Start talking plain English

This may sound over simplistic, but one of the reasons teams find it so hard to get everyone on the same page when it comes to important strategies and plans is because people simply don’t talk in plain English.

I don’t mean that people don’t speak the English language. I mean that people in corporations tend to talk in a conceptual, vague, unclear and convoluted corporate language, which is predicated on professional slogans, jargon, acronyms and other shortcut phrases and noun-type words.

For example, people say things like: We want to be Best in Class‘, but it is hard to tell if that means ‘Best among their peers in the industry’, ‘Best among other teams in their company’ or ‘Much better than they are today’?

Or, people say: “We need to enable our teams”, but do they mean train everyone, improve specific systems and/or tools, create new systems and/or tools or all of the above?

While everyone assumes that everyone else understands what is said and meant – more often than not that is completely not the case. Then people wonder why not everyone is owning the strategy and rowing in the same direction.

You wouldn’t fly with a pilot that commanded his flight with the low-level clarity and rigor that most corporate teams manage their business with. Nor would you put your body under the knife of a surgeon if you believed that he or she wasn’t 100% accurate and precise about their strategy and proposed execution of the operation. We don’t tolerate approximate measures when life is at stake. But for some reason, we do tolerate vagueness and lack of clear and rigorous conversations in business.

Corporate language is a language of implicit, not explicit clarity. You would think that with so much at stake within the business world people would want to leave nothing to chance. However, experience shows that leaders are content with leaving declarations, commitments, promises and expectations at a general and vague level.

So often when supporting teams in creating their strategic plan I listen to the dialogue and even though I am not an expert in their field I can immediately tell that their inability to converse in plain language is hindering their ability to think, create and articulate thoughts and ideas effectively.

Simply by asking: “So, what do you mean by that?” everyone quickly realizes that different people have different assumptions and interpretations about what is being said and meant.

My questions are often met with a blank stare or a long-winded response that only further illuminates the lack of clarity or I get a barrage of different, sometimes even opposing responses from different team members.

People seem to be so entrenched in the language-style used in PowerPoint presentations that they seem unable to move away from that style and converse in the same manner when interacting face-to-face.

This behavior is ingrained in corporate culture. However, it stems from our basic survival and comfort level instincts. We like to leave things high level and vague in order to ease the pressure of total commitment. After all, if you define things too clearly it becomes crystal clear what you’re saying, what you stand for, what you are committing to, and what you are accountable for. But, if you leave things more general it gives you wiggle room, especially when facing adversity. At the core, it’s not a language issue. It is a commitment issue.

The typical corporate language is sufficient for perpetuating the ordinary and status quo. However, if you have bolder ambitions in mind of being extraordinary and the ‘best of the best’, you better challenge the norm and start promoting and demanding a new level of simple, straightforward and rigorous exchange.

Don’t confuse communicating with generating commitment

Town halls, road shows, all-hands meetings, and webinars are all popular vehicles for spreading the word and gaining buy-in once the strategic plan has been crafted. Most senior executives will tout these communication efforts as a critical step in helping the organization understand what the strategy means, and what role each person plays in bringing it to fruition.

But while these types of events can generate a significant amount of energy and excitement, they also contain pitfalls that can lead to cynicism rather than commitment.

One of these pitfalls is the mistaken belief that staff are empty vessels, just waiting for the word from above about where the company is headed and what they should be doing to help it get there.

Far from being empty, people are already full. Full with frustrations and disappointments about what executives have said they were going to do in the past and what they actually did. Full from promises made and not kept, and full from accepting requests to get involved in a company strategy and then being ignored when times got tough.

Employees who have been around have little time— or tolerance — for fanfare and hype. What employees want to know is that their bosses understand, and are committed to addressing, the challenges they face in putting a strategy in place.

