For Success, Start with People

Also included: creating peak moments, double loop learning, the banana principle, and more; click through to check out my latest collection of interesting business and technology links.  I hope they spark new insights for you!

Seven Lessons for Start-up Success and Beyond

Innovation, experimentation, and problem solving; customers, culture, and connection; examining bias, creating peak moments, and falling in love.  Seven lessons for Start-up Success has it all.  Even if you are not in start-up mode, these lessons apply.  

Go Deeper with Double Loop Learning

Effective retrospectives are sufficiently deep to challenge existing mental models, examine habitual thinking, and expand possibilities. Single loop learning asks “how can we do what we are doing better” while double loop learning asks” Why do we think this is the right thing to do?”  It involves scrutinizing values, thinking, and assumptions. It's the hardest work and the most important.  Learn the questions that can lead you and your team to this deeper level of understanding.

Human-Centered Company Culture Drives Operational Excellence

Moving your culture from command and control to one of collaboration is a major step on the road to an innovative and lasting business!  Using the GM/Toyota NUMMI joint venture as a case study, this article outlines three important tips for creating a company culture of partnership to drive excellence.  When leadership sees employees as partners, they cultivate a cultural obligation to actively improve the business.

In Meetings: Be Present and Listen Well

These two articles demonstrate the importance of being fully engaged during your interactions with others, providing tips to help you be more engaged.

If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present

The first article demonstrates the importance of being present, both physically and mentally. According to the author, “research suggests that there’s a direct correlation between leaders’ mindfulness and the well-being and performance of their people. In other words, the more a leader is present with their people, the better they will perform.”  Learn how to be here now and other ways of being present.

Meetings Would Go Faster If People Took the Time to Listen

In the second article, the author’s tells how her experience coaching a client who is deaf sharpened her understanding of the importance of listening well in one-on-one meetings.  You can learn how to listen slowly and carefully using her four-step process and become a great listener to your employees, colleagues, and clients.

Lessons Learned From Oranges and Bananas

Groups of people offered a choice between a banana and an orange, are much more likely to go for the banana simply because bananas are easier to peel.  Learn how you can apply the banana principle to bring people together and keep people focused. Also, find out why teenagers will scatter when exposed to pink lighting.

Let me know what you think of these links using the contact form below!

Strategy and Execution Must Be Integrated...Data is the Glue That Holds Them Together

The Strategy-Execution Gap is the disconnect between a company's expected performance based on its strategy and the actual performance when the strategy is implemented.  In many cases, when implementing a new strategy, the results are neither what's expected or desired.  The Harvard Business Review has written extensively about the phenomenon, hereherehere, and here).  The gap can occur when leaders:

  • Implement a new business strategy without paying sufficient attention to the underlying organizational changes necessary for success
  • Ignore internal feedback during execution and miss the opportunity to adjust accordingly
  • Fail to recognize and/or respond to changing market conditions

Often, leaders, in the belief that they have an analytically sound strategy, attribute failure to under-performing employees.  However, employee under-performance is rarely the root cause. If leaders are able to recognize unexpected and undesired results as an opportunity to revise strategy and/or execution, results may improve and the success they had initially predicted may ultimately be achieved.

The Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal is a great example of the Strategy-Execution gap.  In this case, Wells Fargo leadership developed an aggressive sales strategy of cross-selling.  However, in implementing the strategy, they ran into several problems.  First, they had not correctly predicted or possibly considered the limits of their customers' wallets.  Second, they had set unrealistic performance targets for branch employees and put intense pressure on employees to meet those unrealistic performance goals.  Third, they failed to recognize what was happening and continued to implement a flawed strategy for a number of years. As a result, thousands of employees "met" performance targets by opening fake accounts because they were unable to meet them with real accounts and the consequence for missing targets was termination. Ultimately, Wells Fargo was fined millions of dollars, employees were fired, and the CEO resigned. It's hard to believe that this is what they had initially envisioned as the outcome. Perhaps, improved feedback between the executives who designed the strategy and the leaders and employees responsible for implementing it would have led to a more desirable outcome.

Strategy is a Hypothesis

Fortunately, the Strategy-Execution Gap can be overcome with flexibility in managing both strategy and execution.  Particularly, you should think of your strategy as a hypothesis to be tested.  By taking a strategy as learning approach, senior leadership can continuously compare results with their expectations; and investigate when they don't align.  The reasons for a gap are many.  Perhaps customers behave differently than expected.  Maybe a competitor has made an expected move.  Alternatively, the rest of the organization might not understand the strategy fully and may not be making the right choices to implement it.  Still another possibility, the people in the company are actually under performing.  Any or all of these factors could be at play.  This is why companies must continually measure performance, learn, and adjust.

