more influential.
  • Construct teams so that individual efforts become group achievements. For example, rather than merely encouraging individuals to walk more, create teams whose success depends on each member walking a minimum amount (say, 7,000 steps a day). Teams would also compete against each other for prizes or bragging rights. By enlisting social norms, you capitalize on the most powerful of human motivators.
  • Turn repetitive activities, like taking medication, into a daily game in which people are eligible to participate only if they took their medication the previous day. Such an approach effectively pairs the routine with engaging and emotionally positive experience.


DISCLAIMER: I’ve added the source of each article included in the tweet as depending on the status of your subscription to these online publications, you may have difficulty in following some or all of these links.

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Leadership is an everyday activity

154890642In reading the leadership post “6 Ways Leaders Step Back But Don’t Step Away“, I was left to reflect once again on how a One Page Execution Plan (OPP) can be vital for you to effectively lead across an entire enterprise on an ongoing basis.

To borrow on the words of my colleagues at ThoughtLeaders, the objective is to “step back” but not “step away.” This is called working ON-your-business vs. working IN-your-business. It’s the balcony view of the dance floor, required for one to understand what’s really going on & how to best keep it growing in harmony. Once this “space” is created, a great leader supports the organization through the following actions:

– Future Domain: Sustain ongoing conversations with employees and others in the organization about the future. Don’t get stuck in the past or present. The rhythmic retrospect & forward planning cycle facilitates you to constantly launch conversations into possibilities, and see them as living entities that create the future for the organization.

– Interrogate Reality: Do not fall prey to existing mental models. The Agile Workforce & Lean Start-up practices of the OPP encourage the views of others in order to challenge mental models and paradigms. It helps you naturally interact with employees by making proposals, checking for understanding, and checking for agreement. Avoid directing; that is not the leader’s job—managers do that. The cascade planning methodology of the OPP leaves the invitation open for people to speak about the ever-changing environments in which they operate. That’s why it’s effective, and that why it’s the engaging predecessor to accountability.

– Behavior: The OPP is read left to right, values being purposefully positioned to filter activities, so that you model the behaviors that others will adopt. A leader’s behavior is contagious in the organization. It is either a turbo charger or a short circuit. It can ignite passion, evoke trust, and inspire success. But, it can also be like a rock followers cannot get out of their shoe if the right behaviors are not adopted. Actively manage behavior throughout each day. Courage, integrity, and tolerance are paramount. Be seen as self-aware, calm, in control of emotions, passionate about the organization, and one who treats people with special care relative to their needs. Look for common ground.

– Messaging: Never lose sight that the leader’s relationship with the organization is driven by the messages inferred from what they say and do. Congruent messages about direction, performance, and boundaries must exist from the top to the bottom of the organization. Your messages will not be believed if your credibility is impaired. You must always be diligent about managing integrity, with no gaps between where you stand and where you aspire to be. Leaders do not have all of the information for all situations, but they generously share content and context to help employees deal with the situations they encounter. Through the reverse hierarchy practices of the OPP, you will be open, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and establish the trust through which success is created.

– Monitor Performance: Maintain a system of regular performance conversations with key delivery managers. This is the opportunity to test for emerging interferences and help people with interventions. Course corrections are often required due to changes in the environment, complexities, and new uncertainties. Conversations are key to unlocking new potential and protecting what exists. OPP’s Agile practices require varying degrees of tactical & strategic conversations on a daily, weekly, monthly & quarterly basis throughout the entire organization. It’s how everyone stays on the same page, and does away with the outdated, ineffective & antiquated system of formal (as we currently know them) performance reviews.

– Support: 99% of the leader’s conversations involve an opportunity for coaching. Through these conversations support is created and emulated throughout the organization. Always meet people where they are emotionally, with attentive eyes, giving freedom, engaging through questions, co-creating development possibilities, and acknowledging an employee’s effort and inner character. View everyone as a “high-potential.”

Disclaimer: The original text / post is re-represented above almost within it’s entirety. I have simply interjected references to the OPP & it’s methodology / practices for clarity & context.

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Top 5 Tweets from Week #7 @ 2015

Followme TwitterHere are what I consider to be my most relevant Top 5 Tweets of the past week.

#1: How to Manage Remote Direct Reports (@HBR), and these simple rules are actually universal, which means they’re just as relevant with your local teams. What the Experts Say that one of the biggest misconceptions about managing remote workers is that it requires an entirely different skillset. “We have a tendency to overcompensate and approach remote workers and virtual teams as these mythical beasts. “But you shouldn’t think about them in a fundamentally different way. They are still people working in an organization to get stuff done. Treat them as such.” That said, managers must put in extra effort to cultivate a positive team dynamic and ensure remote workers feel connected to other colleagues.

It requires a proactive & purposeful approach, comprised of basic principles like effectively setting expectations, communication & team (mattering) environment.

#2: When You Give Your Team a Goal, Make It a Range (@HBR) because it creates an effective & powerful communication / expectation as it gives both a minimal expected achievement & a stretch goal that inspires.

#3: How Do You End a Meeting? Asks Two Simple Questions (@LinkedIn & @work_matters)

  1. Have we made any decisions in the room today?
  2. And (if we have) how are we going to communicate them?

The first lesson is that, even though everyone may be at the same meeting, they often have clashing perceptions and opinions about which decisions were made (or not made) during the gathering. If you lead a meeting, your job is to make sure that every decision made is crystal clear to everyone present before the meeting ends. The second lesson is that leaders must make sure that decisions made in meetings are communicated to, and ultimately implemented by, their organizations.

#4: 8 Characteristics of Successful People (@LinkedIn)

  1. When challenges occur they do not panic
  2. They look on a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow
  3. They never give up when faced with a challenge
  4. They do things they are afraid to do by stepping out of their comfort zone
  5. Focus on the future rather than on the past
  6. Spend time visualising what they want and actually having what they want
  7. Do not attempt to take shortcuts to success
  8. Continually work on improving themselves

#5: HOW ONE SIMPLE CHANGE CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER LISTENER (@FastCompany), because this is the ONE trick that will immediately make you a better listener, and therefore bring more value to the next conversation you have. I’ve learned & applied this practice myself, and have taught it for many years, originally inspired by the book The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols. The trick is to resist our natural instinct to think about your reaction to what has been said so far, and plan what you are going to say next, because there are several problems with this habit.

First, you haven’t given the other person a chance to fully say what they wanted to say completely. It’s possible that the last thing they say will change the tenor of their earlier remarks, and you’ll miss that if you are focused on your next turn. Second, and to me most important, by focusing on what you are going to say, you are paying the most attention to your own perspective on the conversation and disengaging from an effective listening / understanding mode. That can make it difficult to see things from another person’s point of view. By trying to understand the context in which someone else makes a remark, you can often get a deeper understanding of the issues they are facing.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve added the source of each article included in the tweet as depending on the status of your subscription to these online publications, you may have difficulty in following some or all of these links.

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Hierarchy & Scale

After reading a post from my good friend Stephen Lynch from Results, I wanted to add value by complementing his most recent post with my own 2 cents.

Effective hierarchy is about engagement & not about control

We’ve heard the stories about Google & Zappos leaderless initiatives, but if you’re to analyze that further, you’d realize that one didn’t get rid of hierarchy. They simply found an effective way for hierarchy to work. Not to complicate things, but I’d like to throw in a word called convergence (i.e. Convergence Theory). More specifically, when the outcome is to gradually diminish intrinsic barriers &  ideological differences, leading ultimately to a consensus of the right thing to do. This is also a variation of agreement vs alignment, when the greater good of the whole supersedes an individual need to be right.

In order for “a crowd” to execute flawlessly they need a vision to follow. In the absence of a hierarchy to set & communicate an inspiring vision, only chaos & inefficiencies can result.

The purpose of hierarchy

I like the statement “a well-managed hierarchy is among the most effective weapons for getting rid of the friction”. This is what the number 1 job of any supervisory role (regardless of its place in hierarchy), to remove any friction that impacts progress toward success.


The role of an effective hierarchy in growth & scale, which is needed in every fabric of our society, is to..

  • Create & communicate a compelling & inspiring Vision
  • Cascade effective communication engaging focus on the right set of priorities to achieve Vision
  • Facilitate an ecosystem that is focused on the removal any friction that impedes progress toward Vision
  • Recognize & celebrate every success along the road to, and when Vision is achieved
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Top 5 Tweets from Week #4 @ 2015

Followme TwitterThis week I wanted to start a new practice, which is to summarize what I consider to be my most relevant Top 5 Tweets of the past week.

#1: “The Founder’s Dilemmas” in 5 Minutes (@Tech Cocktail) because every Entrepreneur needs to go into their next venture with their eyes fully wide open. I will even go as far to say that the underlying logic of this 5 minute summary is a great exercise for any leader in any industry at any stage company!

#2: Evaluate Your Leadership Development Program (@HBR) because I keep hearing too many executives tell me they don’t have solid measurables around how they evaluate the success of the different leadership initiatives they have going on in their businesses. At the end of the day, how is the money, energy & focus you’re investing deliver quantifiable business benefit for your company AND the individual?

#3: Communication Tips for Global Virtual Teams (@HBR) because without effective communication you go nowhere fast! Starting with EFFECTIVE email, keeping people informed within the context & relevance to your top priorities & results is key to keeping everyone (regardless of physical borders) engaged & on the same page.

#4: Corporate culture drives financial performance (@Forbes) because strong corporate cultures that facilitate adaptation to a changing world are associated with strong financial results. Those cultures that encourage leadership from everyone in the firm, find that when a customer needs change, a firm’s culture almost forces people to change their practices to meet the new needs. And anyone, not just a few people, is empowered to do just that.

#5: What Makes Someone an Engaging Leader (@HBR) because firms that achieve both top quartile engagement levels and better business results than their peers, find that they do have something in common. It’s the prevalence of a certain kind of leader, not just at the top, but throughout the ranks of the organization. These individuals – we call them engaging leaders – are distinguished by a certain set of characteristics.

If you like what what you’ve read and you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to follow-me on Twitter.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve added the source of each article included in the tweet as depending on the status of your subscription to these online publications, you may have difficulty in following some or all of these links.

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What It Takes To Be A Successful Start-up & Entrepreneur

key_to_successDoing my research before another trip to Sydney Australia over the Christmas break, I came across some information which I’d like to recap as a good summary of the attributes you’ll want to nail for a successful 2015 campaign.

You could say that these talents are necessary for anyone that wants to achieve great success and or wants to be a great leader, but they are especially true for successful entrepreneurs.

Attributes for a HOT Startup

In the article 19 Hot Australian Startups to Watch in 2015, the author highlights what can help predict a successful start-up.

1. Solving a Real Problem: We really need to believe it’s real and significant pain to someone.

2. Team and Execution: We look for teams that are strong both technically and commercially with evidence they can execute.

3. Scalable Customer Acquisition & Service Delivery: Have they worked out how to cost effectively acquire new customers. Can they scale service delivery with minimal effort, if they are doubling users every month, do they have to recruit 100 new staff each month or press a button and launch 30 virtual cloud servers? Most businesses are not built to scale, either the product, people or the process will break.

Nail these 3 attributes & you’ll achieve High Growth.

10 talents of successful entrepreneurs

From the Gallup article on the 10 Talents That Drive Entrepreneurial Success, Gallup has identified the behaviors observed in highly successful entrepreneurs.

  • Business Focus: You make decisions based on observed or anticipated effect on profit.
  • Confidence: You accurately know yourself and understand others.
  • Creative Thinker: You exhibit creativity in taking an existing idea or product and turning it into something better.
  • Delegator: You recognize that you cannot do everything and are willing to contemplate a shift in style and control.
  • Determination: You persevere through difficult, even seemingly insurmountable, obstacles.
  • Independent: You are prepared to do whatever needs to be done to build a successful venture.
  • Knowledge-Seeker: You constantly search for information that is relevant to growing your business.
  • Promoter: You are the best spokesperson for the business.
  • Relationship-Builder: You have high social awareness and an ability to build relationships that are beneficial for the firm’s survival and growth.
  • Risk-Taker: You instinctively know how to manage high-risk situations.

Call to Action

How many can you claim to check-off as having onboard? How are you going to surround yourself with complementary resources to cover areas where you fall short?

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Effective Meeting Content, Cadence & Rhythm for Scale

Businesspeople working on laptop in an office.A highly successful fast growth company recently asked me for a more effective process to deal with his team meetings. Now that the company has grown 10x, meeting effectiveness was rapidly starting to breakdown.

Here’s an extract of my emailed response to them.


Here’s my prefered cadence, subject to a better understanding of which (& quantity of) KPI’s you’re sharing, including a more detailed understanding of what’s going on in your business (looking under the hood) at this current stage.