Take three real examples:

  • In one of the organizations I supported, employees complained that a certain supervisor was a tyrant. However, management didn’t listen. Nothing was done and no one held that person accountable for not demonstrating the values that the senior team were promoting.
  • In another organization, employees expressed frustration that the systems that they had to work with were broken and inadequate, but management seem to ignore the impact that this had on the team, and they didn’t manage the situation or make the proper investment to set things right.
  • I have seen many instances in which employees were caught in the crossfire of feuding bosses, and yet the senior leaders of the company left them to their warring factions instead of intervening and letting everyone know that political gamesmanship won’t be tolerated.

Only by listening to what the employees are saying, with both their words and behaviors, will leaders become aware of and able to address the issues that are preventing them from embracing the strategic objectives management is asking them to pursue. When this type of listening happens, and action is taken, commitment to the strategic plan follows suit.

Like strategy – town halls, road shows, all-hands meetings, and webinars will only be as effective as the environment and atmosphere inside of which they are conducted. If senior management has a reputation for being credible, competent, courageous – specifically open to hearing the truth and dealing with the tough things heads-on and caring, people will wholeheartedly get on board. But if not, then no amount of fanfare and hype will suffice.


Don’t confuse ‘consensus’ with ‘alignment’

In the eyes of many leaders, the ultimate “buy-in” prize for a strategic plan is reaching consensus.

The belief behind this myth is that as long as everyone feels pretty good about the plan, and has no strong objections, that’s about the best that can be hoped for, especially in a large and diverse system.

But the problem with driving toward consensus is that it requires settling for the lowest common denominator everyone can agree with, rather than striving for solutions that challenge current thinking.

In order to tick the box of consensus, leaders don’t need to have the tough conversations. They don’t have to deal with conducting a dialogue that transforms diverse opinions and views into a single genuine committed direction. I have written several times about how agreeing to disagree is unacceptable and a cop out. Well, when the aim is a consensus there is ample tolerance for agreeing to disagree.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it quite elegantly:

To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead“.

A consensus is way too low of a bar for the fulfillment of any strategic plan that requires substantive organizational commitment and change. It leads to compliance at best.

To generate real commitment, executives need to set the bar at a much higher level; they need to generate Alignment.

‘Alignment’ is very different than ‘Consensus’. To reach alignment leaders actually have to put people’s concerns, doubts, uncertainties, and watercooler conversations on the table so they can be heard and dealt with in the most open, honest, authentic and productive way.

People hold on to their positions and opinions when they don’t trust their teammates to genuinely listen and hear their views and contributions and when they don’t trust that their colleagues will be open to new ideas and directions. When people don’t trust the conversation they tend to be more guarded, defensive and argumentative rather than open and accepting of other’s views. Overall, they tend to listen less and talk more.

But, when the conversation is authentic and open, people are much more inclined to change their minds and trust the collective wisdom of the team. In this conversation, people build on each other rather than combat each other. As a result, the team can reach a much bolder conclusion and decision much faster. This doesn’t only lead to a higher level of clarity of direction, it also takes the team unity and sense of being “in this together” to a higher level.

True alignment is achieved when people leave the strategy discussions fully on board with whatever decision the group has reached, with no “Yes, but,” “Plan B,” no pocket vetoes, and no reservations about fully investing themselves in pursuing the agreed upon direction – as their own.

If you want to drive conversations for alignment, here are a few practical guidelines:

  1. Listen, listen, listen to each other! At all times – one person speaks and everyone else listens.
  2. Always build upon other’s ideas. Don’t tear down other’s ideas. Find the common ground. Use the “Yes, and…” versus “Yes, but…”
  3. Don’t merely highlight or point out the dilemmas. Take a stand. Enroll others and be open to being enrolled by others. Remember, there are no right answers. Leadership is about making choices, taking a stand, enrolling each other and being responsible for these choices and stands.
  4. Make sure first that everyone is aligned on the essence. If that is not the case, continue the dialogue, don’t get stuck on articulation or wording preferences. In these cases trust the collective wisdom.

Like many other powerful conversations, there is an art and science aspects to the alignment conversation.