Strategy is the hypothesis and the scientific method can be used to evaluate its implementation.  In the business world, we refer this method as the plan-do-check-adjust cycle.  For strategy and execution, the cycle is as follows:

 Use the Plan, Do, Check, Adjust Cycle to manage the execution of your business strategy.

The Right Data is Key!

The key currency in the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is data!  As you execute a strategy, collecting data about what you did and what happened is critical to evaluating how the strategy worked and how you should adjust based on your new knowledge.  The data you'll need to evaluate your strategy, learn from your experience, and adjust comes in three main flavors.

Data about what happened

Probably the data that people think the most about is data about what happened.  What were the results?  How many widgets were produced?  What happened to sales, revenue, expenses and profit?  Did market share change?  Ultimately, these are the data points that you will use to determine whether your strategy is being successful.  Thus, you must carefully define what success looks like for the strategy.  Is the purpose of the strategy to increase market share?  Reduce expenses?  Improve production?  Whatever the overall goal is, the data you collect must allow you to evaluate whether the desired results were achieved.

Data about what you did

As important as data about what happened but not nearly as obvious to people is the data about what you did.  Understanding the actions that the organization took to implement the strategy is the other half of determining cause and effect for your strategy.  Gather data about how the business processes changed in implementing the strategy.  Did marketing change their social media strategy?  Did sales offer more discounts?  Did production run more shifts?  This data can be connected with your data about the outcome of your strategy and help you understand how various changes to your business impacted its overall performance and the achievement of the goals of your strategy.

Data about the conditions around you

As important as understanding what is happening within your business, it is equally important to understand the conditions in which you are operating.  Your business does not operate in a vacuum.  Thus, accounting for changes in customer behavior, competitor actions, and larger economic forces are key components of successfully formulating and implementing your strategy.  Data about competitors and the market as a whole is often the most difficult to come by.  Sources include research firms, trade journals/associations, and your own company's research.  Regardless of your source, it is important to carefully integrate your internal and external data to provide the full picture of your business environment. With this full picture, analysis of your strategy can offer much stronger conclusions about what worked, what didn't, and—most importantly—why.

Analytics Makes Sense of it All!

While it is clear that data is vital to evaluating your strategy, doing it consistently can take a lot of effort, especially if you are doing it manually!  Larger companies, with a multitude of data sources and many people, have been using analytics to make sense of their data for years.  Fortunately for smaller companies, newer analytics and reporting tools can quickly integrate data from multiple sources, making it easier than ever for small companies to take advantage of the power of their data!

For simple data analysis, I typically use Excel because it is quick and easy.  However, as soon as there are multiple data sources involved I tend to use more powerful tools like Microsoft's Power BI.  These tools allow me to pull data from multiple data sources, clean the data, and define how the various sources relate to each other.  Then, digging into the data is as easy as drag and drop to create visuals and slice the data every which way!

You can do it too!

It's tempting to think everything I've talked about only applies to big companies, but it's simply not true.  In the age of eCommerce, Amazon, and rapid changes in the marketplace, staying on top of your strategy and making sure it changes as you learn are vital for the growth and success of companies of all sizes.  We can help you build the learning process into your regular routine and be your partner for working more efficiently, choosing and implementing the right technology for you, and unleashing the power of your data to make better decisions.

Contact us below to find out more about how we can prepare your company to compete and grow in today's fast paced business climate!

Changing strategies? Make sure you've learned the new capabilities you'll need for success!

Also, networking, taking care of yourself, and Scrum at home; check out my latest collection of interesting business and technology links.  I hope they spark new insights for you!

New change strategy requires new capabilities

Successfully implementing critical strategic changes requires building the skills, knowledge, and processes needed to carry out and sustain them. These capabilities lie at the heart an organization’s ability to achieve results.  Yet some businesses miss this important step in change management by either assuming that if the strategy is logical, then people will figure out what to do or being so prescriptive about what to do that employees give up and revert old behavior.  Developing capabilities requires experimentation, trial and error, and iterative learning to figure out what will work in each organization’s unique culture, functional structure, and environment. This article includes valuable tips and stories that will help you learn more about how to successfully build new capabilities to support the changes you want to see.

