Shift the conversations and the results will follow

I can’t say enough about the power of words and conversations. Changing certain conversations can change the course of your direction and results for the better or worse.

People say that “Talk is cheap“. That is not true! Talk is very powerful, but we tend to make talk ‘cheap’ by speaking in ways that either don’t make any difference or that undermine what is important to us.

For example: If a commitment we have or a project we are working on isn’t going well, complaining about it, or blaming others for why it isn’t working won’t make a difference and won’t change anything. In fact, it would most likely make things worse. Blaming others may be based on a legitimate reason, but apart from making them wrong and making you right, it won’t change the outcome.

Alternatively, feeling bad or ‘guilty’, or beating yourself up and blaming yourself is the opposite side of exactly the same thing – undermining and doesn’t make a difference.

People also say:

Actions speaks louder than words

Well, that is not true either. Words are action and action depends on words to make it most effective and impactful.

For example: If a Rabbi or Priest pronounces you and your spouse “Man and wife” your life just changed. If a judge declares you “Innocent” or “Guilty” that will affect your world. And, if the president of your country declares war against another country, that will affect your life too. Words are very powerful. They shape and alter the course of our life.

Alternatively, if you take an action with the intention of helping someone, but that someone doesn’t interpret your action consistent with how you intended, most likely you will create upset or other negative effects. The road to failure and disappointment is often rife with good intent. Or as we sometimes refer to it: “Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons”.

The power of words and conversations manifests in organizations every day. If you go to any organization and you pay attention, you would hear, see and sense it. In some organizations the conversations circle around victim conversations. People whine a lot, complain, blame and make excuses a lot. In other organizations, there is zero tolerance for excuses and blame. Instead, the conversations orient around commitment. People don’t care about who’s fault it is. They only focus on conversations that make a difference like: requesting, promising and declaring commitments. These two sets of conversations are drastically different and you can clearly hear them in both the formal and informal conversations in any organization, and see them in people’s actions and behaviors.

I have worked with organizations that were dealing with very challenging market conditions. When I came in to help them people were complaining about their circumstances, making excuses and blaming other functions in their organization for their struggling performance. When we shifted the internal conversations and rhetoric from “excuses, justifications, and complaints” to “declarations, requests, and promises”; from “cynicism and resignation conversations” to “holding each other to account and highlighting successes“, their performance and results started to shift too.

I have also seen organizations that had very strong market conditions. They tried to launch new initiatives and ideas, but because their internal conversations stayed cynical, complacent and circumstantial they didn’t succeed, they didn’t stay the course and they couldn’t leverage the tailwind they had to achieve the growth they wanted. Instead of taking responsibility for their behaviors and failures they continued to blame the market and their competitors, and they stayed stuck.

The moral of the story is:

Words and conversations are powerful actions – if you shift the conversations and rhetoric in your team, your behaviors and results will follow.

However, actions without conversations are not as powerful – if you keep doing more of what you have done, and even try new things, but you don’t shift the conversations to be more commitment, ownership, and action-oriented, your results most likely won’t shift much either.

The power is in the conversations, which is good news, as it is not that hard to shift conversations. Focus on shifting your team’s conversations to be consistent with the type of dynamics, behaviors, and results you want, and see what happens.


Don’t forget to count your blessings!

This week, Americans are celebrating their Thanksgiving holiday. I am not an American, however, I love Thanksgiving and the opportunity it gives us to formally ‘give thanks’. We don’t count our blessings nearly enough and we definitely don’t express gratitude to the people we respect and love enough. We all could do a better job with this, no matter what country we live in.

There is a quote from Swindoll that I like that says:

Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.”

On a daily basis, we deal with circumstances and situations that give us the opportunity to choose our outlook, mood, and course of action. Sometimes we relate to our circumstances as a misfortunate, and, as a result, we feel disappointed or discouraged. At other times, we relate to what life dealt us as fortunate and therefore we feel victorious and energized.

When we view the glass as half empty, this perspective pulls us down. It colors our experience of everything. Have you ever noticed that when you are upset about one thing, you tend to see other things as not working, too? Alternatively, you only focus on the bad things and ignore the great things?

However, when we focus on the glass being half full, this perspective uplifts, empowers and energizes us. We see all the good things and opportunities around us. Have you ever noticed that when you feel great about something that is important to you, you tend to have much more tolerance and acceptance of the things that are not going well?

We are often so consumed by, and reactive to the minutia of our daily life that we forget that we really have a choice about how we view, relate and react to things around us.

The reason I love Thanksgiving so much is that this holiday is a time formally designated for seeing the ‘half full view’ and the positive things around us; a time to be grateful and thankful, and a time to express our love and gratitude.

