Front Line Heroes – Chapter Twelve/The Missing Link: Addressing the Four Enigmas

When it comes to building high-performance organizations, I have long been haunted and vexed by four enigmas.  (God, I love the sound of the word enigmas.)  Can you even imagine me “vexed” or visualize me as haunted?  Imagine my cheeks are hollow and that I dream dark dreams.  My eyes flit hither and yonder, and I pace in the middle of the night in my sweat-soaked white nightshirt. Now that you have the visual, I’ll explain.  For the most part, what has eluded me is a process that supports the implementation of the strategic plan. A lot of time and energy goes into yearly planning, but keeping a leadership team and an entire company focused on execution becomes the challenge, given the day-to-day fires.  This issue breaks down into four enigmas that, until recently, my work has not been able to solve.  However – fortunately for you – a recent breakthrough has allowed me to uncover components that, together, make up the previously missing link needed to solve these four enigmas. Enigma #1 So, how do you ensure follow-through and implementation of the strategic plan?  A company and its leadership team can spend a lot of time and effort creating a strategic plan.  They may even spend money on the process and bring in a consultant like me to facilitate.  Creating the plan, however, is the easy part.  Implementation and execution of the plan is the real challenge. How do you support real action through the year and prevent the syndrome that results from a beautiful plan in a beautiful binder sitting with all the other similar binders in...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Eleven/Books as Compost

“Knowledge is produced in response to questions.  And new knowledge results from the asking of new questions; quite often new questions about old questions.” – Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner I used to be an organic farmer, so I appreciate how compost works.  You take the “raw ingredients” fresh from the horse and let them develop in what is referred to as a “compost pile”.  After a year, you put that compost stuff on your seeds and young plants.  Behold how it makes the veggies and fruits sprout and mightily grow.   When the plants mature and produce, you get to eat succulent tomatoes and cucumbers.  Yum! Like compost, books allow good things to grow in organizations.  Throughout my years of coaching and annoying companies, it has become clear that books have the power to change beliefs and behavior.  In an organizational setting, reading specific and specially selected books can create an environment conducive to organizational change and development. Why is that, you ask?  Well, it’s because these books become a topic of conversation within the leadership group, and that is where the action and activity begins.  When a management group reads the same book, they can talk about a common experience with a common language and communicate with one another more effectively.  So, what does that get you? Generate Alignment the Easy Way Reading the same book gets company executives on the same page when talking about a topic.  Readers now share a common vocabulary.  Groups reading together enhance understanding and acceptance of new ideas.  It is important to assign a time when everyone will engage in dialogue about...

Front Line Heroes -Chapter Ten….Why Stoopid Games?

Before I answer this question, let’s define what a “Stoopid Game” is.  First of all, the “stoopid” part is spelled the way it should be, like it sounds.  Secondly, a Stoopid Game is any physical team-building activity that can be used to teach business principles and ideas.  I don’t want to admit this, but I am not good at these games, nor do I particularly like them.  (I want to be truthful given our relationship.  How is that for being vulnerable?  Can I have a hug?) Stoopid Games are invaluable in producing results for business groups that are interested in improving performance.  For the past 20 years, I have used Stoopid Games as a modality for teaching and developing our clients.  In corporate training and development, the games are typically called “experiential education”.  Wow, does that sound highfalutin and fancy.  These activities are useful because they give groups a practice field where they can develop their skills and improve their performance.  (There’s more on this idea of a practice field for business groups in Chapter 6, “High-Performance Work Teams.”) Time for Tent Poles Here’s an example of the usefulness of Stoopid Games.  I was working with a client that was focused on improving its customer service.  This company has hired a firm to survey its customers.  What the firm’s research found was that the company’s customer service was below their industry average.  This was unacceptable, so the company put focus and attention on improving its service and its relationships with customers.  Three task forces were formed, and I joined them in their training room to help develop actions for...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Nine….Making Green from Green