  • Weekly @ 45m-90m
    • Wins @ 10-15m: One most significant progress made on one OKR. Going around the room, you should get 1 significant update on at least 6-8 OKRs (depending on allocation & quantity)
    • Rocks @ 10-15m: Roadblocks / impediments (current / on the horizon) to making progress on OKRs
    • KPI’s @ 10-15m
    • A/B Testing conversation (if relevant) @ 10-20m

  • Monthly @ 2-3h (expanded upon below)
    • OKR’s
    • Capacity Planning
    • Organizational Dynamics
    • New Business & Strategic Updates

  • Quarterly @ 1/2 day (90m work sprints & 15m breaks)
    • OKRs (retrospect)
    • Top 3-5 Priorities (retrospect)
    • DOS Conversation
    • Top 3-5 Priorities (planning)
    • Cascade Planning: done by the expanded Coordination Team

Still on What is discussed, since you should be looking at KPI’s (tactical) on a weekly basis, your monthly should be split into 2 parts. Part 1 is the tactical weekly segment & part 2 is the strategic monthly segment. @ Part 2 I would suggest the following order / sequence.


In your retrospect process, make sure you’re looking at the activities that drive (lead to) successful KPI’s instead of focusing on the KPI itself. If not all, some of your KPI’s should be driving / contributing toward the successful achievement of your OKR’s.

Sizing of participation

6-8 is the ideal number of participants for an effective meeting, so consider (for future consideration) that at 10 currently, you’re close the max “productive scope” of 12 participants. At 12 & beyond your meetings will deteriorate significantly. You should be following a cascading planning process (top-bottom) & an agile scrum (bottom-up) in order to maintain the “executive team” at it’s optimal number of 6-8.

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How To Get More Relevant Work Done

relevance-300x259This thoughtLEADERS post couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. If there’s one common thread that most companies suffer from, it’s lack of agility to do the right things.

How much of your team’s work is irrelevant or a waste of time/efficiency?

And the survey says:

– Less than 5%: 15.5%
– 6% to 15%: 33.04%
– 16% to 25%: 31.14%
– 26% or more: 20.32%

More than 50% of those polled believe they’re wasting more than 15% of their team’s time on irrelevant work. More than 20% said it’s 25% or more of their time. Imagine how much more of the right work could get done if that irrelevant stuff went away.

Don’t call it stupid stuff

That’s just wrong! It’s easy to say in hindsight, but it’s not motivating for your team, and it definitely doesn’t help them engage any better when it’s leadership has failed to implement the right rhythm into their process planning & execution.

Most often, the reason irrelevant work is getting done can be attributed to:

– No focus / wrong focus in the organization
– Ineffective cascade planning and or capacity planning
– Lacking agile business planning and or practices

The solution is NOT always doing less stuff, but doing more of the right & relevant stuff.

Doing the Right Stuff

Too many organizations still embark on projects that are highly relevant during the planning stages, but less than 50% relevant by the time the project is launched. Our markets change too fast today! In order to stay relevant we have to borrow from Agile Software Development & be more iterative in our planning AND execution, not just software development.

When was the last time you paused during your execution process to quickly pulsecheck the relevance of what you’re working on. Great companies set a relevance score for any initiative under consideration. Whether it’s revenue impact, market share or any other key result you expect from your project or initiative, it’s a best practice to reflect (at least) on a monthly basis & review / adjust the expected (quantifiable) deliverable. Often the environment around you has changed enough during the build or execution lifetime of a project, that you’d be better served to complete it and or release it at +75% relevance before it gets any worse. Don’t stick with things just for the sake of completion, but rather for the sake of relevance.

Stay Relevant / Be Agile

Set a relevance score for everything you’re about to embark on, establish rhythmic reviews of that relevance and execute in an iterative manner so as to trigger a release or stop action on anything that goes below your minimum relevance tolerance. You’re better served getting what you can from an initiative while it’s still relevant, or moving onto something that is more relevant, than wasting valuable resources working on things that have become irrelevant or underperform in comparison to the investment made.


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Why Start-ups Fail @ Architecture

103288606_blog_main_horizontalWinning is simple but it isn’t easy, and hindsight is 20/20. As promised last week, this post is a follow-on to my earlier article Why Startups Fail & what you can do to prevent it. More specifically, the tradeoff when Building vs Architecting your Business Model.

Unless you architect before you build, eventually your enterprise will collapse. It’s not rocket science, yet in the rush to get traction & in the name of time-to-market, not enough entrepreneurs and or businessman do enough of the minimal foundation work required to support their budding enterprise. When looking for resources to help you navigate this start-up challenge, make sure you get someone on-board, or decide on an option that is both agile & experience based. Too much architecture stagnates & kills (missed opportunities), so don’t unnecessarily over complicate your situation.

Sales Operations

Where I most see the rush to build vs. architect have long-term impact on scale is in sales operations, yet the fix is simple & relatively inexpensive. Hire a company like Upshift Partners or a professional like Alicia Assefa. I can personally vouch for these two resources, but at the end of the day they create success because their methodologies & approach is based on practical experience (been there done that) & knowledge transfer. You want to make sure you bring in a resource that quickly understands your unique stage, needs & can roll up their sleeves at any juncture to quickly get you over the hump because they’ve been in your shoes. Not architecting your sales operations from the outset will guarantee heavy lifting, significant change management, customer & revenue churn, not to mention staff turnover & lower valuations in the future.

In an extreme case, it will represent your collapse & ultimate demise.

INVEST early in your Ops Ideology

It’s never too early to INVEST, in itself a process that’s best suited to accompany the scale of any organization. This Executive Summary will give you the 10,000 foot perspective of INVEST, and this more graphical representation will show you all of the moving parts, including what order to execute them. Practical experience, backed by data from Executing Your Strategy, will confirm that 90% of effective strategies on paper fail to poor execution. Pay attention to your Engagement practice, because this is the critical path that only 10% of the population seems to get right on a consistent basis. The model itself is pretty simple to implement, but make sure you get an experienced resource that has both lived it and implemented in a professional environment. Beware of Management Theorists, because effective knowledge transfer & leadership development is key for future success.

Process Centricity

From the Mckinsey article The Past and Future of Global Organizations, note the following extract & make sure that you architect in a process thinking mode. “It’s still too early to paint a definitive picture of what the global organization of the future will look like as efforts like these become more commonplace. What we’re confident about is that “process-centric” thinking will be a more prominent feature of organization design than it has been in the past, even if the peculiarities of culture suggest that each process-based structure is likely to be a custom fit. Leaders should bear in mind these principles as they pursue their own solutions:

– Tomorrow’s answer will be different from today’s. As markets, competitors, and strategies evolve, so will the structural, people, and process elements of a coherent design system.

– The specification of globally consistent roles and processes should be kept to a minimum. The most effective companies allow business units to tailor their organizations to local conditions so as to better achieve their wider commercial goals.

– Technology has made location less important than it used to be—but it still matters. While videoconferencing and social media keep far-flung executives connected, co-location brings additional benefits. Companies should always seek ways to bring people physically together.

If the last 50 years are any guide, the most important organizational structure, process, and people issues will continue to ebb and flow as the environment evolves and organizations respond. But new opportunities for organizational innovation will present themselves, and those companies able to recognize and willing to embrace them will gain huge competitive advantage by doing so.”

Cadence & Agile Workforce to maintain your rapid growth

As promised in my first post, reflection & rhythm and or cadence will also be expanded upon in an upcoming post. That said, you can get a sneak preview in Exhibit 2: (There’s no substitute for regularly revisiting how to adapt structures, people, and processes to create the most effective organizational design) in the same Mckinsey article mentioned above.

 Added Value Freebee

To help architect the best business model for you, including using it as a regular revisit exercise, I highly encourage you to check out The Business Model Canvas.

Winning is simple but it isn’t easy, and hindsight is 20/20.

The road to success is easier than you think, but it’s not simple because every situation is comprised of it’s own unique complexity. Save yourself, time, money, pain and or significant effort by hiring resources that have been there, done that & can provide you their 20/20 practical hindsight.

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Why Startups Fail & what you can do to prevent it

ihindeu001p1Winning is simple, but it isn’t easy! Disclaimer: while focused on Startups, the content of this post is relevant to most (if not all) organizations.

Startup company (Wikipedia): A startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

I’ve highlighted the terms repeatable & scalable, because of the millions of startups worldwide every year, unfortunately too few can claim repeatable and scalable business models.

Some estimates put the failure rate at 90%, with companies typically dying around 20 months after their last financing round and after having raised $1.3m (source). Under the heading of “failure”, I’m also including the walking dead. Failure is difficult to quantify because it does not necessarily mean liquidation. Many startups limp on for years, ignored by the market but sustained by founders’ savings or investors. “We call them the walking dead” (source).

How NOT to die

In general terms, companies fail because they don’t succeed at one of the following:

  • Cash
  • MVP (minimal viable product)
  • Building vs Architecting their Business Model
  • Company Culture
  • Customer Success focused Organizational Dynamics
  • Reflection & rhythm and or cadence


Cash is king, without it you can’t survive. Call it bootstrapping or any other form of funding, without cash you won’t be able to pay the bills, employees or for any other resources required for repeatability & scale. Cash, other than budget efficiency, is outside of my realm of expertise and there’s enough information already circulating on this topic, so I’ll leave it at that.


Lean Startup is the best methodology to nail MVP.

Business Model

The Business Model Canvas is the best tool to not only nail your business model, but to keep it fresh & relevant through frequently revisiting it (at least once per year). You will be surprised how many key learnings you’ll take-away if you involve the right people / layer or organizational structure in revisiting your business model time-to-time with the Business Model Canvas exercise. Every time I do one of these revisits, I find golden nuggets around providing greater Customer Success & new (including pivoted) product offerings.

With the urgency to get products to market, not enough entrepreneurs architect their business models, including the foundations of their future organizational structures. Like building a house without a proper foundation, the organization first tilts & ultimately crumbles when the architectural design isn’t properly addressed. It the case of too many builders & not enough architects at the early stage of any venture. The secret is to have the right mix & the ability to keep that versatility agile while you grow.

Company Culture

I’m not talking ping pong tables, desk side massages or in house chefs, although I’m also not casting aside the value those things can contribute. I’m talking about the right company culture that’s going to foster the right level of performance your company needs to succeed. Simple, but loaded, that’s a powerful statement that shouldn’t be taken lightly! The right level of performance your company needs to succeed. An effective company culture doesn’t have to look like Zappos, it can look like Apple, where both functional & dysfunctional cohabitate to produce results. The I.N.V.E.S.T. model in Executing Your Strategy is the foundation every company needs to follow if you want repeatability & scale.

Customer Success focused Organizational Dynamics

I’ll elaborate more on this topic in a subsequent post next week, but it basically boils down to applying the Business Model Canvas & Lean Startup, with a critical eye on an agile engagement practice modeled after I.N.V.E.S.T. from Executing Your Strategy. When you think of Customer Success, think of how you internal & external supply chain (resources) serve the core attributes of retention, repeatability (including upsell) & referral (word of mouth). If you can nail those 3, you’ve got an effective & efficient Customer Success strategy / model.

Reflection & rhythm and or cadence

This too will be subsequently expanded upon in an upcoming post, but it fundamentally follows the guidelines of the agile manifesto (and you can replace “software” with whatever term is relevant to your business model) along with the Balanced Scorecard practice of breaking down ambition to executable tasks.



Nail these six practices, and success is guaranteed!

  • Cash
  • MVP (minimal viable product)
  • Building vs Architecting their Business Model
  • Company Culture
  • Customer Success focused Organizational Dynamics
  • Reflection & rhythm and or cadence

Stay tuned, over the course of November I will write three specific & practical posts expanding upon Company Culture, Customer Success focused Organizational Dynamics & Reflection, rhythm and or cadence.

Winning IS simple, but it ISN’T easy!

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How Getting Diversity Wrong Will Kill Your Enterprise

yinyangI’ve been working on a Good to Great parallel case-study, focused on Bay Area modern day companies. Of the many the many lessons to highlight, none of them shockingly new by the way, diversity & the implementation process was a critical one that surfaced often.

This shouldn’t surprise us, we see it in so many aspects of our own day-to-day lives. It’s not only the element of diversity itself that’s important for nurturing boundless growth & opportunity, but rather how it’s implemented that’s going to be the key driver for success.

Simply pushing diversity as a topic of agenda without a well thought through integration process will actually do more harm than good. Companies, just like all societies, in order to be highly productive need the right yin & yang.


The full definition from Merriam Webster states (1) the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : variety; especially : the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization <programs intended to promote diversity in schools> & (2) an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities : an instance of being diverse <a diversity of opinion>

From the HBR article Diversity Is Useless Without Inclusivity, “while many organizations are better about creating diversity, many have not yet figured out how to make the environment inclusive—that is, create an atmosphere in which all people feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities” is the key phrase in regards to integration. While the article addresses diversity in the context of race & sex, I’d like to address it in the context of personalities & skill sets.

People gravitate toward people like them

When you begin a program of expanding diversity, how are you integrating new and or different skill sets & personality types into the existing fabric in your company? If you’re a tech startup you most likely have a high number of introverted (in the traditional sense) personalities as compared to extraverted. The fact that everyone has a similar personality has up until now diminished their natural introverted state when compared to a more diverse group.