How to connect with the right people, even if you don't know them now

The old adage "who you may be more important than what you know" still applies today. Networking to meet business contacts is a critical skill for success.  Whether you are starting your network, adding to it, or trying to take it in a different direction, this article provides insight into three proven strategies. The first focuses on how to get specific about the type of people you’d like to meet in order to guide your existing network in identifying connections they can help you make.  The second focuses on how to work your way towards connections that may seem unattainable at the outset. The third focuses on connecting far and wide through content generation.  Learn how the author built a successful business using all three techniques.

Working through a Personal Crisis

Continuing to perform at work can seem insurmountably difficult when we are experiencing a stressful life event or personal crisis. Fortunately, there are many useful strategies that can help you maintain your balance and your work performance during difficult times.  The key is determining what you need to make it through and then communicating your needs to those at work who can support you, like your manager and co-workers.  Knowing how to do this in a way that protects your privacy and your boundaries will further help you comfortably navigate relationships during this sensitive time.  This article details the steps you can take, principles to remember, and case studies that show how it all can work.

Turning off work at the end of the day

There are many reasons why turning off work is a good thing to do each day.  We all know that it's getting harder to do as electronic devices have made us available 24/7.  This article outlines a five-step disconnection strategy requiring only 10 -15 minutes per day. According to the authors, "While some of the tips and techniques may not seem new, we’ve found that they can be highly effective when used in sequence and combination, greatly reducing feelings of stress and improving work-life balance.'.  Read more and try it out.  Let us know how it works for you.  

Love work so much you want to bring it home? Every household could use some Scrum!

This author's family has been using Scrum to manage their housework for the past year and a half. Is their house cleaner as a result?  Find out more about how Scrum can work at home and learn lessons that can improve your Scrum in the workplace.

Let me know what you think of these links using the contact form below!

Busting 3 Myths About Software

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke

Many people I talk to view software as something akin to magic.  Very powerful, but mysterious and incomprehensible except for the special few with the training and talent to manipulate it (i.e. software developers).  The result?  Myths about the powers and use of software that don't always match reality.  As much as those of us who work with software like being thought of as wizards, the truth is we are not and software is not quite so magical.  Here are three myths and misunderstandings about the value and use of software.

Myth #1: If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Myth: Once you build and deploy your system, you don't need to think about it again, even if it has been a long time since it went live.

Fact: Sustaining a successful business means that you are constantly exploring new markets, finding new ways to bring your customers more value, and searching for ways to grow.  As your business grows and changes, so too will your software needs.  The applications that served you well as a brand new business with a handful of customers may struggle to keep up as you grow to millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds, thousands, or even millions of customers.  Along the way, you need to continually invest in your software, changing both how it works and how your business works with it. Your technology should be an enabler to your business, not a roadblock.

The best way to keep your software aligned with your current needs is to build it into your operating model.  Many businesses think about software as a capital investment, buy it once and then leave it alone.  We find that thinking of it as an operational investment is a better model.  In the same way that companies use continuous improvement for process, constant, iterative improvement in software is the best way to get software that remains closely aligned with your needs.  Neglecting this ongoing improvement of your software can lead to systems that are difficult to change to match your business, impeding productivity and reducing your ability to respond to competitive pressures.

Myth #2: Software will solve all of my problems

Myth:  A common thought (even we catch ourselves doing it!) when facing a business challenge is: "All we need is ABC Software to solve this problem."  Rarely is the true answer "yes."

Fact:  Software is a tool and it can be used effectively or ineffectively just like any other tool. An efficient process and the right tools are what's needed to solve a business challenge. Good information helps you decide what's best to use.

Consider this example:  Say you are digging for gems in the dirt in your backyard (lucky you with a backyard full of gems!) and you want to get them all out as fast as possible before someone else finds out and steals them.  You pick up a shovel of dirt and carry it inside to spread the dirt out on your table and pick the gems out.  You then carry the dirt back outside to discard.  The process works but it is taking too long.  You exchange your shovel for a bucket to see how that goes.  The process moves a bit faster but now you notice that your back is sore from moving so much dirt back and forth at once.  The bucket helped in one way (you can search through more dirt each trip) but hurt in another way (now your back is sore).

As you are resting your sore back, you decide to try moving your gem-dirt separation process to your backyard, right next to where you are digging.  Now, because you don't need to take trips inside, working with one shovel full of dirt at a time is faster and your back feels better.  In addition to your shovel, you now introduce a screen to sift the dirt directly into your discard pile leaving the gems behind and much easier to extract. You see your gem recovery speed improve yet again!

