Will the strategy succeed? Is this the right move at the right time? I know we CEOs have all spent many nights pondering these questions and weighing the possible outcomes. Overall, it can
be a complex endeavor.

There are a variety of variables and unique circumstances that come into play for any business, but here’s a simple equation that can be a handy part of your decision-making process when assessing the probability of success for a strategy:

Confidence in our people x confidence in our strategy x the level of coordinated activity = our probability of success

The equation’s value rests on your ability to be honest. Your evaluations need to be fair and realistic to provide the best data. If you aren’t fully confident in an area, that’s OK. It’s about making the best decisions for your company and your people — and that requires honesty.

Let’s look at each part of the equation:


Ask: What is my level of confidence in their ability to successfully execute the strategy?

Honestly assess: While we all would like to automatically say we have 100 percent confidence in everyone at every instance, in reality, the percentage may be lower for a number of reasons.

Perhaps the responsible leader is new and relatively inexperienced. Or maybe the team already has a full strategic workload with little excess capacity to engage in a new strategy.


Ask: What is my level of confidence in the strategy?

Honestly assess: Not all strategies are created equal. The origins and the completeness of a strategy will determine the level of confidence in the strategy itself. Consider the process and if it was created by the boss, visionaries or tacticians? Is it proactive or reactive?


Ask: What is my confidence in the level of coordinated activity associated with the strategy? 

Honestly assess: All too often, great strategies and great people are handcuffed by the lack of coordinated activities. Before you can execute a strategy well, you may need to stop doing something else to create the strategic bandwidth to embrace the level of coordinated activity necessary for strategic success.

Now, let’s take a look at an example:

People: Let’s say you have a new leader and a fairly busy group. You decide your confidence in your people under these circumstances is at 90 percent.

Strategy: You have a great go-to-market strategy created by a visionary process. The only shortfall is the financials rely heavily on estimates, so your confidence is at 90 percent.

Activity: You believe the activity level is very high, but it lacks a certain level of management coordination, slowing success. It could be something as simple as an uncoordinated order entry process. Under these circumstances, let’s assess your level of confidence at 90 percent.

So here we go — what is our probability of success? At first blush, it looks like a 90 percent average. That’s an A- or a B+. Sounds good, right?

The reality is different, and here’s what you need to remember: Shortcomings, however small, tend to multiply quickly in business. This becomes clear when we work our equation: 90 percent x 90 percent x 90 percent = 72.9 percent. The probability of success is actually a very low C-. 

We have to make the best decisions we can for our people, and this equation can help us evaluate our circumstances and chart our course.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com.

Published in Columnist

The fear of failure is something that even the most successful and gifted of employees can bring with them to the office.

They are afraid the product won’t be successful or the phone call won’t be returned. I can still remember being almost terrified to make a sales call on one of the largest food companies in the world because I was afraid I would fail.

If we don’t work through this fear, it will almost certainly lead to paralysis.

We procrastinate while waiting for better conditions to develop and remain “stuck” where we are, rather than where we want to be. I must admit I put off starting some new initiatives using that same fear-based rationale. I can clearly recall thinking, “Maybe I will launch my own business, once some additional favorable elements fall into place.”

I was stuck.

But it is our job to help our people overcome their fears and prevent them from becoming stuck. We need to create a courageous workplace. Here are a few techniques I have used to build a courageous workplace for my wonderful employees.

Pursue excellence 

The tool that best fights fear is the pursuit of excellence. It’s the vitamin shot that gives everyone the confidence to move forward. Teach your employees that their performance goal is excellence and giving their best effort in everything.

Aiming for perfection will drain an organization of its confidence and vigor. The goal is excellence! Write it on the office walls, put it as your email footer and repeat it often when you address the organization. Live it. The relentless pursuit of excellence should be part of the fabric of your company.

Embrace failures 

To paraphrase a brilliant sentiment by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” we shouldn’t fear failure — it is mediocrity we should be afraid of. Failures mean people were trying new things, rather than standing still.

Encourage employees to take risks. Empower them to fail. Foster curiosity and innovation. Embrace the belief that mistakes are how we grow, and growing employees build strong, innovative and dynamic workplaces.

Overcome paralysis 

This technique involves getting the person to clearly decide a specific time when they will “stop working” on a project rather than a stop time. A stop time is far more helpful if they are already struggling to get it started or keep it moving.

In this way, the person moves on to another project, rather than feeling that frustrating, wheel-spinning experience of getting nowhere fast.

Stop time works at home, too. For example, instead of asking my teenage daughter when she will begin her homework, I ask her to set a time when she will stop doing her homework. “I will be done with my homework by 8:00 so I can watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV,” she responds with a big grin on her face.

Be quick to encourage 

As the senior leader, your ability to encourage is essential for a healthy, courageous organization. You are watched closely by your people and are expected to “give heart” (which defines courage) as they pursue routine and difficult objectives. Remember — a courageous, encouraging heart is a talent multiplier!

As we help our employees overcome the fear holding them back at work, we begin to build their energy, confidence and freedom. And you need all three of these qualities flourishing in your people in order for you to operate a successful business.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of Fona International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com

Published in Columnist