If you take it on you may encounter messy moments, you may even get lost in the debate and have to find your way back. However, if you have the courage and determination to keep pushing forward, never receding back to familiar, easy and safe grounds, you will be able to generate results and a team spirit that is beyond your wildest expectations.

Try it out…

Do you know how to overcome the key barriers to change?

In my last blog, I discussed the question: “Do you have what it takes to stay the course?” Well, it takes extraordinary levels of courage, determination, and faith to take on a bold change initiative, stay the course and see it through. In this blog (part two of three) I want to delve a bit deeper into what it actually takes and what you should expect it you take on such a bold endeavor.

If you commit to creating and fulfilling a bold next-level future for your team or organization, the universe will test and challenge your courage and resolve. You can count on it!

At first, you will have to invest ten units of effort to drive one unit of progress. It will feel like struggle and hardship; like pushing a rock up a steep mountain. The universe will send obstacles and barriers your way, and only after you have proven that you can stay the course no matter what, things will ease up and you will start experiencing more positive progress, improvement, and momentum toward your vision.

W.H. Murray, the Scottish Himalayan Expedition leader of 1950 put it quite vividly:

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

If you don’t understand, expect and prepare for this dynamic your chances to succeed are slim. Unfortunately, I have seen too many change initiatives start out with so much promise and enthusiasm only to fail through a slow and painful death exactly for this reason – lack of understanding, anticipation, and preparation for the obstacles and how to overcome them.

So, what are the key obstacles that will challenge your ability to stay the course when transforming your organization to the next level, and how do you overcome them?

I have identified six barriers that I have repeatedly seen over many years of transforming organizations (no particular order). I am going to share two of these in this blog and four more next week.  These barriers are distinct from each other but they are closely related:

Barrier 1: Not tolerating a temporary dip in performance and/or results:

Consider this rare and true example: I was coaching a sales team of a technology company, in which team members felt extremely overworked and stressed. People worked long hours, including weekends and holidays to meet their numbers and needless to say “work-life-balance” was a big issue.

The General Manager of that organization, who was a bold, demanding but fair leader, came out with an edict to transform his team’s predicament: “no one was allowed to work past 8pm on weekdays or at any time on the weekend.” He made it clear that everyone was still expected to deliver their numbers, and that offenders of his new rule would be punished. At first, people were shocked and many were skeptical. However, after firing the first person that violated his new policy people started to take notice.

In the first month, the team missed its numbers by 20%. Everyone expected the General Manager to cancel his “unrealistic” policy, but he didn’t. In the second month, the results were still around 10% blow and only in month three the team met its number. But, what happened after that was quite extraordinary. Not only did the team start to exceed their numbers on a frequent basis, but the overall energy, commitment, and dialogue of the team shifted to be much more productive and powerful, and more oriented around how to do more with less.

Unfortunately, this example is indeed rare. Most leaders can’t tolerate even the slightest temporary dip in performance. They panic at the first sign of a dip, and they often react in negative ways that set the team back and send a message that they don’t have the courage and faith to stay the course.

When you take on creating and fulfilling a new future there is a high likelihood that things will get worst before they get better. It’s not a slogan. You have to expect it.

If you can’t tolerate this dynamic you will keep returning backward instead of pushing forward to overcome this barrier. The good news, however, is that if you do stay the course and reach the other side of this barrier, things will get even better than they were before you started.

Barrier 2: Making the focus on continuing the existing activities a higher priority than the focus on generating the new future:

At the outset of change initiatives pretty much all leaders declare that creating a new future for the company and taking the game to the next level is “mission critical.” However, unfortunately in most cases, it doesn’t take much or long before leaders get spooked by the uncertainty of the transition from the old to the new, and they start paying lip service to their own declaration. They start behaving in a way that makes it obvious to people around them that the new future is a “nice to have.”

The remedy is simple, stay the course! Stay true to your declaration and commitment, do what you said, and keep promoting, driving and demanding actions and behaviors that are consistent with the new future. Don’t get distracted by the temporary confusion, uncertainty, doubts and the roller coaster of emotions that people experience in the change journey.