Most of us spend too much of our days being negative and cynical about things.

The world would be a better place if more people expressed more appreciation and gratitude more often.

Regardless of where you live, I wish you an authentic and meaningful Thanksgiving holiday! May you use this holiday as an “excuse” to give thanks to everything and everyone in your life that you appreciate, love and respect.

Don’t be lazy, don’t be stingy and don’t take any of it for granted.


Are you investing in building your team?

If you were the manager of an NBA basketball team, or any professional sports team, with the best stars in the league, would there be any dilemma or doubt in your mind about the need for a coach?

Would you think: “We don’t need to spend time on team strategies and team dynamics, they take away from individual players’ shooting practice or their chance to rest between games?

And, if you were winning the playoffs, would you then feel that “We don’t need a coach because we are doing so well“?

The answer is No, No and No! No sports manager in his/her right mind would think this way. And, by the way, it is the same with any Olympic athlete or world-class musician and probably in many other disciplines.

So why do so many CEOs and leaders don’t get it?! Why do so many leaders avoid investing in building their teams?

You could say: “Well, in the NBA the goal, prize and what is at stake are so clear” and “Well, basketball is a team effort“.

But, isn’t it exactly the same in business?

I was working with a large global technology company that was going through tremendous growth and change after acquiring a few companies in a very short period of time. A very ambitious undertaking under any circumstance.

With such a bold undertaking they expected that things would get worse before they got better. But the ‘get worse‘ phase was taking too long. Their performance wasn’t where they wanted it to be and it wasn’t improving fast enough. Needless to say, the downward trend was undermining internal and external morale and confidence.

The senior leaders were especially frustrated because they felt that a big reason for why things were not improving faster was that the level of alignment, trust and communication within the senior team itself was not strong. This was undermining the level of alignment and collaboration within the teams under them and hindering their ability to collaborate and fix problems.

However, the CEO felt that taking the senior leaders out of the field for a meeting was not a good investment of time. In fact, he felt that every minute away from being with customers or selling was a waste of time. He also felt that there was no point talking about anything other than how to make the sales numbers for the current week, month and quarter because if they didn’t make their very short-term numbers, they won’t have a future to talk about. Lastly, he felt that the one-hour conference call he had with his leaders every Friday, was sufficient for them to coordinate things and stay on the same page. Most of the heavy lifting he did in one-on-one calls with each of his senior leaders.

While his rational had logic, following it dragged the company further down. He was speaking with all his leaders, but they were not speaking among themselves. After a few quarters, during which the company did not meet its targets, the CEO was only then willing to change his mind. He agreed – at first reluctantly – to spend a day with his senior leaders.

To make a long story short, when the senior team started to spend quality time together, their trust, unity, alignment, courage and communication grew exponentially. They were able to discuss and address the real challenges and opportunities and make decisions that they all owned. It didn’t take long before company results started to turn around too.

I have seen this type of turnaround many times before!

When team members are in it together, they can accomplish extraordinary things. Nothing is too big for them. They are bigger than any circumstance, challenge, or opportunity. However, when team members are siloed and divided, they will be smaller than their circumstances and they will not overcome even basic challenges and opportunities. In fact, things would most likely get worse around them, just like the example above.

If you want to take your game to the next level, you need to think strategically and that often means going slower and smarter in order to go faster. To do that you must make sure that your senior team is 100% aligned, committed and in it together.

Like any NBA championship team, you need to invest the time to build and coach your team.

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out

Too often I see the following scenario: A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s success. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time, in fact, they can actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People stay within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

Take as an example a successful technology company that was trying to take its game to the next level. One of their biggest challenges – and opportunity – was to get all their business units and functions working together in a more cohesive and aligned way. Instead of interacting with customers with one voice, different sales and services groups were promoting their own agendas, often competing with other internal groups for customers’ mindshare and business. Cross-selling was suffering and a lot of potential revenues was left on the table.

The senior leadership team of this company made many attempts to get on the same page. They scheduled many long and exhausting meetings, but these perpetuated the vagueness and didn’t create clarity and alignment. Leaders left these meetings with different understandings and expectations and every time issues came up and a leader would say “But, we agreed on this!” a colleague would respond with “We never agreed on this!” Needless to say, this company was not going to the next level any time soon.

Why does this happen? It is either because leaders lack the courage to drive clarity in the face of controversy, or they lack the understanding of their role as leaders, or they lack the ability to effectively manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out!

Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation, and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 percent alignment behind a goal that is 80 percent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 percent behind one point of view and others are zero percent. How motivated are those ‘zero percent people’ to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so”.

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.