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How to build scalability into any organization

In a January 23rd post earlier this year, I briefly mentioned the Horizon 1-2-3 framework originally developed by Mehrdad Baghai, Stephen Coley, and David White, who authored The Alchemy of Growth: Practical Insights for Building the Enduring Enterprise. In it they established a view that companies that are successful in the long term have growth initiatives in three stages. Subsequently, many consulting organizations worldwide have used dozens of frameworks over the years to analyze the trends which impede their clients’ ability to grow.

Allow me to summarize for you what I’ve been seeing as the #1 culprit for limiting the growth of organizations worldwide.

Premise; The H1-2-3 framework is built around the point of view that to sustain growth, a company must maintain a continuous pipeline of business-building initiatives. Companies considered sustainable & scalable are characterized by their ability to create new business opportunities by innovating from within their core business ares whilst building new off-shoots at the same time.

Challenge; With the limited resources that the majority of modern-day companies face today, where can you find the time, resources & funding to innovate?

Solution; Identify within your organization who’s ready to operate at each Horizon, and then stimulate their development by holding them accountable.

  • (H1) is the work resulting in more consistently effecting change through improving and extending present operations (routines and habits)
    • Who in your organization is working at this day-to-day level?
      • Are they the right people / profile?
    • What monthly gatherings are you promoting to review & improve on the recently past activities?
      • How do (what proof are you collecting) these gatherings benefit your future activities, both immediate & mid-term?
  • (H2) is empowering the team to ask themselves how their daily/weekly activities & focus facilitate the creation of new opportunities
    • Who in your team is ready to step-up to the next level?
    • What weekly questioning and periodic structured pulse checks are you committed to?
    • How are you fostering increased risk taking & the capability of the team in dealing with a greater degree of uncertainty & adversity?
  • (H3) is where futures must be imagined, researched and developed.
    • Who in your organization is passionate & skilled at seeding options today for the future?
    • What is the required business acumen for understanding the related research, pilot projects, proof of concepts, etc you’ll need to succeed & innovate?
    • How are you going to measure the practical implementation of the same, both immediately & on a continual basis?

Results; A client of mine is currently putting this model into effective use. The Managing Director is a visionary and he needed to break himself away from the daily routines that were keeping him from affecting the broader & longer term results of his organization. Last year he asked one of his next-line management to step-up & shadow his responsibilities. After one quarter, this 1st line executive had gained deeper knowledge & understanding of what it took to “play at the next level”.

Having also experienced professional growth & personal development, he was tasked to find someone one level down & do the same exercise. At the same time he was sharing with his immediate management colleagues the direct & indirect benefits of this experience. Each quarter the Managing Director rotated his direct reports through this process. Whilst he gradually freed himself to a level at which he significantly impacted the broader scope he desired, this exercise permeated throughout the organization giving more voice to many more layers of management & personnel in general.

Whether you’re staffing levels are 5, 10, 50, 100 or 1,000, what can you learn from this exercise? What are you holding onto that you should let go of? Who’s growth are you debilitating by continuing to carry on the way you do today?

Sacrifices in Business – Having your cake & eating it too!

I love the quote “every point of refuge has it’s price“. Another one that rings true is “nothing comes for free“.

No where is this more evident than in the world of fast growth business!

What have you had to sacrifice lately? Has it been your percentage of dedication to life or work? How many people do you know that work 8h or less? How many people do you know that are conscious of the true sacrifices they are making each and every day?

This article is more than just about time, energy or strategy management, it’s a “wake-up call” to anyone who thinks that any success comes easy!

It takes courage, moments of truth & at times allot of blind faith to take the necessary measures required to achieve the success you desire. Most of all, along the way, it takes allot of personal sacrifice to make your professional career eventuate into part of the formula which equals “work-life balance”.

A client & I were speaking last week when he shared with me the incredible amount of pressure that he’s under at work. He continued to share how he has recently tried to delegate to his next immediate level of management, hoping to help them grow. Upon reviewing his results, he was astonished at how he was able to deal with so many diverse situations within his workplace. His area is one of the most intense work environments of his entire global organization, and still they provide solid & leading results day-in day-out.

None of this surprised me! From the first time we started our Executive Coaching relationship, I had noted how stringent he was on his work-life balance. For the sake of confidentiality, let’s call him “Joe”, and he can celebrate his balance today because he prepared, trained & practiced for it. Most of all, he paid his dues earlier on & sacrificed when he needed to!

You don’t just wake up one day & have a balanced life! It takes hard work, sacrifices, dedication & lots of practice!