Don’t miss next week’s blog where I share four more barriers to transformation.   

Do you have the nerve to be a bold and powerful leader?

There are two things required for leaders to achieve extraordinary results – first is a robust strategy that everyone understands and believes in. And second is the nerve to stay the course and make it happen. Most strategies fail because of the second, not the first.

When leaders want to achieve extraordinary results – in good or bad times – they must address two aspects of strategy. First, they must develop a clear game plan for where they want their organization to be, and how to get there. Second, they must create an environment of authentic ownership, accountability and communication inside which the plan can be implemented. None of this is revolutionary.

The only way employees will commit to a bold plan is if they believe their leaders have the nerve to do what it takes to make it happen. Most leaders are ignorant of this critical fact, or they underestimate it. They believe that all they need to do is a good job of communicating the plan, demand compliance, and tie compensations and rewards to its achievement; with these in place, people will naturally fall in line. Nothing is further from the truth.

If people doubt their leader’s nerve, they will be cautious, keep ideas, suggestions and problems hidden, and only ‘appear’ to be on board. When asked, they will say the right things. But in their hearts, they will be disengaged.

Far too often I have seen leaders declare a bold, ambitious change strategy, only to achieve little traction. Why? Because they failed to address and deal with the key issues necessary to achieve their bold future.

These key issues often revolved around successful but entitled senior managers, whose behavior was not consistent with the organization’s stated values and spirit, and sometimes even decisions. Despite politically correct declarations by the leader to the contrary, the lack of holding these individuals to account sent a clear message to employees that the boldness of the change strategy was hot air. Cynicism reigned, and the strategy remained little more than a slide deck.

Leaders must have the nerve to face reality, including admitting mistakes or owning up to places they or their predecessors fell short.

Without that, people doubt leader’s credibility, sincerity and competence. As a result, they will go through the motions, but they will not wholeheartedly join in.

Leaders who can only stomach positive or diplomatic conversations will have no time for the difficult, messy territory of complaints and worries that must be addressed before people are willing to engage in anything else.

In today’s difficult economic environment, having nerve is more critical than ever. To hear and address people’s skepticism, doubts, fears or uncertainties requires courage. To infuse hope and confidence in the face of seemingly endless gloom and doom requires a strong backbone.

Nerve is what allows leaders to inspire and energize people when many are feeling uncertain or anxious. Nerve distinguishes real leaders from managers, administrators and bureaucrats.

What is the most important aspect of any Organizational Transformation?

In most organizations, when people talk about Organizational Transformation, they typically mean a major reorganization or restructuring, a process re-engineering initiative or a system and tool upgrade.

These things are very important, and at specific times in the evolution of a company they may be just what the organization needs in order to reach the next level.

However, I have seen organizations with best-in-class processes, systems and tools struggle to achieve great performance and results. And I have seen organizations with barely-adequate processes, systems and tools achieve extraordinary results beyond expectations.

Why is this the case?

The reason is that even in today’s increasingly digital and technology-oriented environment, no matter how high-tech your business is – your success still fundamentally depends on your people. Whether you like it or not, the old cliché: “our people are our most valuable asset” is still as true and vibrant as ever.

Unfortunately, judging by their behavior I still see too many senior leaders who don’t seem to get this fundamental concept, or they simply underestimate what it takes to create the environment for successful and sustainable change.  Maybe that is the reason why so many large change initiatives don’t succeed.

These executives seem to think that because they are senior and have the authority to hire and fire, they can mandate people’s engagement, commitment and ownership, and people will just naturally line up with their direction.

I still see town hall meetings in which senior leaders get up on the stage, explain the rationale for change and express their expectations that everyone will step up to do their part. They then get off the stage feeling that now that people understand the direction and they will join the cause.
However, in reality, nothing is further from the truth.

Yes, if leaders create an environment in which people are afraid to speak up everyone will say what the executives want to hear. However, people are smart. They know how to play the game; how to pretend as if they are on board and pay lip service to the company’s initiatives.