In our example, the shovel, bucket, and screen are technology options used to make the work of finding gems faster.  However, by first considering and improving the process for extracting gems (i.e. moving the gem sorting outside) the investment in a screen becomes much more valuable than the investment in the bucket ever was.  Software works the same way.  It can be used to run inefficient processes faster, but improving the underlying processes before implementing software delivers a much larger return on investment.

Myth #3: Software is a big expense that I cannot afford

Myth: For small and growing businesses, surveying the market for software can be a shock when it comes to pricing.  Many of the best-known software platforms (e.g. SAP, Salesforce, etc.) are aimed at large enterprises and carry a price tag to match.  Such systems also have an (at times well deserved) reputation for costing much more to implement and being less useful than expected.  

Fact: There are many options for purchasing and connecting cloud apps, supplementing with custom development as needed.  Companies are now able to create the technology package that works best for their unique needs at an affordable price.

The best approach is to go slow and iterate.  Start with one or two apps and build from there. Some apps will connect with others right out of the box and some require more work to integrate. The most unique business needs may require custom software works with your other apps. No matter what you chose, by building functionality incrementally you create the most efficient processes, spread your overall cost out over time, and discover previously unknown features and needs as you go.  To do this, budget for a consistent investment in your software as part of your operating expenses.  Work software improvement into your operations budget and continually invest in improving how your software supports your business.  Over the long run, you will end up with systems that serve your business!

Your software is a critical set of tools, get the most out of it!

Ultimately, software is a tool to support your business.  Continually investing in your processes and your software allows both to grow together to create a foundation for long-term growth in your company.  If you don't know where to start or just don't have time to think about it, we can help!  With frameworks for working both process and software improvement into your daily workflow, we can help you prepare for your next level of growth and success!

For Continuous Improvement, Mind the Connections Too

My bi-weekly link collection, including: building your purpose, managing stress, and tactical vs. adaptive performance

Finding Improvement in the Margins

With continuous improvement, we look everywhere for processes that lead to waste and inefficiency.  While we most often focus on core processes, connections between core processes must be attended to as well.  For example, the process for entering an order may be very efficient as may be the process for filling an order.  Now, consider the connection between receiving an order and fulfilling the order.  Are the interconnections flowing well?  How do the people who are fulfilling the order find out about the order?  Are people re-entering information?  Are orders missed sometimes because people are too busy? Learn more about how to find opportunities to improve inter-process connections.

Tactical vs Adaptive Performance

Many companies are good at doing what they say they are going to do, in the way they say they are going to do it.  This is called tactical performance. However, in a study of assembly line performance, Ethan Bernstein found that requiring employees to always do things exactly as designed can actually work against improvements in performance.  Building a culture where front line employees are encouraged to adhere to best practices and also find better ways to work - which is called adaptive performance - improves both overall performance and overall employee satisfaction. When employees have clear work procedures and the freedom to seek improvements they become more dedicated to their roles, more invested in their job, and better performing overall!

94% Belongs to the System

Recently, I participated in a lively discussion that focused on exploring the cause of human error.  As we discussed different scenarios, my fellow attendees posited that perhaps errors were caused by unclear instructions, insufficient training, management pressure to expedite something which resulted in important steps being skipped, or a culture that did not allow workers to sound the alarm when something was not right. We were clearly centered on how the system and circumstances surrounding a mistake contribute to that mistake. The group instinctively saw that a problem is rarely caused by the action by an individual person.  Our instincts were right. In fact, by some estimates, direct action by people accounts for only about 6% of the causes of issues.  Read about how to address the other 94% in this article.

How do you Find your Purpose?  You Build It!

We often think in terms of the Hollywood version of purpose in which the universe reveals its grand plans to the hero or heroine.  We know that this rarely happens in real life.  Instead, we must build our own grand plan or higher purpose, remembering that purpose is multi-faceted and ever changing. The challenge is to endow everything we do with purpose, to allow for the multiple sources of meaning that will naturally develop in our lives, and to be comfortable with those changing over time. Read more about finding purpose over a lifetime.

Managing Work Stress

High-pressure jobs or jobs that just aren't the right match for you can create psychological stress that is severe enough to have undesirable physical effects, such as chronic headaches, nausea, or insomnia. Even more alarming, high work stress can even lead to serious health events like strokes. If you find yourself in that kind of job and are feeling those negative health effects, it is essential to take intentional steps to ease your body and mind.  Find out how to identify the source of your stress and learn key strategies that will help you manage it better. Remember, if none of these things seem to work, it may be time for a change.  Your life could depend on it.

Let me know what you think of these links using the contact form below!