Today he typically splits his time working from home & office. He takes every opportunity to enjoy long weekends with his family. He has a ground rule not to mix work with pleasure on weekends, or after a certain hour of the day. He’s conscious that time is precious and that his young boy will quickly become a young man before the blink of an eye, and so he prioritizes his intensity very carefully. As we discovered, it’s all about energy management!

As an outside observer I had noticed that just like a body builder who rests certain muscles masses in-between workouts to witness effective growth, Joe was resting his brain and giving it different stimuli by engaging in non work related activities on the weekend. By not using the “work” part of the brain over the course of 2-3 days, it enables him to be that much more sharper Monday through Friday. It enables Joe to get allot more done in less time than before.

But it wasn’t always like this! Joe is the exception to the rule, and he has also “been at it” for the greater part of the last 15 years! It takes personal and or professional sacrifice to become really successful at something.

As evidence, I give you Malcom Gladwell’s CNN interview regarding his book Outliers, he briefly touches on the concept of the “10.000 Hour Rule”. I especially love his other interview comparison with The Beatles.

To put this into perspective, 10.000 hours of “practice” is the equivalent to

  • approximately 417 days (or 1.14 years) if you didn’t sleep at all
  • 625 days (or approximately 1.71 years) if you slept for 8 hours & dedicated the remaining 16h to a single task
  • 1.250 days (or approximately 3.42 years) if you only dedicated 8 hours to a single task

In comparison, how much time are you dedicating to what you want to be really good at?

People on many levels of an organization want their cake & eat it too, but contrary to Joe, they aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices!

There’s the entrepreneur who makes personal sacrifices on multiple levels just to keep his dream alive, running his start-up “on the smell of an oily rag“. It’s been a hard road but he’s within reach of his dream now!

There was the fast-climbing corporate executive that didn’t have time for a relationship because of the intensity of their business. Any wonder why they’re still “home alone” & without a life-partner at this stage?

Then there’s that guy who felt it necessary to hangout with his friends until the wee hours of the morning having a few beers & exchanging tall tales. Any wonder he typically didn’t get up to speed until noontime at work the next morning? Any wonder why his moments of brilliance were just that, limited to “moments”, even though what was required was more consistency? There are even more countless tales of people who “had the potential but just never materialized it consistently“. It all takes it’s tole and requires a delicate balance if you’re to have your cake & eat it too.

So where can you start?

  • Visualize the life or objective (professional & personal) that you want in 2-3 years (i.e. success.. “your cake”)
    • Make it really visual, to the point where you can smell, taste & almost touch your visualization
      • Quick Tip; Fill it with as many facts & details as possible
  • Visualize your current “reality”
    • If this is going to work, you’ll have to be brutally honest with yourself
      • Quick Tip; This will be the last time you “focus” on your “reality”
        • Focus on your objective, raising your reality toward it instead of focusing on your reality which will only downsize your objective
        • Remember that your reality is merely the accumulation or consequences of your past actions in life, and whilst it might influence the speed at which you can break free of your reality, it does not condition the achievement of your objective
  • Determine “what” is required to bridge your current reality to your visual image of success
    • If you can’t figure this out, get help form someone your trust
      • Quick Tip; Do an inventory and address it
        • There are only two things that stand in your way of success
          1. Limiting beliefs (in yourself or another)
          2. Lack of a strategy
  • Set a time-line to acquire the skills, network or resources you require to achieve your objective
    • Determine “what” activities you’re willing to sacrifice or give-up completely during this period to achieve your success
      • Quick Tip; What is non-negotiable?
  • Now set-up a discipline for yourself to measure your progress along the way
    • Make time in your calendar for reflection on your daily, weekly, monthly progress & make the necessary adjustments
      • Quick Tip; What isn’t measured doesn’t get done!

If you follow these basic guidelines, work hard at them and realize that there are NO SHORTCUTS (!!!), than I guarantee you too can have your cake & eat it too. I can also promise you it won’t be an easy journey! Why? Because “every point of refuge has it’s price“.

Reducing your Employee Churn/Burn Rate & Getting Results

What is the most value asset you have in your company? You shouldn’t have to think too hard! It’s the people that execute on your strategy.

So why do you always seem to be “the last man left standing” in your organization?

I’ll share with you the answer, followed by two key lessons & one practical example/result as to the “why” of so many company’s having challenges in retaining staff these days. An especially complex issue to understand, given the current economical crisis, is the unemployment rates around the world are still incredibly high.

The Answer is that we, as leaders, typically do a very poor job of recruitment, induction, ongoing management & assessment of our most valuable assets. And the general root cause is through poor communication and lack of courage!

