When leaders substitute visions, missions, purposes, plans, or goals for the real work of strategy, they send their firms adrift.
When discussing strategy, executives often invoke some version of a vision, a mission, a purpose, a plan, or a set of goals. I call these “the corporate five” (see exhibit, below). Each is important in driving execution, no doubt, but none should be mistaken for a strategy. The corporate five may help bring your strategy to life, but they do not give you a strategy to begin with.
Nevertheless, they are often mistaken for strategy—and when that happens, real damage can ensue. If the corporate five are the cart and strategy is the horse, leaders who put the cart first often end up with no horse at all.
Before they get to the corporate five, companies need to address five much more fundamental, and difficult, questions. Let’s call them the “the strategic five”:
1. What business or businesses should you be in?
2. How do you add value to your businesses?
3. Who are the target customers for your businesses?
4. What are your value propositions to those target customers?
5. What capabilities are essential to adding value to your businesses and differentiating their value propositions?
Several years ago the nature of management’s future was driven home to me in a flash, as I shared the stage with my co-author and business partner Dr. Martha Rogers. It was the heyday of the dot-com boom, and we had just done an hour-long joint presentation for an audience of thousands, arguing that online technology now demanded that companies maintain relationships with their customers, individually. CRM (“Customer Relationship Management”) was being birthed during this period, and Martha and I felt like midwives in the process.
Q&A time came, and a man took the microphone to say that while this all sounded fine and good, “Isn’t there a quicker way to build a relationship?”
Martha and I looked briefly at each other, and then without missing a beat she responded, “Well, isn’t that just like a man?”Read More
You’ve done what you were supposed to do. You got a great degree. You landed your first job. You’ve now been promoted a few times. And you’re now hanging on LinkedIn like every good professional should do.
You now are making decent money—more money than you ever thought you’d make. You’re married and now have responsibilities – kids, a mortgage, parents who may outlive their savings. But you’re not living the life that you envisioned. You may say you are. But be honest. Brutally honest with yourself. Move all fear to the side. Admit it.Read More
“Time to Think”
By Nancy Kline
Précis by Pete Laburn
Everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. However determined or indefatigable or charismatic a person may be, their every action is only as good as the idea behind it. Therefore, in order to improve action, we have to first improve our thinking. The most important factor in whether or not people think well is how they are treated by the people with them. In fact the quality of a person’s attention determines the quality of the other persons thinking. So while everything we do depends on the thinking we do first, the quality of our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other. In this way the most important thing we can do with our life and with our leadership is to listen to people so expertly and give them attention so respectfully, that they will begin to think for themselves, clearly and afresh.
Blockages to good thinking are almost always assumptions being made by the thinker unawares. Assumptions that seem to be like truth. These limiting assumptions make it impossible for the thinker’s ideas to flow further. Of all the impediments to thinking these limiting assumptions are the most deadly. Taking these revelations into account, any good thinking process must include a mighty listening process on the part of the listener, and a process of questions so that the human mind, first freed by being paid the highest quality attention, can also leap past debilitating assumptions and be able to think of things inconceivable before.Read More
Many of you may have seen the below letter, written by Stephen Price to President Jacob Zuma, which was published a few weeks back. It sums up what is needed from our leaders in power as well as anyone who is in a position of leadership. In South Africa, as in many other parts of the world, strong leadership is so critical in establishing a culture of respect, service and unity for positive and productive growth. Ultimately, this letter serves as much as a reminder to the leader in each of us as it does a desperate plea to President Zuma.Read More
This is a well written article by my colleauge Keith Coats on humility in leadership. Too many leaders today are operating without humility, choosing rather to function with an over-confident and arrogant approach. The leaders of tomorrow are, as Keith explains, those who practice humility in their approach to leadership…
Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings is a worthwhile read (Kindle edition here). He looks into what has made best performing companies (in the USA) sustain their ‘start-up spirit’. In the book Jennings offers some arresting insights based on solid research done at the coal face of business . (It was written in 2005, before the recession, but is still highly relevant.)