So, any organizational transformation effort has to include a major focus on people; creating the right mindset and focus.

In fact, no matter how complex the restructuring or system change aspects may be, the people aspect will always be the defining factor for success.

Wise executives will prioritize their time and effort to make sure everyone is on the same page, with the same clarity about the strategy and outcomes of the transformation.

They will also invest their personal time and passion to ensure that everyone genuinely buys into the change, driving high levels of commitment, ownership, and accountability. And, that people feel they can step up, speak up, do the right things, bring the tough topics to the table, rock the boat where necessary and take risks – without being afraid of getting into trouble.

When people feel and believe that their leaders get it – that they genuinely value their people’s importance and contribution – they are much more inclined to get excited about the transformation.

And, as we all know – excited people are much more committed. They own the game and go out of their way to ensure that the organizational transformation is a success.

You can’t beat that!

Do Senior Leaders have the courage to confront and own their shortfalls?

If you want to elevate your team to a new level of ownership, accountability and performance you have to start by taking stock of, and owning your current reality and past.

You have to confront what worked, what didn’t work and what still isn’t working. Sometimes, you even have to take responsibility for things that happened before you arrived.

Why is this important?

Because when you are honest and own your past it is easier to put it behind you. You can then create the space for a powerful new chapter, unlimited by past constraints.

If you focus too much on the things that worked, you can easily get comfortable, complacent and/or arrogant, and that could limit your ability to do new things and improve on what is working.

If you avoid looking at your past, you won’t learn the lessons that it has to offer and you can easily repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Obviously, it’s easier for leaders to take responsibility for the good things. In fact, many leaders don’t like to review the things that haven’t worked, especially if they feel issues and shortfalls are associated with them in some way.

In fact, many leaders don’t like to review the things that haven’t worked, especially if they feel issues and shortfalls are associated with them in some way.

Take, for example, one leader who was promoted to the highest position in their global function after being the number two for many years. Being a global support function inside a sales organization, this function struggled for many years with its credibility and reputation. Its customers didn’t feel the function was providing the value and impact they wanted. As a result team members felt criticized, under-valued and demotivated. In fact, many managers and employees in the function also felt that their senior management was too caught up in silo and political games, instead of providing the team with a powerful direction, priorities, support and air coverage to do a good job.

When the new leader took the job, everyone was hoping for change. But, first people wanted an opportunity to express their frustrations about the past, including feedback about the new leader. They wanted to be heard. They wanted the new leader to listen and acknowledge what hadn’t worked.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because the leader was unwilling to hear criticism about himself or past performance or the dynamic of the function, which he felt was being associated with him.

Another very senior executive in a different global company, also head of a global function, avoided and prohibited any discussion about past failures with her team. Team members wanted desperately to bring up, acknowledge and address the political issues that had held this function back from being world class for so long. However, their boss wouldn’t hear of it. When team members attempted to bring up past issues or criticism, in meetings, in order to move beyond them, she would shut down the conversation.

When I asked her why she was doing that she said: “Discussing our past ailments and failures only brings our past back and this prevents us from moving forward.”

I see the same types of mindset and dynamics in so many teams. In fact, I have seen several cases leaders avoided entering a much-needed change initiative just because of their fear of confronting their shortfalls.

So, why is it so hard for leaders to deal with the past?

Most leaders either don’t know how to confront past issues in a productive way. Like our first example, many leaders simply take the bad stuff too personally.

And, like our second leader, many leaders feel that if they don’t bring bad issues up it makes them go away. This is not true! In fact, when you are honest and own your past, it’s easier to put it behind you. Then you can create a space for a powerful new chapter, unlimited by past constraints.

If you are defensive about the past or avoid it or try to build a new future on top of it, the undercurrent will keep dragging you down. And, even if you are able to produce great results, it will usually come with people collateral damage.

Of course, I also have examples of senior leaders who are genuinely open and interested in confronting and taking ownership of past issues and shortfalls, including their own. In my experience, these leaders have generated much greater results with much higher motivation and sense of fulfillment in their teams.