“In the long run, the race belongs not merely to the swift, but to the farseeing, to those who anticipate change.” –  Lykes Lines Let’s start this chapter with a disclaimer:  I do not consider myself an expert in business sustainability.  However, I probably know enough to be dangerous. Consider this chapter my hunch about where business is heading – that is, becoming at least partially tied to the impact it makes on the environment. Sustainability is an important concept for small-to-medium sized businesses.  In my view, sustainability means your business is conducted in such a way that it can exist without being environmentally destructive.  At the very least, environmental neutrality is what your company wants to achieve.  An even better aspiration is to positively impact the environment.  There are dozens – hundreds – of ideas, large and small, that organizations can implement to positively impact the environment. There is opportunity for you and your company to make money as you create a green reason for customers to buy from your organization.  When real dollars can be made from environmentalism, then environmentalism is good for you and good for business.  The sweet smell of profit and differentiation wafts through the air.  This epitomizes “making green from green”. The Field is Yours to Take Two of our clients have earned the position of being the environmental leaders of their industries.  They were not particularly looking for this distinction; it was thrust upon them by the inertia of their industry and competition.  It helped that they were proactive and up to date with the best environmental practices. When one of these clients,...

Seven Rules of Strategic Guessing

A few years ago I stood facing a group of well-heeled executives and CEOs at a conference to deliver a talk on strategic planning. “Which of your companies plan on an annual basis?” I asked. Only a quarter of my audience raised their hands. I opened my eyes in shock. “To those of you who don’t plan on an annual basis, why not?” I pressed. In one way or another, they answered that they were too busy fighting fires to have time for that. This same group of executives then complained about low growth and no profits. They blamed the economy for their problems. With that, I suddenly understood: clearly, they were nincompoops. These CEOs did not make the connection that planning helps you deal with the economy and the issues that challenge your business. Before we go further, let’s define what we mean by strategic guessing/planning. Rework, a book written by successful software entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, declares that planning has been replaced by guessing. There is something to this. The past two years have presented a very uncertain climate for most businesses. If guessing has become “as good as it gets”, then you absolutely need a process by which to look at the future and make educated and measured calculations about creating a bright organizational future. However, while tactics are a part of this process, strategic guessing/planning focuses executives on the strategy and future moves that the company will take to achieve its health and growth. The fact is that many small- to mid-sized companies do not have a structured process from which to...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Eight….Why Hold Annual Kickoff Meetings?

You can and should shape your own future; because, if you don’t, somebody else surely will.”  J. Barker Why hold annual kickoff meetings?  Why do we throw anniversary celebrations?  Why have birthday parties?  Why celebrate New Year’s holidays?  Why fool with any kind of festivities?  You’re just on your way to becoming worm meat, after all.  So what is the point?  Uh, oh, I’m getting depressed. We hold events – such as annual kickoff meetings – to mark special occasions because the day-to-day humdrum can create a ceaselessly plodding rhythm.  When it comes to work, the daily grind can all become a blur.  I walk into the office; the phone rings; I answer; someone asks a question; I respond.  And so on and so forth, day after day, month after month, year after year. It’s easy for most of us to fall into the proverbial rut.  Not you, of course, dear reader.  You are the exception. I know you cherish being alive and celebrate each hour of your life, savoring each breath for the miracle it is.  You hear the swelling of angelic music from the moment you open your eyes and, heck, even during your dreams.  However,  for the rest of us poor suckers, life occurs as a day-to-day routine.  One day blends into another and this turns into months and years. Back to the Question Why hold kickoff meetings?  First, let’s define a “kickoff meeting”.  Organizations usually hold kickoff meetings in the first month of a new year.  These meetings can take place over an hour or go for a day or more.  People can either physically attend...

Unlock the Power of Language by Keith Weedman

Our company helps business leaders significantly elevate their skills to empower people; unleash creativity, passion, and performance; and effect change. Unlocking the power of language is one of the ways we help our clients elevate these skills. In this article, I will share examples of how we unlock the power of language to benefit our clients. I will also stimulate your thinking about what words might be beneficial for you and your company to consider defining as a means to unlock the power of language. When do you rely upon the dictionary for the definition of a given word? What problems are unintentionally perpetuated by dictionaries? When is it critically important to clarify the meaning you intend for a given word? When would it be helpful for your company to articulate a shared definition for a given word for your employees, customers, and prospective customers? When and why would an individual or an organization want to invent and define a new word or word phrase? Dictionaries can be useful when you are seeking to understand the meaning attributed to a given written word. Dictionaries define words by how they are commonly used. Most words have multiple meanings because they are commonly used in multiple ways. Misunderstandings often result from people attributing different, commonly used meanings to the same word. Dictionaries unintentionally perpetuate these misunderstandings. In a business conversation, the meaning intended can readily be defined or clarified in the conversation. Words and word phrases that are most relevant to the benefits of a company’s products or services are the most valuable to define when it pertains to your company or...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Seven….Seven Rules of Strategic Guessing/Part Two