One of the companies examined is that of Koch Industries, a firm founded by Fred Koch in 1940 with roots in the refining industry. The company’s annual revenues currently exceed $100 billion and according to Forbes, it is America’s second-largest privately held firm. Today, Charles and David Koch, the sons of Fred Koch, lead Koch Industries. Charles recalls two pieces of advice he was given by his father when he first joined the family business and was immediately given a part of the business (Koch Engineering Company) to run. The first bit of advice was to travel to Europe and explore what amounted to an operational strategic option. But this isn’t the advice that caught my attention – rather it was the second piece of advice that Fred gave to his son: that his son’s first deal would be a loser, “because otherwise you’ll think you are a lot smarter than you are.”
It was all about being, and remaining, humble.Read More
My colleague at Tomorrow Today, Keith Coats, recently published this excellent article about the 11 things that smart leaders know, do and live. I believe that these below points offer a solid foundation on which to build your own leadership skills and experience.
Charlie Parker, a genius when it comes to the saxophone, once said, “Jazz comes from who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.”
Charlie was spot-on - at least when it comes to leadership… I wouldn’t know about jazz!
Leadership is about who you are. It is about character. It is about looking inwards in order to lead outwards. The source of leadership is within rather than a set of external skills. The best leaders are those who know themselves, know their strengths and play to those strengths. They understand something of the connected, relational and paradoxical nature of the world in which they live and lead. They embrace change as an opportunity rather than a threat and they remain humble, lifelong learners who find wisdom in the small, the simple and the overlooked.Read More
Zachary Tumin and William Bratton, coauthors of Collaborate or Perish! Reaching across Boundaries in a Networked World, introduce an excerpt about how managers can become collaboration catalysts from The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential, by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese.
The difference now is that we are where Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler said we’d be — the world is an electronic village in which the power of small groups to disrupt the status quo is soaring and response times are fast approaching zero. Digital technology has changed everything.
Or has it? Technology is an essential element of collaboration, but it’s no silver bullet. It can take out the friction, but in this era of big data, there are still plenty of big collaborative failures.
What makes collaboration so hard? It necessitates reaching across boundaries, building trust quickly, joining the assets of multiple networks, and making everything work together. All in an environment where you may have little or no formal authority, yet face the challenge of overcoming legacy systems, slow-moving bureaucracies, and mind-sets that favor collaboration only as a last resort.
In short, successful collaboration requires leadership. This excerpt from a book by Cisco executives Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese explains the key behaviors that leaders must exhibit to support and enhance collaboration. Every leader looking to unpack the riddle of collaboration and chart a sure path forward should read it.
— Zachary Tumin and William Bratton
Peter Drucker, in describing eight practices of effective executives, threw in a bonus practice: “This one is so important that I will elevate it to a rule: Listen first, speak last.”
The essence of leadership is to get results in a way that inspires trust. Although there are many behaviors that create trust, none offers greater leverage than listening. Yet, remarkably, it remains something many managers fail to do well. In extensive surveys conducted by FranklinCovey regarding 13 trust-building behaviors, the ability of managers to listen was consistently rated as their least effective skill by employees.
Left to our own devices, we listen last or not at all. Especially with our own employees. In this excerpt, Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind explain how leaders can counteract this tendency by creating structured, formal processes for listening.
Of course, listening alone is not enough; it is understanding that really creates trust and provides insight. Understanding does not necessarily mean you agree; in fact, you may disagree. It simply means that you understand. The test of understanding is not when you tell others, “I understand you”; rather, it’s when they tell you, “I feel understood.” But we will seldom reach understanding without first listening.
— Stephen M.R. CoveyRead More
This piece by David Korten is absolutely spot on and brings forward many interesting questions and ideas for what a new world away from one so reliant on financial and monetary measurement would look like.Read More
James O’Toole, author of more than a dozen leadership and management books, and coeditor of Good Business: Exercising Effective and Ethical Leadership, introduces an excerpt from The End of Leadership, by Barbara Kellerman, that takes the leadership industry to task.
Barbara Kellerman has every right to be mad as hell. Indeed, as you’ll see below, she is not being the least bit intemperate when she claims that our leaders have failed us of late. And she isn’t just talking about Ken Lay, Donald Rumsfeld, and others of their sorry ilk whose egregious behavior generated headlines about corporate bankruptcy and needless wars. She cites a recent poll showing that only 7 percent of all employees trust their leaders.