Personally, even though sometimes hard to swallow, I firmly believe in the 90/10 rule, which states that if one of your staff isn’t working out, it’s 90% YOUR fault.. & only 10% theirs!

Do you think I’m being harsh, unfair & unrealistic? Well, consider this.. who’s in the drivers seat?

  • Who (ultimately) did, or approved the hiring?
  • How clear were you in defining and communicating the Mission & Vision of the company?
    • Did you receive acknowledgment, or other form of undeniable proof that you were clearly understood?
  • How clear were you in defining the role to be fulfilled & the specific outcomes to be expected of the role?
    • Key words being “role & specific outcome”.. forget job description!
  • How clear were you in communicating the behaviors you expected whilst your team executed on your plan?
    • How did you manage the first signs of lack in performance or alignment with your vision, message and/or expectations?
  • How often did you sit down to agree S.M.A.R.T. objectives/goals?
    • How frequently did you follow-up to make necessary adjustments?
    • How quickly did you put someone on a performance plan when they didn’t deliver on what was agreed?
  • How much planning & thought went into the induction, education/training, mentoring or skills acquisition process the individual needed to succeed?
    • How much coaching or mentoring did you consider to be required from yourself, or senior/more experienced staff?
  • How quickly, and how brave were YOU in having “the difficult & uncomfortable conversations”?
    • Are you paying & rewarding your staff to perform?
      • Are you doing the opposite?
      • How are you motivating/encouraging non-performance/conformance?

I could go on & on.. but I think you get the point! It’s YOUR company, YOUR department or YOUR team, and therefore YOU are the ultimate responsible person for the outcome/output of everyone’s role. If things aren’t working out then look inward before you look outward, and once you’ve completed this assignment take responsibility to make the immediate & necessary adjustments.

Lesson #1

  • Be crystal clear on Your Vision & communicate it… communicate it… communicate it…
    • Who needs to do What, How & by When?
      • This requires acknowledgment & buy-in, however remember you’re the boss (90% responsibility), so make sure that “your team” buys into “your plan”, even if you need their help in constructing it, and not the opposite!
    • Where do you want your company, area or department to be?
    • When do you expect specific results?
      • When do you expect escalations when things are in danger, or aren’t going according to plan?
    • How do you want (expect) your employees to behave, handle themselves and handle adversity (which is sure to come)?
      • What are the rules of engagement?
    • What are the boundaries & non-boundaries that you expect people to respect & understand?
      • What are the focus areas they’re supposed to be focused on in order to achieve success?
  • Be crystal clear on Your Mission… & communicate it… communicate it… communicate it…
    • Why do you want your people to behave in a certain manner?
    • Why do you need your people to achieve certain results?
    • Why do you require specific results within specific time frames?
    • Why is the company in business to begin with?

I’ve embedded the Core Values, which are the “behaviors” or “rules for the road” within the context of the Who, What, Where, When, Why & How above. That, in short, is your Core Ideology!

Lesson #2

The next biggest lesson you might have to learn, is regarding COURAGE. Courage to stand-up to the “know-it all’s” who’ve never run an enterprise but have every theory in the book as to how your organization should run! I find these days far too many companies have “grayed the line” between “boss & employee” and between responsible for direction & responsible for execution. If you’re going to take 90% responsibility for the failure of an organization, you need to get straight, and clearly understand, who’s “experienced” and better still “paid to run the show”.

In order to deliver on the above, you need the right skill-set that’s for sure, and you also need to have the backbone to “listen first” and “act accordingly second”. Acknowledging someone’s perspective and giving them voice doesn’t mean that you have to take their advice or recommendations over your own experienced opinion or gut instinct/intuition. It only makes you more responsible and accountable to the eventual decisions you make.

Once you’ve guaranteed success, then you can stand back, be humble and allow your team to bask in the glory of having executed excellently on a plan. Take 90% of the responsibility, give 90% of the credit and you’ll have an effective & motivated team!

I’ve spent hours-upon-hours giving practical workshops to MBA students who have paid a pretty penny to gain a highly valuable education, just like I’ve spent hours-upon-hours with both managers and employees who’ve read the latest books containing magical and earth moving experiences. What I always share with them is that “now you have the logic, it’s time to go out into the real world to implement and execute”.

The execution of an idea is always more important than the brilliance of a thought, or even a strategy. A brilliant thought without effective execution is merely an illusion. A brilliant strategy, without effective execution, is merely a waste of everyone’s energy & time.

Practical Example/Result

I recently walked into an assignment that demanded many changes in a short period of time. Multiple colleagues had just been fired for non performance and conformance. I was walking into an understandably hostile environment!