Subtle biases persist,  leading to exclusion & employees from the majority group put up resistance

Now your company has grown & you need to bring in more extroverted personalities, such as sales & marketing roles. If not integrated properly, like oil & water, the two will naturally resist each other & become antagonistic (toxic company culture). The practical end result are the company silos we tend to find between engineering, product, marketing, sales, finance and customer success, just to name a few. This is one of the biggest contributors that keeps company from reaching the high level of performance it’s capable of.

Out-group employees sometimes try to conform

As with any change process, early, frequent & transparent communication is critical to success. Start with the end-game in-mind. What does success look like? Why do we need to diverse? Focus as much on the emotional conversation as you do on the logical one. This is going to start breaking down the barriers of resistance, and with this you will identify your champions of change. Those anchors that you can rely on to create a multiplying influencer effect that will accelerate change.

Doers vs Thinkers

As a company grows, the ratio of Doers vs. Thinkers needs to diminish appropriately. While this is a general rule of thumb, the same ratio does not apply across the board. And again, early, frequent & transparent communication will accelerate this integration. Each skillset & personality type will find their own place for contribution, increasing their feeling of self worth and inclusion.

While I’ve laid out some very basic fundamentals in this post, it’s alarming how many organizations don’t put enough thought into this process. It’s always more important to favor on the side of caution than speed when integrating diversity. The line is both fine and huge between creating & integrating diversity in the workforce, as it is in society in general.

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Whose Responsible for Motivating Employees?

We all want more motivated, engaged & productive employees. My friends at BesslingWhite recently published 4 Requirements for Solving the Development Puzzle, and in it they list Motivation as their 4th point. “Motivation; Organizations can provide development resources and managers can coach, but without personal commitment, employees’ development efforts may amount to “going through the motions.” All employees come to work each day with a unique blend of personal values and goals (although they are not always cognizant of these drivers). Employees who are clear on what matters most to them are better able to manage their professional growth and maintain momentum when new skills aren’t easy to apply or obstacles arise. This is often the forgotten ingredient in development initiatives.”


In order to get people to be motivated to do anything, especially employees in a professional context, you’ve got to inspire them to want to achieve something of more significance than their current state. Ideally, to borrow from the phrase above, you’re working with employees who “are clear on what matters most to them”, because only then are they better able to manage their professional growth and maintain momentum when new skills aren’t easy to apply or obstacles arise. Unless someone is clear on what matters most to them, it will be impossible to inspire them to motivate themselves. Yes, you read right, it is NOT an external forces’ responsibility to motivate someone, but rather to inspire someone. Motivation is an internal attribute that is present when someone is inspired, and it’s extremely powerful when that inspiration is relevant to where that person wants to get to, and or is directly linked to what matters most to them.


All 4 requirements listing in the article are indeed important, and in my work I’ve found that the most difficult is always that last one. Training, feedback & coaching are all a process that you (an external resource to the employee) can control. However, while you are a catalyst in an employee’s motivation, you are definitely NOT in control of it. I felt this needed to be highlighted as too often it is overlooked.

The Learning Pyramid

To compliment the 4 requirements of development, and if you want to super accelerate employee development, than once you’ve nailed the 4 basic requirements, instill a practice whereby employees teach others & you will see motivation exponentially increase, as well as development, engagement and commitment across the board.


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35% of Companies are Unnecessarily Blindsided

Thanks to “How quickly does your organization react to challenges?” from thoughtLEADERS, we now know that 35% of companies are blindsided by the challenges that send them into emergency mode.

Poll Results

– We see challenges as they get close, then we act reasonably quickly: 46%

– We don’t see challenges until they become crises, then we react in emergency mode: 27%

– We see challenges coming way in the future and plan for them long in advance: 19%

– We don’t see challenges until it’s too late, then we go into damage control and recovery mode: 8%

That’s an incredible number! More than 1/3 of companies are expending costly resources to deal with challenges they could have addressed, had they implemented a rhythmic process of retrospect & planning. While I trust the source of the poll, practical experience tells me that number is actually underestimating the real story.

Practical Planning

What kind of strategic thinking & execution planning are you doing in your business? If you’re doing it less than quarterly, I’ll bet you’re one of the 35%’ers! Ideally, you should be doing some form of retrospect on your execution performance weekly. A simple 15-30 minute team reflection of the following 3 questions will give you all you need.

  • what’s working (& why)
  • what’s not working (& why)
  • is it still relevant (& why)

It’s important to understand the “why” of things working as well as not.

  • You magnify your success to bring you even more momentum
  • You learn from your failures (anything that doesn’t achieve / overachieve) in order to not repeat them and improve
  • You ask yourself if what you’re doing is still relevant because if you don’t, you die

I see many companies doing some form of the first 2, but very few doing the 3rd. Projects being continued & even improved upon that 3 weeks in will never delivered the promised value benefit because something in our environment has changed. Instead of retooling, adapting, or even completely killing something off in order to reallocate resources to something that’s going to deliver significant value, we continue to move forward with a project because it’s still on time & on budget. We’re walking zombies!

Wake up your zombies

I use a One Page Plan system to keep an entire organization focused on what’s important, and in our weekly retrospects, in addition to tracking our progress toward achieving our quarterly goals, we always take a quick glance at

  • opportunities to exceed plan
  • dangers to plan

That simple sense check to make sure that we’re not blindsided by something that could have been avoided is vital to an organizations success. In fact, +90% of the organizations I know of, had they had a rhythmic process to periodically sense check their initial assumptions vs. ever changing reality, could have avoided or at least minimized challenges that impacted their performance. Not to mentioned, missed opportunities that could have accelerated their performance.


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What’s Wrong With HR & How You Can Fix It

broken linkAs always, the hardest problems are typically the easiest to fix as well. You just need the right mindset & a plan that works for all. After reading HBR’s Why Managers and HR Don’t Get Along, I thought I’d highlight the key learnings that will immediately transform your own challenges in the HR space.

The Four Roles of HR

There are actually four roles played by HR people, and in most cases an HR person only specializes in just one of these roles:

  1. administrative expert
  2. employee advocate
  3. strategic business partner
  4. change agent

I often find myself working with clients / HR departments in nailing #3 & 4, bring HR to the E-suite roundtable as a critical contributor to business performance & success.

What’s Broken & Needs Fixing

Storytelling & process planning; not enough HR people are empathetic enough, nor take the time to get into the head of those whom they rely on for success. An old buddhist quote “seek to understand before expecting to be understood” is the first mindset shift that needs to happen in order for there to be success. As HR, one needs to understand the BIG PICTURE instead of just looking at the situation as an isolated process they need to implement. It’s an ecosystem issue & all of the action / reaction, cause & effect issues of standard problem solving & decision making need to be understood.

Solution – Instead of simply forcing a process, tell a story, one that’s relevant to the audience, and then partner with that audience conscious that you’re about to affect an ecosystem.

 Manager / Leader Beware & Take Responsibility; (directly quoted from article) many managers don’t fully accept their own accountability for managing human capital, and instead want HR people to “take care of it” for them. They avoid or delay activities such as candidate interviews, performance assessments, employee feedback discussions, compensation reviews, responses to engagement surveys, and a host of others. Often this avoidance is based on a lack of time, skills, or interest – or anxiety about getting into tough interpersonal territory. No matter the reason, it leaves HR people acting like the process police and chasing after recalcitrant line managers, which does very little to enhance the relationship.

Solution – Be the change you want to see & take responsibility for the people for whom you’re accountable to.

Business Acumen; all too many HR people don’t take the time to truly understand their company’s business and the pressures facing its managers. Learn THE BUSINESS, instead of just your job description.

Solution – Understand how your role is expected to help others deliver high performance & do the right things that produce results. Business results, not just employee engagement results. HR is responsible for ensuring the development of the most precious & expensive resources of an organization. Be the business facilitator you need to be.

Call to Action

How does your own HR organization stack up in their performance of the Four Roles of HR? On a scale of 1-5, a 3 being we’re OK at it, how would you rate your HR in each role?

Unless you’re striving to be +4 & above, you’ve got the wrong expectations for a high performance & engaged organization.


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Successful people have the following characteristics in common

Big-Circle_03I recently came across Darren Wedge LION’s post “What is Your Most Valuable Asset?“, and I wanted to reproduce here the following key messages.

He states that “successful people not only understand success is a mindset and use their time wisely they also have the following characteristics in common”

  • When challenges occur they do not panic
  • They look on a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow
  • They never give up when faced with a challenge
  • They do things they are afraid to do by stepping out of their comfort zone
  • Focus on the future rather than on the past
  • Spend time visualising what they want and actually having what they want
  • Do not attempt to take short cuts to success
  • Continually work on improving themselves

If this were a checklist, how many of these characteristics would you tick? And the ones you’re not able to tick, how many of them would give you a better life? These are not just leadership traits reserved for the workplace, these are powerful traits for a happier & more fulfilling life in general!

Remember that “success is different for every person, do not try to find success in other peoples dreams, but instead determine what success means to you and set your mind on the right success path for you. You only get one shot at your life, and the time you have to do it is short in relative terms. Make a commitment today to doing something that will change your life and put you on the path to success.”

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The Best Time Management & Productivity Tip Ever

Reclaim Your Time with a Time-Box System

Time boxing is a planning tool that’s a cross between a calendar and a to-do list. It lets you divide your schedule into increments (half-hour or hour-long chunks) that you can slot tasks into and monitor. To set it up:

  • Review your week. Take one day to plan for the week ahead. Inventory your deadlines, commitments, meetings, and so on.
  • Prioritize what’s on the list. Put deadline-sensitive tasks first, goal-oriented tasks second, and then schedule these around any recurring obligations.
  • Estimate time for tasks. Err on the side of caution when calculating how long each will take.
  • Enter series of time boxes into your calendar. Designate a task for each time slot (“8 AM to 9 AM: Return phone calls and emails”), and keep a log of how long it actually took you. Later, review whether you allocated enough time by seeing what you were and weren’t able to finish.

*Credit HBR Tip of the Day

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Why Corporations Fail to Do the Right Thing

success failureAfter reading Why Corporations Fail to Do the Right Thing, I’ve decided to reproduce the article’s main points (below) to highlight the real 2 reasons Corporations Fail to Do the Right Thing, and suffer the consequences.

The subtitle “Six reasons why international business remains dangerous to workers and the environment, even when its leaders genuinely want to do better” is straightforward, but I’d like to add that it really comes down to 2 points, AND that it affects many more organizations than you think.

Reason 1 = Company Culture (Core Values)

☛ Corporate Responsibility; and any interpretation of the same, is a consequence of a company’s culture, primarily their core values in action (see practical example below).

☛ People lie; comes back to core values being lived! You must have a process that audits the fact that company values are indeed being lived & practiced on a regular basis by ALL employees, especially senior leadership modeling the way.

☛ Safety and responsibility cost money—and no one gets rewarded for disasters averted; is a culture issue! What’s the message sent from senior leadership? It’s their responsibility to create a culture where doing the right thing & averting disasters are rewarded. It’s one thing to encourage pushing the boundaries to innovate & reward “mistakes” in the pursuit of innovation, but the limits of that boundary has to be established by a hard RED line established by core values.

☛ Few people bear witness; All of the above. It’s Company Culture & Core Values, including Leadership Modeling the Way!

☛ Consumers won’t pay more; YES they will, but you might have to think long-tail. The problem we have today is that everyone wants everything short-term & they don’t properly evaluate long-term risk. One of the key steps in effective Problem Solving & Decision making is a process called “potential problem analysis”. Specifically, follow the rule of physics “for every action there is a proportional reaction”. By taking action to prevent or resolve a problem, what possible problems could you be creating (now & in the future) and what do the guidelines from your company culture guide you at accept as acceptable liability & risk? Where is that hard RED line established by core values (company culture)?

Practical Example; I worked with a major pharmaceutical a few years back that had to face a significant decision. In an impoverished African country, where the government had subsidized a life saving drug, that subsidy was about to be greatly reduced due to the dramatic economical situation of the country. The pharmaceutical was contemplating pulling the drug out of that African nation due to the certainty of loosing significant revenue. They then did a potential problem analysis benchmarked against their core values (a.k.a. corporate responsibility), and upon determining the thousands of lives that would be lost without the required drug, they decided to remain & offset the losses from profits had in other countries & divisions. Core Values in action & Modeling the Way all wrapped into one “isolated” profit loss, which by the way, resonated with their customer based & drove an increase in long-term customer revenue and profit. When their customers found out about their decisions, they actually bought more & reffered more friends as new customers!

Reason 2 = Communication

☛ People don’t talk to each other (silos); is a communication issue, in itself a by product of the company culture & core values that have been established.

So at the end of the day, you can say that you really only have ONE reason why Corporations Fail, they fail to do an effective job of creating & then living a strong company culture.

Article’s main points reproduced

1. People lie. More than one person I interviewed told me a story of touring a factory, doubling back on the pretense of forgetting something, and catching workers turning in their goggles or other protective gear. Factory owners will hide bad news if failing an audit means losing business.

2. People don’t talk to each other. Big organizations often operate in distinct, siloed divisions, and multi-disciplinary issues like human rights and sustainability often fall through the cracks. As director of corporate citizenship at Microsoft, Dan Bross oversees assessments that cut across multiple functions like legal and product development to identify potential risks to users. He told me, “I have a horizontal job in a vertical world.”