You would think that the most senior leaders would be the most mature and self-confident, therefore they would be less threatened by criticism and more open and prepared to hear it. But, unfortunately experience has shown me that it’s often not the case. Senior leaders are often less open to embrace and admit mistakes, or take responsibility for things that they did or didn’t do that caused others to suffer.

Do you have the courage to confront and own past shortfalls?




How to make meaningful progress when taking your game to the next level

If you want to be successful at taking your game to the next level, you have to be conscious of how you think and what comes out of your mouth.

I was leading a meeting recently with a telecom management team that had taken on a bold commitment to take their team’s leadership and performance to a higher level.  This was a good team that had been performing well. However, the changes in their markets, customers, and technologies were requiring them to think, innovate, and perform at a different level.

They were about three months into their transformation process and, in this meeting, we were reviewing their progress.

One by one, the leaders shared their views. One of the leaders summarized: “We are making progress, but not enough!” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. People added: “We need to bring more energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change to the game.”

I asked them “Why are you not making enough progress?” “Why are you not bringing the level of energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change that you know you need?

Their responses were things to the tune of: “It’s because of the holidays,” “It’s because of the year end,” “It’s because of the wider changes that are taking place in our company,” “We are doing quite well, so there’s not a lot of opportunities for big improvements,” and “It just takes time to make progress.”

So many teams and people, when taking on new levels of game, fall into the same traps of blaming their circumstances for their lack of progress and talking about their transformation in ways that undermine what they are trying to achieve.

If you want to avoid these pitfalls and make significant progress in taking your game to the next level, follow these principles:

  1. Take 100% ownership for your progress or lack thereof. Give up blaming your circumstances for not making enough progress or for not bringing enough energy, courage, innovation and/or collaboration to the game. Always relate to what you have or don’t have as your own doing.
  2. Promise clear results that require you to rise to the occasion. People bring high energy, courage and innovation to the game when they have promised specific results that are important to them, that require high energy, courage, and innovation. For example: one of the leaders stated that the people are not yet seeing any change in this leadership team. So, the team took on a promise that by our next meeting, three months later, their employees would notice a new level of energy, courage, innovation, and collaboration coming from the team. By promising this new state, the leaders now had an obligation to step up their leadership and performance in order to deliver.
  3. Focus on the areas of gap and opportunity, not how great you are. One of the biggest impediments to transformation is when people feel threatened or invalidated by acknowledging deficits and gaps. When discussing progress, I often hear people say things like: “We were already good at this.” If you are already good at something you will not be compelled to improve it. Even the greatest teams and people can find “next level” gaps, deficits and opportunities for improvement. Focusing on these does not invalidate your greatness.
  4. Avoid using phrases like: “We should do X” or “We have to do more of Y.” People simply don’t do what they “should” or “have to.” Either promise that you “Will do X” or don’t expect to see progress in the area you are talking about.
  5. Go out of your way to prove the validity of your commitment. When teams are driving significant change, team members often remain skeptical throughout the process. They adopt the “let’s see if this works” point of view. This mindset is understandable, but not powerful. If you want to be most effective, be clear about the future state you want, be all-in and trust your journey, no matter what ups-and-downs you encounter along the way. Don’t check if it works. Prove that it works.
  6. Collect as much evidence for progress as you can. Transforming a team to the next level is never about perfection. The focus should be driving as much progress as possible. In the realm of progress, everything counts – big, medium and small wins. And, being public about them is key. So identify, acknowledge and celebrate all of them. The more you identify areas of progress, the more it gives you appetite to find more. So, make it your priority to collect as many areas of progress as possible.

At the end of the meeting, the leaders took on a new perspective. They stopped accepting the reality: “We are making progress BUT not enough” and took on a commitment to cause a new genuine state: “We are excited about the progress we are making.”

This seems a simple shift, but it is very powerful. It is also a future worthy of proving right!

Photo by: Richard Potts

We’re Halfway Through 2013—But Did You Ever Really Complete 2012?