I stood in front of a room and shared my “what” followed by my “why”. Then came my “how”, where I told them that I only expected  1/2 (!?!?) of the output, dedication and commitment that I was willing to put in myself! However, I also advised them that I typically give 300% to every assignment!!

I explained that I would give them 48 hours to go through the grieving process of having lost their colleagues, followed by 15 days to be at 80% or better, and showing signs they would be at 150% by day 30.

I committed myself to complete transparency & communication, just as I would to holding them as accountable (where & when) as I would hold myself. I shared with them that there would be 2 day, 15 day & 30 day milestones, at which time I would have conversations with non-performers & either implement a performance plan or retire them. I would also make it a regular habit to commend the good performances along the way.

I shared with them that in a 24 hour weekday, I’m hoping you have 8 hours of sleep, and I’ll guarantee you that more than 50% of the remaining 16h will be based on, or thinking about, “work”. Therefore, if you’re going to dedicate more than 50% of your “awake” time to “work” during a 5 day work week rather than to your loved ones & special interests, it’s absolute lunacy to work in a place where you’re not motivated and inspired. As a consequence, if I ask you or if you decide to leave, then we’re only doing each other a favor based on a general concern & well-being for all.

Result

One person left within 48 hours, a few more within the first 15 days, then a few more within the next 15 days. Along the way change happened, a pride which previously didn’t exist filled the department! Results, followed by customer satisfaction, started to sparkle where it didn’t exist before. THEY, the last ones standing, did all of the work. I merely gave them direction and the opportunity to be everything I already knew they could be.

Top 3 things to focus on when fixing what’s broken

Having just finished up another successful assignment at a hyper growth enterprise, and noting that the core principles of success were again very similar to many other situations faced over the past +25 years, I thought I’d share my 3 areas of focus.

I should add to this that two days before I departed, an interested 2nd line manager/team leader asked if I could share with him some insights. He had witnessed remarkable changes in a very short period of time, and whilst I had been very busy with first line management, he recognized the possibility to learn some very practical & valuable lessons directly himself.

It inspired me that again we had been able to affect collateral interest, as well as a desire for change deeper within the organization, so I rallied the entire 2nd line leadership team and spent the next 2 hours giving them some day-to-day examples of the following:

  • Customer Centricity – Focus on the Customer
    • We have Internal Customers
      1. Every person in every department, in one way or another, facilitates the servicing of External Customers
      2. By serving the needs of our Internal Customers, we are either directly or indirectly addressing the needs of our External Customers
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, bi-lateral Service Level Agreements
    • We have External Customers
      1. Shift from a systems interoperability focus to a successful customer purchasing focus
      2. Now start to look for opportunities to enrich & enhance the customer purchasing experience
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, Service Level Agreements
  • Ownership – Never let go until you’re satisfied
    • Ownership is a like a hungry dog with a bone.. you never let go until you’re satisfied the hunger is quenched
      1. You can never assume the client, internal or external, is satisfied with a solution until you have direct confirmation/validation from/of the same
      2. Every obstacle is merely an opportunity for you to find another alternative path to a solution
      3. Don’t accept that a problem can’t be fixed until you’ve exhausted every means, including escalated your concern to the highest level within your organization
    • Ownership is like a football team moving forward to score a goal, just because you’ve passed the ball forward, your contribution to the goal isn’t over until the ball is in the net & you’re embracing your colleagues in celebration
      1. Just because you’ve forwarded a need or requirement, your job isn’t done until you’ve confirmed/validated that the next person is carrying out the necessary task(s) until the “client” is satisfied
      2. Trust is good..  but verification is proof.. & much.. much better!
      3. Confirm the goal! Confirm with the “client” that they’ve gotten the result they expected, and then celebrate the WIN/GOAL/SCORE & never just the great pass
  • Communication – “Engage with..” instead of “talking to..”
    • Communication is a bi-directional inter-activity & never a uni-lateral conversation
      1. Effective communication requires active empathetic listening
      2. Effective communication is never assuming that you know what the other person has just said, but repeating it for acknowledgment & confirmation of detail
      3. In effective communication, there is no such thing as “common sense”.. common sense is merely an accumulation of related experiences, and we all have different filters (interpretations & perceptions) based on our past influences
    • More than talking to someone, effective communication is when you confirm that an intention is understood, and the expected outcome has been agreed to by the “actioning party”
      1. To borrow from Engineering terms, effective communications requires an active & affective acknowledgment process (ACK/NAK or checksum), which is an infallible confirmation that what has been requested, has been acknowledge and understood
      2. Effective communications requires a S.M.A.R.T. conversation, with specific confirmation by all parties as to what has been requested vs. what will be delivered by when by whom to where & how

These might sound simple enough that you would actually overlook or underestimate the impact that they are already having on your organization, but the fact is, and I’m willing to be openly challenged on this, you show me a problem in your organization, and I’ll show you where one, if not all of the above are responsible for the lack of results that you know your enterprise is capable of.