3. Safety and responsibility cost money—and no one gets rewarded for disasters averted. Even those companies not living explicitly by Ford’s 1970s model have to perform some sort of cost-benefit analysis. Since the work that I did for BP and that my peers do for their companies is preventative and complex, it can be hard to justify the expense of any one intervention.

4. Few people bear witness. Sadly, if an executive doesn’t see problems firsthand, he or she is much less likely to commit resources to addressing them. Even the most numbers-driven executive can only be brought so far with a spreadsheet.

5. No one knows what corporate responsibility is. Right now we’re in a free-for-all in which “CSR” means whatever a company wants it to mean: From sending employees out in matching t-shirts to paint a wall for five hours a year, to recycling, to improving supply-chain conditions, to diversity and inclusion. This makes it difficult to have a proper conversation about what corporate responsibilities are and should be. In some respects, that’s okay: The breadth of the concept brings companies to the table to discuss their role in society. Then, as Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR told me, “The trick is to get them to the table, then move the table.”

6. Consumers won’t pay more. One report showed that ensuring good working conditions would add less than one dollar to the price of a pair of blue jeans. But despite responding to surveys that they care about ethics, shoppers refuse to pay more. In one study, only half of customers chose a pair of socks marked “Good Working Conditions” even when they were the same price as an unmarked pair; only one quarter of customers paid for the socks when they cost 50 percent more.


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Don’t Fuck Up the Culture

company-culture4This blog post is inspired by “Don’t Fuck Up the Culture” written by Airbnb Co-founder & CEO Brian Chesky“Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial.

And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.” This type of culture is healthy & brings with it an amazing capacity to scale.

Culture equals scale & workforce agility

During a recent interview with a highly respected & successful business leader, and now CEO coach, I heard how it was hard for him to accept that culture is “everything”. After all, he’d seen toxic cultures become very big & successful companies. You don’t need to look any further than Apple, and the infamous stories that have come to the surface about their culture at times.

Reflecting on personal experience, and the reference made by Peter Theil in the original “Don’t Fuck Up the Culture” post, indeed culture may not be the end-all to be-all IF your company is the exception to the rule & you have the strongest command & control process driven company on the planet. Which by the way, is a culture in itself, just not a healthy one!

The Starfish and the Spider

My good & respected friend Rod Beckstrom co-authored The Starfish and the Spider, and in it he describes the Starfish vs Spider model of leadership in business & society. The most simple analogy is that the spider has a head and eight legs. Cut off one and then two legs, the spider survives, but moves wobbly and not as fast. Cut off a few more legs & the spider becomes motionless. Cut off it’s head & it dies. Command & control culture is a spider, and the CEO is typically the head. The starfish on the other hand has no head, but rather a decentralized neural structure permitting regeneration. Cut off a limb and the spider grows that limb back. Better yet, the cut-off limb eventually regenerates a whole new starfish. The only way to kill the starfish is to cut it’s central ring, it’s core ideology that feeds & nurtures it’s extremities. Extremities which are independent and autonomous, just like healthy families and tribes that don’t require much process to scale & succeed.

Starfish = healthy decentralized culture where it’s extremities feed off of & buy into a core ideology.

Spider = slow, vulnerable wait for one person to make a decision & then “force” it’s will upon it’s extremities.

Culture isn’t everything, and yet it is

Yes, a company can survive without a healthy & vibrant company culture. But it will be the 1-in-a-million, whereas a healthy company culture will have a far greater likelihood of succeeding, attracting & retaining top talent while moving with greater speed and agility toward success.

Call to Action

What type of culture do you have? Is it being lived? Is it alive or still aspirational? What can you do this week to nail your company culture & start the process of getting everyone to buy-in & on the same page?

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Leadership Crisis; How to Avoid it, How to Fix it

The evidence is overwhelming that there continues to be a Leadership Crisis. As exemplified by the table below, it’s worse in some geographical areas than others, but it’s still an unacceptable fact that less than 30% of employees are engaged in the workplace.

Employee Engagement is proportional to Quality of Leadership

The buck stops here, popularized by US president Harry Truman, must be the guiding principle for anyone in a leadership role. As a leader, you hire, develop, performance plan & fire employees. You have a voice at the leadership table to influence changes in an organization that will either increase or decrease employee engagement. If you have unengaged employees in your workforce, ultimately, who’s fault is it but your own. What are you waiting for?

Employee Engagement Trend_Inactivity

Inaction will only make it worse

When you have uncertainty in your head, is your tendency to think about the most positive outcomes or the worse? Most of us will think of the worse initially, and then spiral down a rabbit hole unless we or someone stops ourselves. It’s a human characteristic, part of negative bias, the psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. Humans are much more likely to recall and be influenced by the negative experiences.

As outlined in Scaling Up Excellence, this in part also explains why bad behavior can be stronger than good, longer lasting, more contagious & more difficult to stop. As the solid red lines above show, with inactivity, there is a higher likelihood that the disengaged will move toward Actively Disengaged before they will leave your organization. Worse, the wrong leadership activity will accelerate the migration toward Actively Disengaged, and once out of your organization, these people will remain vocal toxins toward your organization’s’ reputation.

Employee Engagement Defined

I share in the BlessingWhite descriptive that aligning employees’ values, goals, and aspirations with those of the organization is the best method for achieving the sustainable employee engagement required for an organization to thrive. Full engagement represents an alignment of maximum job satisfaction (“I like my work and do it well”) with maximum job contribution (“I help achieve the goals of my organization”).

Engaged Employee; one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. Performs 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. Organizations with engaged employees are up to 43% more productive. And remember, you can get Accountability without having Engagement first!

Disengaged Employee; aren’t necessarily bad employees, but they just do what’s necessary to get their jobs done. They typically don’t take part in offering suggestions for improving the workplace, usually don’t stay at work late if it’s not required, and they don’t give their jobs much thought after they finish a workday.

Actively Disengaged Employee; the workers who undermine their jobs and employers. Actively disengaged employees can sink employee morale and performance. They drag themselves through their day, contributing the bare minimum and often detracting from the work of their peers with negative comments or an overwhelming pessimism that is energy draining. This pessimism is so toxic that it affects not only co-workers, but customers as well, driving away potential business and harming previously solid customer relationships. Research has shown that employee disengagement in the United States adds up to approximately $350 billion dollars per year of lost productivity.

How to avoid it / How to fix it

Starting with the attributes of Exemplary Leadership® that dotted green line above will grow solid, bold, augmented & super accelerated. It will also increase the speed of voluntary (healthy) turnover in your organization. There’s already so much written about “exemplary leadership” that I’ll just leave you with the following challenge of honest & transparent introspection & self evaluation.

How are you, and or the leaders in your organization..

  • Modeling the Way?
  • Inspiring a Shared Vision?
  • Challenging the Process?
  • Enabling Others to Act?
  • Encouraging the Heart?

And what do these phrases mean to you & your organization in particular? Send me an email inquiry and I’ll be more than happy to get on the phone with you for a quick 30m evaluation of your conclusions, as well as what you can do next to immediately improve your situation.


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Hierarchy vs. Flat, Which is More Effective & Efficient for Decision Making?

module-home-graphicEffective is doing the right thing, whereas Efficient is doing thing right, therefore “Effectificient” would be doing the right things right.Unless someone has already done so, I’ll claim the new term that describes the combination of Effective & Efficient (“Effectificient”) for myself. :-)

Hierarchy vs. Flat Organization

Personally, I think this argument is overrated. Having hierarchy doesn’t have to result in ineffective decision making, just like the lack of hierarchy doesn’t guarantee you’re making the right decisions faster. Both can work, as long as you have effectificient conversations in your organization. In my previous post Accountability Requires Engagement; And They Both Require Communication I focused on the importance of effective conversation. In How to Use Your Culture For Improved Decision Making I focused on an effective tool for Decision Making, which comes as a by-product of an effective conversation (communication of Company Culture). Personal experience tells me that when you have an effectificient hierarchy, one that has effectificient conversation flow, you’ll tend to make the best decisions faster. For me it’s not about the chain of command, as much as it is about the quality of the conversation that needs to take place. Flat organizations may look like fun on the outside, but unless there’s a Decision Making matrix & tool (process), it’s a crapshoot as to whether the right things will get done the right way any faster.

How Rigid is Your Organization’s Decision-Making Hierarchy?

This post was inspired after reading the respective post by thoughtLeaders LLC, which stated their poll results of:

  • Most power is consolidated at the top but some occurs at lower levels: 44%
  • Power is distributed evenly according to capability and responsibility: 30%
  • We have true command-and-control — all decisions come from the top: 24%
  • Our hierarchy is very flat and decision-making power is broadly distributed: 3%

The thoughtLeaders LLC post goes on to state; “Consolidating decision-making power at the top cuts both ways. It can reduce risk for your organization by vesting that power with more senior and experienced people. It can also frustrate junior members of the team and slow down your decision-making process because everyone has to wait for a few people to make decisions. To achieve a better balance, evaluate decisions based on their size and risk. Push that decision-making authority as low in the organization as you can without increasing risk too much. You’ll be nimbler with less frustration and not as much risk as you might initially think.”


Practical experience of +30 years across 5 continents in every stage company & industry imaginable tells me that effectificient decision-making is more about quality of the conversation an organization is having than the consolidation of decision-making power. Hierarchy vs Flat is more about Company Culture, and if you’ve done your homework at that fundamental level, quality of conversation will take care of the rest. Take your focus off of the hierarchy & invest it in the quality of conversation, and you’ll get the Workforce Agility you’ve been looking for.

But don’t just take my word for it, in Scaling Up Excellence, Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao also address effective hierarchies.

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Getting Workforce Agility

Workforce Agility is often defined as the ability of employees to respond strategically to uncertainty. But what does that really mean? Considering that Harvard Business Press states that 90% of effective strategies fail do to poor execution, than responding strategically might not be the right answer if you’ve misinterpreted what the right strategy is. Where does speed come into play? And what does it take to get Workforce Agility?


The power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness, and or the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly; intellectual acuity. So it’s both physical & mental. But what about Emotional Agility? It’s basic biology, but also the hardest to master.

All healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential pitfalls. Ample research shows that attempting to minimize or ignore thoughts and emotions serves only to amplify them, therefore Emotional Agility is being able to embrace those negative thoughts, understand where they’re coming from, frame them into the context of the situation you’re in and then respond in a noon emotional state, but from a logical state.In neuroscience that’s called listening to your Reptilian & Mammalian (Limbic System) brain, but then processing & acting based on having it filtered through your Neo-Cortex & Pre-Frontal Cortex (Frontal Lobe) brain.

Therefore Workforce Agility starts with physical, mental / intellectual & emotional nimbleness. But it doesn’t stop there, for that will only mainly address the speed vs. uncertainty aspect. How about the strategic aspect?

Strategic Agility

Understanding that all healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings, including criticism, doubt, and fear, it can be said that based on our past experiences we create our own unique & individual bias.  This bias will affect how we interpret what we hear, “interpret” being the key word in this phrase. Making the right interpretation of what we’re hearing is called effective communication.

In simple terms, effective is doing the right things, whereas efficient is doing things right. Ideally we want to match the two & do the right things right, therefore attaining effectiveness efficiently. But if I had to choose, I’d rather do the right thing and compromise doing it right vs doing the wrong thing right. Make sense? In order to get the best results from any strategy, we have to execute both effectively & efficiently.

If you have effective communication, and agility in your workforce, then you will have physical, mental / intellectual & emotional agile effectiveness efficiently. Doing the right things right for the right reasons in a right way.

A Perfect Storm

Workforce Agility Perfect StormWhen you add Accountability (Engagement) to the mix of doing the right things right for the right reasons in a right way, then you have the perfect storm. In a previous post, I wrote about the equation of Communication + Engagement = Accountability. When you have people holding themselves accountable to doing the right things right for the right reasons in a right way because they’re engaged due to your communication, this is my definition of Workforce Agility.

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Why Most M&A’s Fail and How You Can Fix That

MALast week, while listening to Mixergy’s interview of Gary Swart , best known for being the CEO of oDesk, the world’s largest online workplace, I became inspired to write about the biggest issue holding most M&A’s from declaring sustainable success. Gary is currently transitioning from his CEO role at oDesk, into an advisory role after the company finishes its merger with Elance.

Having witnessed first hand a series of M&A’s over the past 30 years, before, during & cleaning-up afterward, if there’s anyone that can nail the most complicated reason for failure, it’s Gary. I haven’t known Gary for long, but having recently interviewed him for my upcoming book entitled Practical Leadership, I’m confident he can nail the #1 culprit for lack of long term success because of his passion for Culture & Modeling Leadership.