There’s a distinct difference between ending something and completing it. Events in the physical world have a beginning, middle and end to them – whether we like it or not. We get older. Another year passes. And our lives keep moving forward, towards an eventual ending point.

Similarly, there is a physical rhythm to our professional year that is beyond our control. In a way, we’re passengers in time. The year ends, a new year begins, and the sand in the hourglass keeps trickling down.

Completion is different. Completion is a mindset, a paradigm, and a way of viewing our efforts, achievements, successes and failures in the most empowering way.

We have no control over the fact that 2012 is now over and that we’re already halfway through 2013, but we do have full say about our relationship to what happened in the previous year, including what we delivered and what was accomplished We also have control over the conclusions and lessons we will take with us from the previous year into the next.

So here we are in June of 2013. But many of us have never really taken the time to complete 2012.

To bring closure to last year and fully prepare yourself and your team for the rest of 2013, consider the following questions–starting with some basic facts. In 2012:

  1. What results did you promise or want to deliver?
  2. What results did you actually achieve?
  3. What objectives did you deliver, and what promises did you keep?
  4. What objectives and promises did you not deliver/keep? Where did you and/or your team fall short?

Once you have embraced the hard facts, take a look at some of the bigger-picture aspects of 2012:

  1. What did you accomplish in 2012 beyond your targeted results? It’s important to honor and even celebrate what got accomplished, even if it seems small or “not enough.”
  2. How did you forward your bigger vision and purpose (whether you made all your numbers or not)?
  3. In what areas and in what ways did you get stronger? What “muscles” If you post the piece about building your warrior muscle before this blog, then you could link to it here.and new competencies did you develop? What did you learn to do – by choice or by necessity – that will make you stronger and better in the future?
  4. What valuable lessons did you learn from your successes and/or failures? This is particularly relevant and important in tough years – which can make us stronger and better prepared for future chapters.
  5. How did your successes and/or failures in 2012 better prepare you for greater success in 2013?
  6. What can you commit to in 2013 and beyond, given all that occurred and all that you learned in 2012?

The beauty of completion is that it enables and empowers us to draw out the opportunities, learning and gold from everything that happened in the past. By viewing our past deeds and achievements through the lens of “completion,” we can foster a continuous path of personal development, growth and fulfillment.

When we end a year without completion, we often feel somewhat “stuck” and not quite ready and excited to move forward. However, when we take the time to complete each year, we experience a powerful sense of harmony, confidence and calmness. We feel empowered, ready and excited about moving on to the next chapter.

So go ahead and complete 2012, and keep what you have learned in mind, because 2014 will be here before you know it.

How To Cultivate Strategic Thinking In Your Company

It’s very easy today for people to become paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. This places a greater demand on leaders to keep staff focused on the prospect of a brighter, yet plausible, future. This week’s post examines how managers can do this by helping their staff learn to think strategically about the company and their own careers.

We have found that encouraging strategic thinking from the top of the organization to the shop floor is largely a matter of executive action and intention. In our experience, when executives make strategy development an activity exclusive to the top members of the organization, they discourage strategic thinking.

Specifically, executives and managers stifle strategic thinking by not actively being open to others’ feedback, pushback and ideas. When people feel that their suggestions are not being met with receptiveness, they will not participate in a strategic discussion even when given the chance.

To overcome this dynamic, we advise getting everyone in the company involved in strategic conversations. If you demonstrate that you are committed to other people’s ideas by incorporating and promoting them, you will encourage people to think strategically.

One easy process is to pick several areas where you want to create a breakthrough in performance and form teams. Gather people from varying levels and departments, creating a blue team and red team for each desired area of breakthrough. Then have a friendly competition for ideas on how to achieve the desired leap forward.

To encourage maximum strategic thinking, tell the groups that you are looking for “out-of-the-box, yet plausible” ways to take the organization to the next level.

Another common contributor to hindered strategic thinking is asking your staff to always put forth their tactical ideas, but never their strategic ones.