Rule Number Four By far, my favorite rule is el grandote numero quatro:  Start big by creating a vision of the future of the company. It is important that the breakthrough guessing/planning process allows for dreaming, visioning, and looking at what is needed by the organization to realize a bright future.  Typically, I do this by asking the group to go three to five years into the future and record the results on a flip chart.  As the Bible says, without vision the people perish (Proverbs 19:18).  The Bible does not say that you have to attain the vision.  It simply says that people need one to live into.  This is critical.  When you have a vision, you are creating a future for the company that employees can then fulfill. Ask the following questions to arrive at a future vision.  If you were already standing three to five years in the future, what would the world look like?  What are the important trends affecting your industry at that point? Once a futuristic scenario is developed, the group should look at what it would like the organization’s image to be in this future.  What are customers saying about the organization?  Why are customers loyal four years from today?  What goods, services, and new products have been brought forth?  How much revenue will the organization bring in, and how many employees will it have? This part of planning can be used to run growth scenarios.  Have at least one for aggressive, medium, sluggish, and no growth.  Play with the numbers and have some fun with what could be.  The planning team should...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Seven….Seven Rules of Strategic Guessing/Part One

If we do not change direction, we will end up where we are headed”  – Chinese Proverb It always shocks me how many businesses do not have a structured strategic planning process.  I was facing a group of well-healed executives and CEO’s at a conference, and – ironically – I was delivering a talk on strategic planning. “Which of your companies plan on an annual basis?” I asked. Only a quarter of my audience raised their hands. “To those of you who don’t plan on an annual basis, why not?” I pressed. In one way or another, they answered that they were too busy fighting fires to have time for that.  This same group of executives then complained about low growth and no profits.  Then they blamed the economy for their problems.  With that, I suddenly understood:  clearly, they were nincompoops. These CEO’s did not make the connection that planning helps you deal with the economy and the issues that challenge your business.  As an intervention and a way to discipline this misguided group of executives, I readied my pointed stick dipped in monkey dung.  (Please note it was organic monkey dung because, after all, CEO’s and executives expect the best.) Before we go further, let’s define what we mean by strategic guessing/planning.  Rework, a book written by successful software entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, declares that planning has been replaced by guessing.  There is something to this.  The past two years have presented a very uncertain climate for most businesses.  If guessing has become as good as it gets, then you absolutely need a process by...

Front Line Heroes – Chapter Six…..High-Performance Work Teams/Part Three

A Developmental Process High-performance teams develop in stages. It is good to be aware of these stages, because they normalize the experience of growing and developing into a high-performance team. The model I’ll be discussing is part of the “forming, storming, forming, and performing” model from Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, which was developed in the 1960’s.  You could also use the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership theory, which is very similar and created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, authors of The One Minute Manager.  I’m tweaking these models and giving them spice. By teaching these stages, groups can be asked to identify which stage they are in.  Then have the group design the necessary steps for reaching the next stage. Again, this exercise is great for allowing the team to focus on growing, developing, and normalizing their struggles and challenges. The stages are as follows: Stage A – The exciting “first date” stage.  This is the birth of the team that is still a group, and there is typically excitement and anticipation about the team’s potential and possibility.  There is an uncertainty, but there is also optimism. Stage B – The “poop hits the fan” stage is when reality sets in about how group life can be hard and demanding work.  It is no longer fun, and there is finger pointing between employees.  Mutual accountability is seen, by most, as an empty concept.  Team members look at whom to blame for their results.  This stage, it should be noted, is where most teams die.  There is the need for the manager’s and coach’s support and focus.  The team...