Kellerman’s main point is that those of us in the education racket deserve a full share of blame for this state of affairs. With a few notable exceptions, we’ve failed to recognize or acknowledge that the enterprise in which we are engaged is about as effective as faith healing. And, as she usefully notes, “the metrics are mostly missing” from the field of leadership development. In other words, we have no idea what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the education and training of leaders. I would go further and assert that we don’t even have metrics for what amounts to effective leadership in the first place (in contrast, for example, to the sound data available for judging the management of financial performance).
If anything, most corporate in-house leadership training is an even bigger waste of time and money than what goes on in business schools. Kellerman is right on target when she singles out the manifest inadequacies of the two corporate leadership development programs most often cited as world class: those at General Electric and Goldman Sachs. And those programs are run by the best minds in the business and supported by generous budgets!
Hey, I guess I’m as ticked off about all this as Kellerman is. If you aren’t, I suggest you read what she has written below and then you will be.Read More
Aren’t you tired of top business executives protesting innocence, and outrage when one of their trusted employees is found acting unethically. They seem astonished that this could happen on their watch. Particularly as they have continuously emphasized their company values – and even have the ‘values statement’ proudly hanging in their opulent receptions. This is particularly true of the banking world at present.
They forget however the old management reality that ‘all employees are smart ans that they all act system rational’ . In other words employees don’t listen to what top management says, they simply work out very quickly what gets inspected, what gets appreciated, what earns them the greatest recognition, and do it with enthusiasm.Read More
I picked up on this article from my colleague Dean at TomorrowToday. In it he talks about the Zappos corporation, a company which has built a unique company culture around delivering happiness to its customers by offering them the best possible customer service. In light of my previous post pointing out that it is what companies choose to measure that actually get done, here is an organization placing an emphasis on measuring their customers happiness rather than just the bottom line as do most banks…
Delivering Profits by Delivering Happiness
A few months ago I read the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos an online shoe and clothing retailer in the United States. It’s a great read and was number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Tony together with his team at Zappos has built a unique company culture around delivering happiness to its customers by offering the best possible customer service. Importantly no lip service is paid to this quest and employees who don’t deliver are bribed with hard cash to leave! New employees at Zappos undertake a rigorous induction course. At the end of it they are offered their full salary plus $2000 as a bribe to walk away if they don’t believe they can deliver the level of customer service expected.
Last year I had the privilege of interviewing the COO of Zappos Alfred Lin. He said something simple and yet profound at the same time. With all the hype around social media, Alfred believes that the phone is still the best device for building a relationship with a customer.
Call centre operators at Zappos are not measured by the number of customers they serve, or the duration of a call, but rather by how happy the customer is with the customer experience. Most call centre operators are measured by the speed with which they move onto the next call – not a Zappos, where this industry benchmark is not even measured. Customers who have heard about the level of service commitment have even tried to test Zappos by phoning them and ordering a pizza (not shoes or clothes which Zappos sells). Not surprisingly the Zappos call agent made a plan and had a pizza delivered to the customer.
This attention and commitment to the customer experience may not always result in an immediate sale, but word gets around. Where so many internet startup fail, Zappos has grown to over a billion dollars annual sales revenue in under ten years, seventy-five percent of its customers are repeat purchasers and last year was sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion. Whoever says customer service doesn’t pay should take a look at what the clever folk at Zappos are doing.
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This article by Paul Bridle just goes to show how the “banking system” is what is rotten, and regrettably when you join a bank, you have to play the system! I guess the same goes for any big organization – or medium sized for that matter: the measurements put in place by the leaders are ultimately what gets done by the employees. For some organizations it is an emphasis on values, culture and ethos, whilst it sadly appears that for others, (big banks and multinational corporations) the emphasis is solely on ‘making money at all costs!’ If you are working or participating in society or business today, you have got to understand the system ( read: culture , ethics, purpose, values etc ) and the way things are done, and what is measured, so that you can align it with your own sense of purpose and values.Read More
I really enjoyed this article from Greg McKeown on letting go of control in your life. Too often we prioritize our life based on the ideas of what we feel we ought to do, say or act when in fact the opposite is true. Drawing on the wisdom and stories of Gandhi, McKeown presents three principles for avoiding the mistake of living your ‘social’ self rather than your ‘essential’ self…
“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” So said Mahatma Gandhi, and we all know how his conviction played out on the world stage. But what is less well known is how this same discipline played out privately with his own grandson, Arun Gandhi.Read More