Reasons Why So Many M&A’s Fail

In 2011 HBR stated that companies spend more than $2 trillion on acquisitions every year. Yet study after study puts the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions somewhere between 70% and 90%. A lot of researchers have tried to explain those abysmal statistics, usually by analyzing the attributes of deals that worked and those that didn’t. What’s lacking, they believe, is a robust theory that identifies the causes of those successes and failures. In a nutshell, HBR concludes that many acquisitions fall short of expectations because executives incorrectly match candidates to the strategic purpose of the deal, failing to distinguish between deals that might improve current operations and those that could dramatically transform the company’s growth prospects. As a result, companies too often pay the wrong price and integrate the acquisition in the wrong way.

Depending on who you listen to, the following are the main reasons for failure of many M&A’s.

  • Misgauging Strategic Fit
  • Getting the Deal Structure Or Price Wrong
  • Misreading The New Company’s Culture
  • Not Communicating Clearly — Or Enough
  • Blindly Focusing On Integration For Its Own Sake
  • Not Focusing Enough On Customers And Sales (vs. Cost Synergies)
  • Allocating sufficient management capacity to take on the integration process

*Sources; Forbes, Financial Times, HBR & Business Insider

With due respect, while HBR’s perspective is part of it, there is a greater challenge that very few companies get right during an M&A.

Culture Is King

394ma-viet-namCulture is the cornerstone, that when gotten wrong will collapse like a house of cards. The simple and effective leadership approach, and care for culture, that Gary modeled in our now 3 interactions to-date (including the Mixergy interview) has me confident he’ll nail the culture mystery of the newly merged entity.

The HP Case

Let’s get down to specifics. The date is 2004 & I’m walking into HP Portugal to Interim Executive Manage it’s Education & Partner Division toward +40% profitability in the next 12 months. At my first meeting with the management team I was to work with, I was puzzled at the suggestions coming from the table stating “at Compaq we used to.. at Digital we used to.. at Tandem we used to.. when we were only HP we used to..”. Considering HP acquired Compaq in 2002, I was puzzled as to why there were 4 companies seated around the table, instead of one, +2 years post-merger. In short, ultimately, the success I had with that assignment was tied to being able to quickly foster a one company attitude where everyone felt heard & valued. It was a localized solution, but at least it got all of the relevant parties on the same page.

Opinions on the success of this merger are naturally divided, and even if you are in the camp that argues that this was a successful merger, I will still challenge that in order for it to be considered successful, the cultural issues should have been more seriously addressed & prioritized. As a consequence, the expected benefits would have come much sooner & would have been far less painful.

The Banco Santander Case

In late 2011 I was brought into Banco Santander Brasil to facilitate Workforce Agility through a series of leadership touchpoints that would give them better tools to align, motivate, engage & get accountability for execution excellence from their teams. Starting in 1997, by 2007 with the acquisition of Banco Real, Banco Santander Brasil was now a compilation of more than 8-10 entities (cultures). Walk into their cafeteria in 2012 and you will have witnessed the ironic site every single table’s apparent harmony. As I looked around, I saw people from a mix of departments sitting at the same table. Sounds like the culture integration when right? At closer inspection each table was a composition of the former banks that now comprise the group.

The goal has always been to become the #1 bank in Brazil, yet in 2014 it sits at #5. For the shareholders, I’m sure there will be a split between success & failure depending on the expected outcome. From a culture integration perspective, I can tell you that sitting around most conference tables were unintegrated entities still defending their previous company cultures & way of doing business. In order to succeed, I had to work Culture, and specifically Purpose, before I could get the rest flowing.

The eDreams (Odigeo) Case

In early 2011, eDreams engaged me as Director of their newly formed Portfolio Office to support the technology ecommerce platform merger of 4 companies. It was a fast paced 14 months of an assignment, cutting it short due to my eventual relocation to the Bay Area (San Francisco, CA) in mid to late 2012. The Odigeo Group, as they are known post-merger, was a more entrepreneurially minded organization simply required more execution focus. In parallel to the operational & strategic merger, there was indeed great care given to the “we are one company & culture” approach. Everyone was heard, not everyone was satisfied and some left the organization in the process, but at the end of the day, this we were better as a culture of the newly formed organization. It’s still a work-in-progress, but from what I’ve witnessed with their IPO today at a market valuation of $1.51 billion, I’d say they’re still on-track to succeed.

In Summary

Whether it’s Reuters, which I left 8 years before it’s acquisition by The Thompson Corporation, or any of the others I’ve encountered, across 5 continents what I’ve most often seen hold-back the expected success of M&A’s has more to do with company culture as a root cause. I’m convinced that when you set ego’s aside, Strategic Fit, Deal Structure & Price, Customer / Sales vs. Cost Synergies & allocation of integration resources are easier elements to get right. Culture, including Communication Clarity & Frequency, are what most often get compromised, and always comes back to bite you hard.


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How to Use Your Culture For Improved Decision Making

decision-makingI live & am inspired by the motto “you can get everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want” (Zig Ziglar).

I’m also of the mindset that a company’s culture can trump strategy on its own any time. To that end, during most of my corporate executive life I intuitively led with purpose (Company Mission), but until I met Simon Sinek I didn’t realize the neuroscience behind a powerful WHY.

Where’s Your WHY?

A few years back I walked into a new client to affect change. More specifically, to enable Workforce Agility, improve engagement and improve leadership in general by giving them practical & immediately applicable tools. I walked into their offices & looked for a WHY, a Mission statement that I could leverage and anchor my message, tools & approach to. Sadly I couldn’t find it. I found plenty of WHAT, but not WHY. Fortunately I came in at the right time, as they were in the process of addressing this need. We coupled my work to that already being done by their HR & Marketing Communications team to finalize a powerful WHY that more easily engaged their workforce to a higher purpose. Their WHY became “preference of our customers”.

Using Your WHY for Better Decision Making

For context, allow me to digress for one paragraph. My LinkedIn profile categorizes me as a Management Consultant, but to this day, for lack of a better definition, I still cringe at the verbalization of the word consultant. This discomfort is from the personal experience of being subjected to far too many consultants, in my corporate life, that didn’t add any significant practical value, or worse, those that many have witnessed come into an organization and call their own making ideas that were extracted from their clients staff interviews (standard discovery process). For example, I always credit that what I bring to the table is a set of neutral & unbiased ears, the capability to hear the wisdom & expertise that already exists in an organization. To this, I add structure & voice to that knowledge & experience. I add 30 years of proven experience, what I’ve seen work & fail, best practices, and how all this is relevant to their unique company culture & present day situation.

Back on-topic. On this particular day, a few weeks & workshops deep into this organizations’ chain of command, I came across a dilemma responsible for successive previous failures in execution. A team pushed back & said “how can we focus on 3-5 priorities when we have +700 budgeted projects and more than enough business-as-usual (routine daily activity) that more than takes up +8h of our day?” Apart from highly practical tips & tricks I gave them on time management & productivity secrets, I led them to their newly written Company Mission (WHY Statement) and showed them how to use it as a decision making tool. In that statement, after extracting the WHY itself, we identified 6 attributes (what makes a WHY unique to 1 particular organization) that we would use as decision making filters.

768 Projects down to 18

In addition to their daily routine, they identified 768 projects that had been approved & budgeted for the coming fiscal year. They had laid down the gauntlet, now I had to get myself, and them out of this predicament. I asked them to create a table (decision matrix) using an excel spreadsheet. Down the left column they were to place the names of the 768 projects (initiatives), across the top they were to list one attribute per column from their Mission Statement. The next step was to “tick” each project / initiative that addressed or fulfilled all of the six attributes. With one pass we had reduced the list by 50%.

Next, recognizing that 4 of the 6 attributes were long-range intentions (brand building), whereas 2 were short-range (results focused), we would score which of the remaining 384 projects most fulfilled the 2 short term (results based) criteria. Based on the priorities previously agreed & communicated by senior management, this years’ priorities were all about results (short-term). On the second pass of our improvised Decision Matrix. We were now down to 18 projects, something everyone agreed was manageable. Later they would go on to identify daily activities which would contribute to these projects, as well as other activities (that didn’t tick the Mission attributes) that would be dropped, delegated or outsourced..

Company Culture is Lived, NOT Preached

In the example above I facilitated an experience, a servant to the true needs of my client. When I finish an engagement, I always remind them that the tools & knowledge transfer I’ve left behind will die a quick death if they don’t live & breath everything they’ve learned. Leadership that delivers scale & greatness is not a process, it’s a habit and a consistent behavior.

How are you using your Company Culture & established priorities as filters for your decision making?

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Accountability Requires Engagement; And They Both Require Communication

How to Increase Employee Accountability in the WorkplaceA common complaint I hear when starting a new assignment is that everyone wants to be empowered, but very few seem to want the accountability that should come with empowerment. The solution, we find, tends to be simpler than expected. You can’t get to accountability without first addressing engagement. In far too many situations, I see companies addressing this in the wrong order. And in order to maintain the two, to make both engagement & accountability organic & scalable, you need to open the flow of communication & transparency.


The business definition for accountability is “the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.” Personally, I like to think of accountability as ownership, and more specifically owner ownership. That’s Founder Ownership if you’re in a start-up or entrepreneurial venture, and or Investor / Shareholder Ownership in later stage companies. In short, it’s the answer to the question “what would you do if you owned the company”?


Wikipedia defines employee engagement as “a property of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An engaged employee is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.” Seen many of these lately? How are you measuring that? Considering that only 37-17% of today’s global workforce (33% in US) is actively engaged, I’ll adventure to say you haven’t seen many of your team “fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so taking positive action to further your organization’s reputation and interests”. Considering that an organization with “high” employee engagement is expected to outperform those with “low” employee engagement, all else being equal, what can you do to change your current situation? Think about your own situation for a second. be it in a situation in your personal or professional life, when was the last time that you felt accountable, or took accountability, for anything that you didn’t feel engaged with? Accountability is too often pushed onto people, and that just doesn’t work. At best, it’s a short term fix, not a scalable solution. In fact, it usually makes the employee resentful & changes pushes them from unengaged (neutral) to actively unengaged (likely to purposefully cause damage). On the other hand, if you first address engagement, than accountability will be a natural / organic consequence. But don’t take my word for it, so some research & behavioral science will prove this point time & time again.


“Communication” is defined as the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior. The same study that showed only 37-17% of today’s global workforce (33% in US) is actively engaged, identified as the top driver for engagement being “clarity on the organization’s priorities”.

effective-communication-cycleThat said, knowing from experience how frequently we lack effective communication skills, then it must be stated that engagement can therefore only come about when organizations effectively communicate to employees, who in turn identify and believe in these priorities (creating organic accountability).

Having a BA in computer science & robotics, I particularly like this diagram which incorporates the basic steps of effective communication. More than verbalization, which is where most people stop, there’s a concern for taking into account interpretation by the receptor, including a feedback cycle (process) to ensure what was communicated was quantifiably & qualifiably understood.

Performance Management Dashboards

If your company is using a Performance Management Dashboard, I’ll bet that it’s more accountability focused & lacks effective communication concern. 15Five is one of the few, if not the only, system I’ve seen that focused on effective communication (conversation) first, fostering organic engagement, and accountability as a consequence of the conversation.

Or as I like to say, if engagement is a prerequisite for true accountability, then communication (conversation) is the super-glue that holds it all together.

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Why Leadership Development Typically Fails

leadershipLeadership is not about your business card, it’s about taking someone or something (i.e. a team or organization) to a place they couldn’t get to on their own. Much more than motivation, it’s all about inspiration. Finally, like spirituality, it’s about “taking responsibility for what you create (how you behave) from moment to moment on a consistent basis.” (rational borrowed from Paul Chek).

Why Leadership Development Typically Fails..

First, typical Leadership Development fails because you can’t effectively teach it in the classroom (classroom = theory).

Second, it fails because traditionally there’s no effective “native” follow-up process incorporated in day-to-day activity.

Third, in over 30 years of professional experience across 5 continents & every stage company you can imagine, holistic (ho·lis·tic) Leadership Development programs are few & far between. In this context, holistic is characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole, as in the whole person, taking into account psychological, social factors / behaviors.

Monkey see monkey do..

Let’s start with the basics; we’re only 2.8 – 3% removed from our nearest ancestors, the chimpanzee. The old saying goes “monkey see monkey do”.. so it’s no wonder that +/- 40% of us are predominantly visually dominant learners. That said, the vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of effective learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring (Monique Valcour).

Need convincing? Just this past weekend, while at a friends house in the Napa Valley, I noticed a GE Refrigerator replacement Water Filter sitting on the countertop of my friends kitchen. She told me how she had read the instructions for the 5th time a week previously before deciding to stop trying. I grabbed my phone & performed a YouTube search for ” replacing a GE refrigerator water filter”. After looking at the first 2 minute clip, I showed it to her, and within 2 minutes she had opened her refrigerator & replaced the water filter. Sound familiar? I can share with you thousands of similar examples, in any context, that I have experienced in professional & personal situations over the past +30 years.

The Real World is too often missing..

In order for effective Leadership to take root, one has to first witness attempted leadership on-the-job. This is a real world perspective that can’t be done in a classroom, and it most definitely can’t come about from a teacher or facilitator that doesn’t integrate your immediate set of circumstances and reality. In order for effective Leadership to take root & flourish, it needs regular & rhythmic follow-up in practice. It’s needs regular, rhythmic & constant feedback & adjustment. You have to regularly witness first-hand what’s changing month to month, quarter to quarter. How has the teams expected behavior, performance and results improved? How has the teams ownership of accountability & commitment to getting the right results played out? What is the real world day-to-day dynamics between the team and its leader? You can’t witness this in an authentic & transparent way unless you’re in a day-to-day work environment and have the practical experience onboard.