Executives can encourage higher-order thinking by making sure meetings are balanced out between time dedicated to discussing long-term strategic issues and short-term tactical ones. One of the biggest complaints we hear in companies is that all the meetings are about tactical items. Employees complain that time is never spent having conversations about the bigger picture and longer-term issues.

What can you do today to encourage strategic thinking? I would love to hear your comments.

Micro-management Is The Enemy of Strategic Thinking

In last week’s blog post, we discussed the way that leaders’ actions impact the cultivation of strategic thinking within their companies. This week, we continue the theme by examining the role that micromanaging plays in the process.

Heed the warning. Leaders who micromanage create an environment of compliance where people won’t think strategically and don’t act as partners.

Micromanaging suffocates strategic thinking because it forces people to interact at a tactical level only. It requires people to protect their world, and a huge amount of their energy just goes into how to survive and keep their boss off their back.

One research study on micromanagement by Dr. Robert Hurley PhD at Fordham University found that 30 to 35% of executives succeed as managers but faltered as leaders when they found themselves in higher-level positions. “For this sizable group of under-performing executives, the underlying root cause is compulsive micromanagement caused by perfectionist tendencies. By micromanagement we mean an over-controlling style that inappropriately inhibits the people the executive needs to mobilize,” says Dr. Hurley.

To counteract this, we suggest that executives and managers ask their staff to think about what they would do if they were put in charge of a particular situation, department or organization. Ask your staff what they would start, stop or continue, then discuss the responses as a group so people can learn to think strategically at a level or two above their current job.

Just remember that you will never get any company strategy perfect, rational or right enough to work without having engagement and commitment at all levels. Encouraging your staff to participate in strategic planning and practice strategic thinking is key to creating a strategy that does not just get talked, but walked.

Cheat Sheet of Strategic Thinking Dos and Don’ts


  • Actively ask for input from all departments and levels.
  • Promote and incorporate others’ ideas.
  • Ask your staff what they would start, stop or continue in your position.
  • Routinely balance out your meetings by discussing both strategic and tactical issues.


  • Make strategic development an exclusive club limited to the higher-ups.
  • Stifle strategic thinking by not being open to and acting on others’ feedback.
  • Try and maintain control by micromanaging.
  • Solely focus on and encourage tactical thinking in meetings.

How has strategic thinking been hindered in your organization? I would love to hear your comments.

4 Steps To Creating Total Strategic Alignment

Most leaders believe that it takes between six and 12 months, or longer, to develop a strategy. They mistakenly think that the criteria for a meaningful strategy are the amount of research and market analysis that goes into it, and the time spent vetting it with experts.

But our observation is that how well communicated a strategy is, is far more important than how logical or well researched it is. The effectiveness of any strategy is directly proportional to the level of ownership, commitment and accountability among the executive team. A strategy is only as good as the levels of commitment the people who are accountable to fulfilling it, possess.

Here are the essential fours steps necessary to create total strategic commitment and alignment.

Step one: Do a commitment audit and tell the truth about the current levels of ownership, commitment and accountability within the organization. Ask people to be blunt about the degree to which they understand – and believe in – your current strategic plan.

Step two: Craft a bold and compelling future. Help your leadership team roll the clock forward two to three years from now. What is a clear, concise and well-articulated 15- to 20-word statement that describes what you are committed to building as an organization?

Step three: Define your specific success criteria. What are the three, four or five key measurable outcomes that will let you know you have reached that future state?

Step four: Get everyone on board with these. This means cascading the process through the ranks of management, sharing the content of the strategy with all levels of staff and listening to and addressing issues of competence, sincerity and courage.

Remember, the issue is not, “What is the right solution?” but, “What will people buy into, take ownership for, believe in and commit to?” When staff buy into a strategy, it’s because they trust their leaders are telling the truth about the need for it, they believe that their leaders have the courage and resolve to address the real issues, and they have faith their leaders are competent to do what needs to be done in order to implement the strategy.

On top of this, when staff feel cared for, concerned about and respected, they will naturally support and contribute to the strategy being realized.