Fast Growth Etiquette – The Pulse Check

During a recent lunch conversation with a start-up entrepreneur, he asked me to share what were the most common trends stopping brilliant start-up ideas from becoming great scalable ventures.

He was obviously a curious chap looking for some “quick & easy take-aways” from our lunch, and so being the generous &  practical guy I am, 😉 I grabbed a pen & drew the following diagram on a napkin for him…

I’ll make it short & simple for anyone who wants to stop reading this post here, and maybe check back later.. just like on a road trip to a place you haven’t been before, “you can’t get where you’re going unless you know where you are at”. Every journey has a “start”, “mid-point” & “end”, along the way, you should also have intervals at which you check your pace & requirements for refueling, but it’s not really rocket science, and it applies to any type of venture, be it entrepreneurial or corporate.

I asked him when had he last been to the doctor. Now, the first image get when I think about a doctor’s visit, is how the quickest and most immediate assessments they make are typically based on the simple pulse check. It’s a “status update” of sorts, to see how you’re doing, whether you’re running too fast, too slow or just about right. Whilst it’s only a momentary picture in time, this information combined with your medical history can tell him allot about how much longer you’re going to live without some sort of intervention.

Back to my journey analogy, how can you accurately predict any refueling requirements unless you can compare your current location with where you started vs. where you want to get to? So I then proceeded to expand on this biggest hurdle I’ve seen of late. Within the last 2-3 years, pretty much across the world, regardless of industry vertical, the general missing link is an understanding by staff (in general) as to what (and when) they needed to do to contribute toward their company getting from A to Z.

Did you expect a more profound & intellectual response? There are obviously varying stages of complexity around this issue whenever I find it, but generally it’s due to one of the following Top 3 things not being done

  1. Lack of appropriate articulation from the Founder/CEO/Leader as to “the why” driving their day-to-day activities
    • Mission (purpose), Vision (dream) & Core Values (rules for the road) based engagement & enrollment
  2. Lack of alignment between theoretical plan & practical measures put into place
    • Strategies communicated aren’t consistent with actions put into place
      • i.e. NOT “walking their talk”
  3. Lack of rhythmic processes that will allow you to measure progress toward achieving a predetermined strategy
    • Lack of follow-up, measurement & the necessary adjustments required along the way to get things back on track

Somewhere along those simple three areas are where I typically have to start my own engagement process within a new client, obviously after I’ve completed a discovery process to understand the depth of the challenge at hand. Now you may have noticed, as did my lunch companion, that I was using words like “engagement” & “enrollment”, in his case allot, and these weren’t by chance.

  • Engagement, “in my book” requires a two way conversation, give & take from both sides until they both agree on a common understanding, otherwise you won’t get the necessary “emotional involvement or commitment”
  • Enrollment, when borrowed from academia, the word “voluntary” stands out as a means of getting someone to do something. By “enrolling” someone (you get a voluntary commitment for attendance or follow-through on an activity, generally attending class & doing the required homework)

These two words are possibly the most powerful words in the “strategic execution dictionary” when you want to execute on any strategy. Whether it’s an entrepreneur trying to get his business off the ground or to the next level, or a CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise trying to keep shareholders happy, far too often we “talk to” rather than “converse with” our staff. That’s where the engagement & enrollment process starts, and once you’ve covered those steps, than in order to keep people, business and/or strategies “on-track”, you need routine follow-up with measures to check “where you are” at any point-in-time since you started, and “how much effort” is still required to get you to the finish line.

To-date, some of the best tools I’ve found to overcome those Top 3 barriers I mentioned are

  • Simon Sinek’s “Why” process for getting to the crux of your Mission or “purpose”
  • Cameron Herald’s “Painted Picture” process for articulating the true essence of your Vision or “dream”
  • Verne Harnish’s Gazelles “Rockefeller Habits” for the rhythmic processes required to super charge your growth strategy

In many instances now, I have personally worked with the consequence of these tools to then adapt practical solutions to the unique culture of organizations, or, leveraged the outcome of these tools & subsequent clarity to help organizations get to the levels everyone knew possible.

Where are you or your organization stuck? What practical measures have you taken on-board within the last week, or will be taking on-board as a consequence of this reminder?