Leadership is something you have to do..

More than talk about leadership, you have to show leadership in the way you live, move, think, breath, rest & eat. The most effective education, and you need only remember how a 2-3 year old infant learns, is a holistic & experience based education practice. An education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community of its’ natural (and relevant) world.. i.e. experience. I call this Native Leadership, and it creates an immediate and inspirational sense of “belonging”.. one of the most significant elements of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.

To summarize..

If anything short of a holistic approach works effectively in any other aspect of your life, why would you expect it to work here? You need to take Leadership Development out of the classroom & into the workplace. I’ll go even further, you need to extend Leadership Development all the way to the home. Your Leadership Development program can start with basic understanding and communication of the principles in the classroom, but unless you get immediately practical & relevant to an individual’s workplace (& life in general), at best you will have only completed a great theoretical exercise, but never an effective & practical one. Leadership needs to become 2nd nature, it needs to be a 24×7 practice.

What does your Leadership Development program look like? How does it go beyond a theoretical practice? How does it incorporate translation of strategy into operations? How have you integrated the most effective, and right for your unique DNA, continual development practices? How does it incorporate emotional intelligence & fundamental accountability principles that get teams committed to doing the right things that bring about the right performance & results?


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Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy

marauz_good_listening“Study after study has shown that listening is critical to leadership effectiveness. So, why are so few leaders good at it?

Too often, leaders seek to take command, direct conversations, talk too much, or worry about what they will say next in defense or rebuttal.  Additionally, leaders can react quickly, get distracted during a conversation, or fail to make the time to listen to others.  Finally, leaders can be ineffective at listening if they are competitive, if they multitask such as reading emails or text messages, or if they let their egos get in the way of listening to what others have to say.”

This HBR post had me think to recommend the best book I’ve ever read on becoming a better listener. The Lost Art of Listening by Michael Nichols is an easy & practical read that will give you the fundamentals to best affect your personal & professional life.

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Companies Need to Be More Human in Order to Scale

Growth_Leadership Development“It’s time for companies to focus less on maximizing shareholder value and more on becoming human again. Embracing your organization’s humanity will move your company from the mindless management of numbers to the creation of customer and employee value, which ultimately will make your shareholders — the real ones who care about long-term performance — happy, as well.” This is the HBR update that first caught my attention.

Four Pillars

After 30 years of experience, I can confidently summarize that in order for any organization to succeed, it need to excel at the four pillars of People, Strategy, Execution & Cash. And if I had to prioritize anyone of those 4, I’d start with People.

90% of effective strategies on paper fail to deliver the expected results (Harvard Business Press). I’ve found that the majority of these failures were related to people not executing properly, but it was more of a people buy-in, alignment & motivation issue (leadership based) which was reflected through poor execution. Without people executing an agreed strategy to its full potential, I can guarantee you’ll either ineffectively burn through, or never secure, the cash your company desperately needs to survive, scale & thrive.

3 Keys to a more Human Company

The HBR update went on to summarize; First, they should spend more time, energy, and resources to find out what their customers really want. Second, they need to do a better job of treating their employees as people who need to be nurtured, not costs that need to be kept in check. Third, they need a motivating purpose besides the achievement of financial goals.”

How are you performing in these 3 key areas?

1. Your employees are the most effective & efficient way to discovering what your customers really want. How are you inspiring & capturing that?

2. How are you nurturing your team, developing their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses? How are you adjusting their “nature” that’s counter productive to themselves as well as the results you want your organization to achieve?

3. Finally, how have you developed, communicated & lived a powerful purpose (company culture) that motivates your staff to take on “owner-accountability”?

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7 Reasons Employees Don’t Trust Their Leaders

60e7f1a4cdc12289b833224d79b63485After coming across 7 Reasons Employees Don’t Trust Their Leaders, I wanted to highlight the following key take-aways..

Disclaimer; Selling Fear

Personally, I believe the increased lack of trust in one another within any society is directly correlated to a fear based discourse adopted by (for example) politicians, media & then society (in general) itself. As human beings, it’s in our nature (inborn self defense mechanism) to doubt before giving the benefit of the doubt.

We’re intrinsically more inclined to look for differences in each other versus focusing on similarities. The science behind that is too long to go into here, but as we grow older and “work on ourselves” we start to identify the origins of where this automated first-contact reaction comes from, and find the necessary tools to reprogram ourselves.

Key take-away #1; Responsible Transparency

Employees have grown tired of unexpected outcomes resulting from the lack of preparation. They want to be informed of any change management efforts before – not after the fact.

Key take-away #2; Bottom-up Accountability

Employees desire to know what is expected of them and be given the opportunity to reinvent themselves, rather than be told they are not qualified for new roles and responsibilities and can no longer execute their functions successfully.

Key take-away #3; The 7 Reasons

1. Lack Courage
2. Hidden Agendas
3. Self-Centered
4. Reputation Issues
5. Inconsistent Behavior
6. Don’t Get Their Hands Dirty
7. Lack a Generous Purpose

If I were going to put these in order, I’d move “Lack a Generous Purpose” to #1.

Key take-away #4; Some Answers

In his following article 5 Ways Leaders Win People Over, Glenn Llopis give us 5 great ways to authentically win people over.
1. Search for Shared Experiences
2. Understand One’s Values and Intentions
3. The Head and the Heart
4. Get Your Hands Dirty
5. Increase Your Engagement

Your call to action

What are the key take-aways that you most identified with? What are the changes you can start to apply immediately that will have you turnaround some of the challenges you’re already facing today?

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5 Steps & 2 Simple Tools for Quickly Reaching Inbox Zero

Inbox ZeroReading 5 Steps for Quickly Reaching Inbox Zero I was reminded of 2 simple tools that took my “Inbox Zero’ing” & productivity to a whole new level.

First a recap of the 5 Steps

1. Unsubscribe from all the crap

2. File/Delete

3. Reply Immediately

4. Reply as You’re Able

5. Set Team Rules

Augment your success by using the following 2 simple tools

1. Boomerang; Use Boomerang to remind you of expected replies that haven’t come in within an expected timeframe. Instead of leaving emails cluttering your inbox, Boomerang them to come back at a specific later time & date when you’re best equipped to deal with them. Block out chunks of time in your calendar to deal with the messages you’ve just “boomeranged”.

2. Filters; Take the time & be smart about applying filters so that routine information goes directly into specific folders to be dealt with at a later time. Again, block out time in your calendar, no more than 30 minutes, to go into the respective folders to process and purge their contents.

These 2 additional steps are email platform independent and are excellent complements when used in an effective and disciplined time management / getting things done process.

Enjoy & happy ZERO Inbox!

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4 Simple Steps to a More Productive Living

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Axr711iCIAEi8i5I recently came across an article that made me recognize I could do so much more toward living a productive life all around.

If you’re successful in navigating your ego, and can develop these steps (reflection) into a new life-long habit, than the distractions and false needs that cause procrastination & pain will no longer be a part of your life.

  1. Pay attention to the pain they (distractions and false needs that cause procrastination & pain) cause, later, instead of only the temporary comfort/pleasure they gave right away.
  2. Think about the person you want to be, the life you want to live. Set intentions to do the good work you think you should do.
  3. Watched your urges to check things, to go to the comfort of distractions. Recognize that you want to escape discomfort of something hard, and go to the comfort of something familiar and easy.
  4. Realize you don’t need that comfort. You can be in discomfort and nothing bad will happen. In fact, the best things happen when you’re in discomfort.

Now smile, breathe, and let go. “You can only lose what you cling to.” – Buddha

Can you commit to setting up a daily reminder that will have you practice these 4 steps for the next 30 days?

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How Effective Leadership First Requires Emotional Agility

1364333709Emotional Agility inspired me to highlight the following summary..

Speaking from experience, emotional intelligence & agility doesn’t come easy and isn’t an automatic. At a very minimum, in order to be successful, it requires

☛ an open mind

☛ a desire to improve

☛ a lot of patience, repetition and work

☛ and a lifetime of practice

Fortunately, “for every concerted effort one reaps multiple rewards”, thus the investment is highly rewarding!

The basic steps:

☛ Getting Unhooked

☛ Recognizing your patterns

☛ Labeling your thoughts and emotions

☛ Accepting them

☛ And acting on your values

Call to Action

If you haven’t done so already, follow this link to the full article at the HBR (Harvard Business Review) website and test your Emotional Agility.

If you want to become an effective leader, at work, or in life in general, I urge you to start a journal / diary immediately and get to work. If you find that you need assistance with this growth process, in addition to a coach / mentor, you might try a powerful program such as Landmark Forum. It super accelerated my growth spurt a few years back!

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Why the CEO must drive HR transformation

30251d6In reading How CEOs Can Transform HR into a Revenue Driver by Mark V. Hurd (President of Oracle), I was inspired to focus on the aspect of how HR departments should be doing (allowed to do) a better job at influencing their company’s performance and results.

Millennial power is here to stay

Of special note in this article, is a trend that I don’t understand many executives to be conscious of as I meet with them around the world. I’m talking about the rapidly shifting demographics leading to a surge in millennials among the workforce. While millennials will comprise 36 percent of the workforce in 2014, they’ll make up almost half of it (465) by 2020, according to a study conducted by the business school at the University of North Carolina.

The impact these young digital natives will have on your company isn’t limited to their sheer numbers. In fact, the biggest influence they’ll have is their demand, not their request, mind you, but their requirement that the technology they use at work provides them with the same degree of social immersion, accessibility, and collaboration as the technology they use in their personal lives. We are in life as we are in work, and this dynamic of millennials who have been raised in a different context than previous generations require new approaches beyond technology. Ironically, they require old school and basic emotional intelligence anchored leadership that will be conducive to their prefered behavioral DNA.

So the simple truth is that unless your company is offering these sorts of tools and approaches, indeed, these sorts of “workstyles”, then you’ll be sending a clear signal to recruits and new employees that you’re really not interested in hiring or keeping them.

Moving to action

Why is Leadership Development such an economical force in an organizations training budget theses days? At the end of the day, leadership boils down to more than just “moving people to action”. Effective leadership is about moving the right people to the right action at the right time. That combination is how you invert the scenario 60% of CEOs surveyed by PwC say they’re concerned about not having enough talent, and/or the right mix of talent. As a result, those CEOs say, that talent gap is presenting them with some significant challenges:

☛ 31 percent said they couldn’t innovate effectively;

☛ 29 percent couldn’t pursue attractive market opportunities; and

☛ 24 percent had to cancel or delay a strategic initiative.

But is it really just a talent gap? I would argue, from experience, that it’s an effective leadership gap.

Overcoming the Leadership Gap

Let’s go old-school in order to deal with the new school. As many of my colleagues know, at the core, a handful of successful & proven methodologies from the past is all you need to get the high performance performance & results we want. Here are a few of my recommendations to start out with:

☛ instead of measuring quantity of leadership or skills development training in the workplace as a metric, measure the business benefit extracted over the first 30, 60 & 90 days. What behaviors have changed as a consequence? How are these behaviors providing different performance & results from the past?

☛ instead of having PUSH communication, have engaging communication that fosters ownership, convergence, cross-functional and collaborative moving to action from every level of the organization. More importantly, get everyone literally on the same page through a simple One-Page Plan.

☛ make sure your strategic goals are driven by your desired company culture, and that jointly they feed into a simple & well articulated strategy map of a few business priorities that deliver the real results the organization needs.

☛ create rhythmic, agile & lean behaviors (mindset) that measure, modify & produce results more frequently. Be demanding and use both leading & lagging KPI’s, but most of all, make sure they are relevant to people up & down the org chart. Only through relevance will you get the engagement, commitment, ownership & performance you’re looking for.

Move the right people to the right action at the right time, it’s easier than you think!

Call to Action

Which of these 4 recommendations will you implement or improve upon immediately? How will you better drive, engage and leverage the HR transformation your company needs? You don’t need a strategy team if you already have the core competencies in HR. You just need to empower and help HR leaders become business-centric and data-driven enablers of revenue, innovation, and superb employee experiences.


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HBR Tips to Build Better Relationships with Your Employees

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3 Tips to Build Better Relationships with Your Employees

When people feel connected to you, even difficult conversations feel less threating. Here are three tips to forge stronger bonds with your employees:

  • Relate whenever you can. View every interaction as an opportunity to get to know someone a little better. Make a habit of asking employees one question about their work or their personal lives each time you encounter them.
  • Take note of subtleties. People seek emotional connection through countless small “bids” for attention—questions, gestures, or looks. Take stock of how much you notice these cues . You might also solicit some feedback from friends and family on how well you listen and respond to social cues in general.
  • Regularly express appreciation. Research shows that the ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1 in a successful relationship. You don’t need to pay someone five compliments before offering criticism, but do be mindful of the ratio.

How will you build these habits into your regular routine?

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For Effective Relationships & Problem Solving; Look Beyond the Situation

20130925-Angry-Man-Pointing-FingerWhen reading “How to better deal with angry people“, I was reminded of the core competency that helps you more effectively build relationships while solving problems.

You have to look beyond the immediate situation in front of you in order to find, and then address, the root cause. This article provides great detailed tips about how to better deal with angry people, and as with everything in life, if you can better understand the core competency / practice that’s being applied, you’ll more effectively be able to get past so many other situations in life (personal & professional).

Perception is dangerous

Remember, what you’re witnessing is your own perception / interpretation of a situation which has most likely been trigger way before you arrived on the scene. It’s a great buddhist quote and as well habit #5 in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People; seek to understand before being understood.

I encourage you to take 15 minutes, read this article in full, and then reflect how you’re going to better manage upcoming situations.

Would love to hear what you’ve come up with :-)

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The Meaning Economy; it’s just an evolution

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“Meaning” seems to be all the rage these days, but is it really something new? Harvard Business Review writes about Making Your Work More Meaningful, but is it the revolution it’s been hyped up to be? Having been at this for the past 30 years, experience tells me it’s more of an evolution. Just like social media is the evolution from the previous means of communications and relationship building, so is “meaning”. Even in the Industrial age, people looked for meaning from their lives. They spent the first half surviving and climbing the corporate ladder, to then search for meaning in the second half after having reached their plateau. And if you weren’t careful, you likely searched in some of the wrong places, delving into conflict of interests and questionable moral grounds. But that’s a conversation for another day.


Possibly one of the most expensive words in any industry theses days, it’s actually all about relevance and contribution. Forbes highlights that a full three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged (aka productive), and this is costing american businesses over $450 Billion. There are studies that focus on specific age groups, like “boomers“, but this is just a sampling of the situation. The fact is that regardless of the industry, gender, age grouping, ethnicity & even geographical location, this is a global epidemic because it’s been ignored for too long and practical solutions haven’t been put into place. Do a team building exercise and 9 out of 10 times you’ll find it’s just a bandaid solution. Wouldn’t you rather that Friday night beers be a team driven event to celebrate success instead of a company sponsored attempt to increase engagement? 9 out of 10 times your employees are back at work on Monday morning bitching about everything that’s wrong in your organization instead of proactively pursuing practical solutions that are going to change the environment long-term, and thus giving you truly sustainable (length of time) & scalable (size of impact) engagement & productivity.

Across 5 continents, from the North to South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and all the way down-under in Australia & New Zealand.. the common denominator for sustainable & scalable engagement is employees finding meaning through relevance in their contribution to the overall success of the organization. That’s the simple & secret formula that many overlook because they under evaluate the situation and over complicate the solution.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Scholastic intelligence will loose out to emotional intelligence every single time when it comes down to creating engagement that drives productivity. There are other key components to increased engagement & productivity that drive company results, such as effective communication, focus, attainable goals, rhythm, agility, momentum, etc.., but none of that matters if an employee can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. If they can understand, align & agree with where your company is headed and why you’re in business in the first place. That’s called company culture, and it’s the first place employees look for relevance. It’s the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs! Company culture represents the physiological, safety & love/belonging needs of a productive human being.

How employees contribute to the overall success of the organization, tied to rhythmic conversations, small wins / momentum and transparent communication is the esteem layer. Get these right, and you’ll find people overcoming all obstacles to self actualize along with your organizations newly found high performance.

Call to Action

What are you going to do differently? Are you going to measure KPI’s like staff attending training or are you going to measure palpable behavioral changes & techniques applied back into the business as a consequence? Changes that drive results? Are you going to take broad and meaningless (in terms of company performance) employee surveys, or are you going to be focused to discover which underlying employee engagement issues can give you immediate rewards when turned-around? A targeted and agile approach or big-bang lengthy one?

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Extroverts vs. Introverts; Finding balance gets the best results

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Whether you want to increase innovation and or engagement in your organization, the art of balancing personalities in workgroups / teams and meetings is extremely critical. When you encounter a situation where a team just isn’t jelling, but you can’t afford to wait for a newly configured team to come up to speed, the best solution is to find an experienced facilitator to balance out the power.

A good facilitator, in addition to bringing in some new & neutral insight into the discussion, will flatten out the highs (moderate the extrovert) and boost the lows (give voice to the introverts). Ironically enough, my experience demonstrates that the most valuable contribution and productive disruption often comes more from the introverts than it does from extroverts.


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How to avoid a communication breakdown

Communication-BreakdownHow can you avoid a communication breakdown? There’s only one solution, learn to speak their language.

By the end of this blog post I’m expecting you will understand the need to identify how to truly communicate, and thus engage (get buy-in & commitment) your audience.

This post was triggered after having read How You Can Avoid Communication Breakdown by Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC.

I can’t imagine effective & practical solutions unless they can be applied and practiced in one’s 24×7 life. Repetitive practice, after all, makes for perfection & breathes champions.

That said, let’s discuss Love Languages :-) , which are emotional receptors we all have that give us the truest sense of affectionate gratification. It’s where the term is typically applied; “I can’t even hear what you’re saying because your actions speak so loudly”The Five Love Languages were something that so profoundly affected my own personal life, that I started to share it with anyone who was searching for greater fulfillment in their personal relationships. At the same time, I was able to apply these very same languages to improve engagement in the workplace by “schooling” leaders on one of the more finer sides of an emotional intelligence equation.

The key here is to discover what is the preferred (primary) love language. As emotional creatures we have all five, but one (at max two) are what really make us feel loved / appreciated. Thinking about all five, which one of them most makes you feel fulfilled when you receive it? That’s your preferred or primary love language.

Personal context; The Five Love languages
  • Words of Affirmation; verbally recognize the accomplishment that someone’s made. Remind them of how beautiful, smart or motivating they are. Most importantly, when apologizing don’t sabotage the apology itself by making any form of a justification.
  • Acts of Service; take out the trash, wash the dishes, order takeout, watch a TV show or movie you might not normally like, be attentive to even the smallest opportunities like opening a door, rub their feet when they’re tired, etc..
  • Receiving Gifts; more than just buying the gift, take it to the next level with a surprise! Figure out something they want or mentioned recently, buy it & deliver it in a spontaneous way that will really give them the message of how much you love them.
  • Quality Time; look into their eyes and acknowledge their expressions when they’re sharing information. Turn the TV off or any other distractions that could ruin the moment. Sit in silence & just gaze at the stars, sunset, sun rise.. rev it up & go to the beach, a concert or sporting event.
  • Physical Touch; rubbing their feet when they were tired was an “act of service”, but if you rub their feet just for the sake of physical contact, then it’s “physical touch”. Scratch their head, run your fingers down their neck, shoulders, chest or arm.

*Note; when you are consistently stimulated by your prefered love, you tend to increase the importance of your secondary. So be attentive & be diverse :-)

Professional context; Relevance & Common Sense

Relevance; note that what trues motivates, aligns & engages someone is when they perceive their work / effort is relevant by making a contribution to the overall success of the organization. How do you breakdown your goals & performance measurements so that your team proposes plans as to how they will individually contribute to the success of the team?

Common Sense; respect everyone’s individual life experience. There is no such thing as “common” sense. What we view as common sense is simply the accumulation of lived experiences. A baby doesn’t know that fire or heat will burn until they first burn themselves on the oven. As with love languages, try understanding what messages will resonate with the individual characteristics of your team.

Love Languages at work;

  • Words of Affirmation; verbally recognize the accomplishment or effort that someone’s made. If they can do better, avoid “but” words, replacing them with “and”. You did a really great job Sandy, AND I’m sure your next opportunity will be even better by at least 10% at the rate you’re improving.
  • Acts of Service; give them some time off to pursue or collaborate in a project of interest that will also benefit the organization. Let them sit in on a meeting in another department, preferably one that has an inter-dependence, and invite them to make appropriate recommendations as to how performance could be improved transversally.
  • Receiving Gifts; get them some baseball tickets to the next home game, for them & a family member or friends. Use a discretionary spend account for gift vouchers that are relevant to them.
  • Quality Time; have regular (minimum monthly) 1-1 meetings to review their performance & contribution. Prepare for these sessions, make sure you turn-off / block all distractions for the 30-60 minute session. Look them in the eye and commit to action plans that will be reviewed in your next encounter.
  • Physical Touch; avoid the sexual harassment lawsuit buy them a voucher for a relaxing massage after a hard week or a rewarding effort. Give them a firm handshake and or genuine pat on their back when congratulating them on a fine effort and or accomplishment.

Again, the key insight here should be to never assume & respect that everyone is an individual with individual needs. Don’t assume that just because you’re Words of Affirmation, everyone else is the same. From their perspective, wether personal or professional, they’ll respect you more for having made the effort to get to know their authentic motivational triggers.

Call to action

What are you going to do differently tomorrow? Both in your personal & professional life?

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The Perfect Place to Work; How can this be you?

happyThe ideal place to work is where…

  1. “Let Me Be Myself”; Differences are nurtured, so individuals can be themselves at work and contribute their unique talents.
  2. “Tell Me What’s Really Going On”; Information is not suppressed or distorted, so people can find out what they need to know to do their work.
  3. “Discover and Magnify My Strengths”; Individuals are given meaningful chances to grow, becoming more valuable to the organization in the process.
  4. “Make Me Proud I Work Here”; the organization stands for something meaningful & the company is a place where everyone feels proud to work, spurring them to go beyond their stated roles.
  5. “Make My Work Meaningful”; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding, people’s day to day work makes sense to them, and they understand how their own jobs fit in with everyone else’s.
  6. “Don’t Hinder Me With Stupid Rules”; there are no stupid rules.

On a scale of 1-10, how would your organization meet these criteria?


For three years, London Business School professor Rob Goffee and the IE Business School professor Gareth Jones questioned hundreds of executives all over the world in publishing their May 2013 HBR article “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth”. As I reflect on their publication, I’m reinvigorated to see that all of the elements of strategic one-days, one-page plans and business coaching present here.

The Perfect Place to Work 6 part series

Over the next 6 weeks I will give you practical real-world examples of what these principles in action really look like. I will give you the relevant tools and highly practical next steps that will allow you to immediately put these into practice in your organization. I promise that by the end of the 6th weekly installment, you’ll be much more confident of how you will grade your organization, having put some of these solutions into place.

For now, review the 6 characteristics above and identify which are currently most adversely affecting your organization. What is already being done to address this? Stay tuned.. I’ll have more practical solutions for you soon.

Credit & Inspiration

This post was inspired by publishings from Andrea OvansRob Goffee and Gareth Jones.

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How round tables increase engagement & performance


Research shows that circular seating highlights the need to belong, whereas angular arrangements prime the desire to be unique.

Forget for a moment that this study is about consumer research, it’s underlying lesson is easily applied to human & organizational dynamics. Trade in your rectangular conference table for a round one if you want to increase the cohesiveness of your team, especially when finding solutions to deliver challenging results. Compared to the challenges you face today, the Knights of the Round Table had much more challenging circumstances in order more than survive, but thrive.

Lesson 1

The geometric shape of a seating arrangement can impact consumers by priming one of two fundamental needs: a need to belong or a need to be unique. What do you need? A group that works as a team, i.e. the group as a whole is greater the the individual sum? Or feeding the desire to be “unique” which has a team work as a series of individuals?

Lesson 2

Consumers (your audience) will be most favorable toward persuasion material (advertising) that is consistent with the primed need. “Primed need” is the job of leadership and effective communication. Make objectives & results expected relevant to the individuals to have to deliver them through their individual & collective performance.

A recent real life example

Mickey Arison is the owner of the Miami Heat, who just claimed their 2nd straight NBA Championship title. In a post game interview, he said about his management style; “Hire the best people you can and then let them do their jobs. If they make mistakes, learn from these in order to become better performers as a team”. While the Miami Heat may have the best player in the NBA in Lebron James, so did the Cleveland Cavaliers at one stage. Yet Cleveland were never able to win a championship, and eventually lost Lebron as a consequence. What Miami did differently was put the best people around the table, and then let them learn from their mistakes (failed first championship) to then outperform everyone else with two consecutive NBA titles.


Replace the word “consumer” with “employee or team member”; “Circular shaped seating arrangements prime a need to belong while angular shaped seating arrangements prime a need to be unique. The shape of a seating arrangement, a subtle environmental cue, can activate fundamental human needs, and these needs in turn affect consumer responses to persuasive messages.”

Effective leadership is all about persuasion and moving people to action. What’s within your control to affect your teams performance? What little things can you do to support a more cohesive unit that outperforms the competition?

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How to tap into the great leader already in you

'Leadereship' highlighted in greenYou are already a great leader, or at least you have it inside of you, now you just need to tap into that source. As long as you can become passionate about something, and share that passion with someone, then you will find that you can always create an opportunity to find like-minded audiences who will follow your lead.

I have to be honest.. I often tire of reading leadership updates that profess to have found the next new revelation.

Keeping it simple

I’ve always found it easiest to do in business as you would do in personal life. This prevents conflict of interest, and stops you from having to think too hard about how to behave when a decision needs to be made. People will only consistently be inspired & follow if they believe and trust. It’s a matter of authenticity, and people are too smart to be fooled by anything less.

The Five Practices

While recently reading The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Model, I was again reminded about how each and everyone of us already has the traits to be a successful leader in our own right.

Can you not…

  • Model the Way (walk the talk)?
  • Inspire a Shared Vision (tell relevant stories)?
  • Challenge the Process (ask “why”)?
  • Enable Others to Act (share the responsibility)?
  • Encourage the Heart (provide feedback & recognition)?
Private vs. public life

How do you lead at home? With friends & family? How do you inspire your children? More than stating facts, aren’t you more successful when you tell stories? Stories that are relevant to whichever audience you’re wanting to move to action & join you? At the core, it’s the same in business, you just need to carry over those traits and express them in a business format to obtain the same results.

Leadership training doesn’t work

Leadership is more about bringing out the leader already in you, and finding a way for those traits to resonate with your target audience, than it is about trying to become “a leader”. That’s where people typically have the challenge, tapping into their natural leadership state in order to become an authentic leader.

That’s why it’s called “leadership development” & not “leadership training”.

Call to action

If you can’t do it on your own, find someone who can help you identify what’s not working? Maybe you’ve been trying to become a leadership style you’re not. How can you leverage the resources at your disposal to turn the situation around? Can you use your environment to help you share the leadership challenge? Do you simply need to tap into your authentic self (strengths)? Do you need to make some adjustments in your team because you’ve simply hired the wrong people?

You’re more in control of influencing the situation than you might have originally thought. So what’s your next move?

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The best team will always beat-out the best individual performer

Team ConstructionAfter reading “The Secret to Putting Together an Insanely Successful Team”, I wanted to highlight a best practice criteria for building great business teams.

The author Sallie Krawcheck goes on to state; “When I have built business teams in the past, I’ve tried to round out the group by including

– a visionary
– a doer
– a skeptic
– a client advocate
– and a “historian” as part of the team

I have also worked to include diverse backgrounds, whether acquired (time spent abroad, time spent at competitors) or innate (gender, ethnicity).”

What are some of the characteristics of the best teams you’ve ever worked with or created?

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How the power of “NO” can increase your productivity

Yes_No ScalesWhat if you were to say “NO” to one thing each day?

Too radical? How about each week or even month? I’m just looking for you to take one step, which I’m sure you’ll repeat and increase in intensity once you’ve reaped the rewards of your first “NO”.

What’s your first “NO” going to be?

– Commitments you can let go
– Appointments that aren’t absolutely essential
– Non-essential to-do items
– Multi-tasking
– Distractions
– Moving quickly
– Doing smaller tasks instead of important tasks

This list was inspired by a post that came across my browser. It was just a simple reminder that you can’t make space for something new, potentially more rewarding, unless you get rid of something old (like a habit). Think back to last week.. and now reflect on the elements of the week that didn’t provide you any added value. What activities just took up space on your calendar, and didn’t provide any significant thrust toward your goals or objectives?

Real world example

For several weeks, a client of mine kept resisting a “NO” challenge. Finally, he said “NO” to everything that he deemed “unimportant / non-priority” for one week. By the end of the week, his e-mail was overloaded and certain commitments his clients were expecting went unfulfilled. A failed experiment? Absolutely not. After a 15 minute debriefing, what he realized was that too many people within the organization hadn’t stepped up to the plate & assumed delivery responsibilities that were within their competency.

An opportunity

He went on to encourage others to go beyond the perceived limitations they blamed for not delivering more. With my help, he worked with these individuals to develop the solutions that were within their reach to satisfy their customers needs. At the same time, I worked with their leadership to instill more autonomy & empowerment across the board.


By the end of the exercise, without any additional investment, we had;

1) gained 25% of productivity for my client, who could now invest this new found time in more strategic priorities and thus adding greater value to his customers.

2) empowered a series of product managers to go beyond their perceived limitations, giving them greater recognition, satisfaction & motivation to deliver even more.

3) shortened the delivery cycle to final end-users, getting them much needed solutions they required to do their jobs better & faster.

These were only the 3 benefits immediately experienced. As in other cases, there are already additional knock-on affects of that first “NO”. Ironically, this is an example of how a “NO” is delivering multiple “YESes” across an entire organization.

Call to action

What’s going to be your first “NO”?

– Commitments you can let go
– Appointments that aren’t absolutely essential
– Non-essential to-do items
– Multi-tasking
– Distractions
– Moving quickly
– Doing smaller tasks instead of important tasks

I would love to hear back from you with the results you experience after this experiment. please come back & post your results so that others can continue to learn from your experiences.

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How fixing your hiring pitfalls can save your company

Applying the Topgrading methodology could save the US economy $300 million!

As a decade long practitioner, I fully support their case-study.

The Facts

– There were approximately 51 million people hired across all industries in the U.S. in 2011

– 10% of all hires in 2011 were managers, so let’s assume there were approximately 5.1 million managers hired in the U.S. in 2011

– The average salary of “managers” is approximately $59,000

– 25% of managers hired turn out to be serious mis-hires (a.k.a. “C Players”)

– The cost of mis-hiring a C Player is, very conservatively, five times their pay (5 x $59,000 = $295,000)

Cost of mis-hire studies

– 5 times salary for a sales rep

– 15 times salary for upper mid managers

– 27 times salary for highly paid presidents and CEOs

Variables required for success

Just like any other proven process, there are 2 essential non-negotiables you’ll have to ensure in order to reap these rewards.

1) You will have to have a clear company culture (here’s an example) that is actively lived.

2) You’ll have to have an effective leadership that understands the story & will be the gardian of your values & principles.

Leadership is much more than “management”, and it’s awe-inspiring when effectively practiced. These statistics talk about certain key roles, but they are relevant to any role in your organization. Can you really afford to continue to have “C Players” that detract from your potential to scale?

Call to action; how are you insuring your hiring practice

Do you have all of the fundamentals necessary for the skill & will “bullseye”?

Do you have the practice to ladder / drilldown to get the real story and subsequent hidden impacts?

Do you sell sell sell your organization until the candidates can’t wait to come in & get on-boarded? Do you even have an effective on-boarding process?

What are you going to do (differently) next in order to improve your current situation?

If you don’t have some, or any of these, I suggest you contact me for a quick 30m chat that could save your company (and peace of mind).

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Why management is killing your company’s growth

The act of “management”, by its own connotation and emotional association, is a constrictive exercise with a goal of limiting (the risk) a situation.

You manage a crisis.. you manage a dip in sales or performance.. you manage someone who’s not performing.. etc.

If you find that everyone in your company is managing, then who the hell is leading it?

Leading gets things done

Leading, on the other hand, is an expansive exercise with the goal of getting you beyond a situation. You lead people into the promise land. You lead people to recognize & achieve their untapped potential. You lead an organization into a new market, opportunity and or greater results & performance.

When you’re leading effectively, you’ll find yourself doing a lot less management because people in your organization will be more invested & committed to stepping up to the plate and taking charge. Vested people keep things from having to be managed!

Exclusive vs. inclusive

Management, traditionally, is hierarchical. You don’t hear of people “managing” unless they’ve been promoted. On the other hand, leadership is hierarchical-less and can come from anywhere within your organization. You don’t need to promote anyone into a leadership role, you just need to foster leadership as a desired opportunity that can make anyone shine.

A receptionist can lead an initiative that has everyone in the office become more enthusiastic about the workplace environment. Likewise, as a face to your public, they can contribute impact-filled insight based on what they’re hearing when your audience thinks no one is listening.

Managing is limting

Anytime I’ve walked into an organization that was in trouble, I first had to managed (damage control) before I could lead (taking them to the next level). In my own life, when I’ve found myself in trouble, I’ve first had to manage my circumstances before I could lead myself into a better state.

Sound familiar? If you spend too much time managing, you’re most likely only acting upon the symptoms and not the root cause. That’s called going in circles! You’ll also find that management is a very lonely place. Leadership, on the other hand, is inspiring and naturally makes people want to join in on the fun & celebrate.

Getting ahead of the curve

Over the last 3 decades, especially in the US &  Europe, economical cycles have not affected some organizations as it did others. Wether colleagues or competitors, those that found themselves prioritizing a leadership culture not only made it easier to get through tough times, it made them better prepared to leverage the first signs of recovery. They always seem to find themselves 3 steps ahead of others who buried their heads in management roles.

People naturally want to lead & be lead

All of the popular surveys today scream out that people don’t want to be managed. People work best when they’re inspired. People engage more when they believe in a cause, and therefore chose to be led. People will break their backs, astonishing you with their creativity and conviction to succeed when they have a vested interest.

Call to action; it’s your choice

Why are you still managing when you could be leading? The process is simple! You just need to break the pattern and make different choices. Initially it  will take some management, but leadership is your end goal.

What one thing can you do today to get you on the road to leading vs managing? How can you align, motivate & empower your organization to truly scale by taking care of the day-to-day and allowing you to focus on leading them to the promised land?


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Making choices that drive results that matter

Whilst reading Seth Godin’s recent recent mini article on the illusion of choice, I was transcended back to my own experiences of  tail-spin vs. actively taking one significant step toward a solution that matters.

Making an educated “none of the above” choice far outweighs a multitude of decisions that run people in circles & provide no real different result as a consequence.

Making a choice often means admitting we don’t have the answer & seeking help where we haven’t before. Making a choice can be uncomfortable, but I can guarantee it’s an opportunity for growth. Making a choice brings along responsibility and mandates follow-through.

In order to make a rewarding choice we must recognize our existing circumstances and find the root cause of what’s gotten us here. Only then can we say “none of the above” and make a choice to head in a different direction. The saying goes “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

What choices are you going to make today that are different from what you’ve done in the past? What hasn’t worked for you (to the degree that you wanted) so far? And how will the next different choice break a recognizable pattern, that instead delivers a different results moving you in the direction you need to be?

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Crossing the chasm

The right question is not, “is the path perfect?”.. but rather “is this somewhere I’d like to go?” Because it’s significantly easier to cross a gap when you have a direction and momentum. – Seth Godin’s “life is full of holes”

Think about your own personal or professional challenges? When have you been able to face the unknown and conquer your own fears? What has inspired or encouraged you to take “a leap of faith”?

It’s not easy to leave your comfort zone, but the rewards that come with the learnings are priceless. That’s why I call that space just outside of your comfort zone.. the learning zone. That’s where you learn the most about yourself, what you truly stand for, and what you’re all about.

If you’re unwilling to look inward or backward in reflection to recognize what needs to be changed.. if you’re unwilling to look beyond the hurdle or chasm just ahead of you and find strength in the reason why you must make that leap of faith.. if you’re not ready to embrace the learning zone as a necessary tool to make you better & stronger.. then you’re not really willing to do what’s necessary to make your dreams & ambitions a reality.

Where is it that you want to go? What’s the purpose behind your climb? What’s the support network you’ve engaged to get you there? How have you made your journey relevant to theirs? What are the most important 3 to 5 things that you need to nail in order to be successful? These are only the first questions you should be asking yourself well before you find that next chasm.

And always remember.. it’s significantly easier to cross a gap when you have a direction and momentum.

What’s driving your direction and momentum these days? How are you providing the right direction and momentum to your support team?

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The art of execution requires excellent communication

“The challenge of communication isn’t to never miscommunicate, it’s to cut down the time between the interaction and the realization that the communication didn’t get through.”

Let that sink in for a few seconds…

“Because the sooner we know we’re not connecting, the sooner we can fix it.”  That comes from Seth Godin’s most recent article on “communication”. It’s masterful in it’s simplicity!

The key to scaling an organization ends at relevance and starts with communication. The faster you can communicate to your audience how what you need done is relevant to them and their success, the faster you will get the buy-in, commitment, quality & results you require to achieve your goals.

It’s due this very same logic that makes the One Page Practice so effective in getting people literally on the same page, rowing in unisone in the the right direction, and getting the right results when you most need them.

How are you ensuring you’ve got the most effective and efficient communication protocols in your organization?

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Employee Retention; Money is NOT an intrinsic motivator

It’s not rocket science, people no longer leave their jobs purely for more money, but rather for more intrinsic motivators of personal development & growth.

As Leigh Branham states in his book; The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, “employee turnover is not an event.. it is a process of disengagement that can take days, weeks, months or even years until the actual decision to leave occurs”. His four fundamental human needs of trust, hope, sense of worth and competence (when lacking) that drive employee disengage and thinking about leaving come straight from Maslow’s hierarchy of  needs.

Another latest substantiation that money is NOT an intrinsic motivator can be found on Dan Ariely’s TED Talk: What makes us feel good about our work.

Both of these examples can be immediately traced back to either poor leadership, and or leadership development, or the company was a wrong match to begin with. The latter is resolved when and if the company in question published, communicated & actively lived it’s core ideology.

Seeing as neither people nor organizations change their behaviors unless the pain becomes so great that there is no other choice, I’d love to hear what change you’re going to implement in your behavior as a leader, including influencing your organization’s current behavior. Please comment below..

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