Andy Kanefield

In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence,” the authors tell the story of a manager who used cars in the parking lot as a barometer of her team’s collective emotions after a merger. Immediately after the merger announcement, she noticed full parking lots even late into the evening.

She interpreted this as an extra level of excitement about the potential opportunities afforded by the merger. Over time, and as post-merger change initiatives foundered, the number of cars decreased, and she interpreted this as decreasing excitement and commitment.

But she also noticed that certain cars were a constant. There were “pockets of people” that remained productive and happy in the midst of delays in progress with the merger.  What she found was that most people who endured the change with positivity were protected from the disorder by leaders who included them in the process of change, gave them needed information and provided as much control as possible over their destiny.

Effective leaders know how to promote engagement regardless of the strength of the winds of change — or in this case the lack of progress. 

Something in our business environments is always changing — either internally or externally. In addition, something in our business environments is always stalled.  Leaders need to understand how to keep the energy level up during challenging times.

Some of the most effective leadership behaviors during tough times are illustrated in this post-merger example: Include your team as much as possible, give them critical information and allow team members the appropriate level of autonomy so they feel they have some level of control over their immediate work environment.

The authors of “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work,” offer another key component of engagement. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer suggest that “of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.” 

Think about the last time a key corporate client said to you, “You guys are integral to our success; we couldn’t have done this without you.” Were your steps a little lighter that day? After celebrating that success with others and thanking all involved for their contributions, how much more motivated were you to do a great job for that client?  How much more motivated was your team?

As leaders, we need to ensure that our employees are not only making progress with organizational goals, but that they believe that their work matters. How do we do that? 

There are several key principles to keep in mind: First, of course, is that people find meaning in their work in different ways. Some derive value primarily by how much they please your customers. Others focus almost exclusively on what they can acquire from their employment: status, money, etc. Others want to build an organization or army of people who will accomplish something great for its own sake and some simply derive pleasure from getting things done. What they do is less important than the accomplishment of achieving goals. Finally, there are people who find meaning by working with others who are like a family to them. 

While none of us typically focus exclusively on just one source of meaning, it helps to remember that people do extract different primary sources of meaning and that leaders and managers need to have this in mind as they seek to lead others.

Second, once you know how your team members find meaning, make sure you don’t obscure it. Be clear about how what your team is doing connects to something beyond the day-to-day tasks in ways that has meaning to each person.

Finally, if you lead the entire organization, be clear with everyone, not just your team, on how the strategies, initiatives and measurable goals connect to different sources of meaning.

Helping people see the links between the progress they are making in their daily tasks and the meaning in their lives or the lives of others is one of the key tasks of leadership.  Doing this well can only serve to fuel the fire of full engagement for your employees and for you.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense:  One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to get greater alignment behind systemic organizational changes, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or

During a recent client engagement, we were discussing the need for a “burning platform” in order for the necessary organizational changes to grab the attention and get the buy-in of the employees. At one point, a Dialect colleague reminded the group that we need to consider what the burning platforms should be. This was a helpful reminder of what we all know to be true, but often don’t apply: People have different fundamental motivations — especially in their work. 

While a senior leadership team may be motivated to significant change by the board or key shareholders in a public company applying pressure to boost earnings, the second-shift worker fixing the broken pump at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night may not be as concerned about that pressure. Tapping into the satisfaction of doing more excellent work or the pride of a higher quality end product to your customers may be the best way to light a fire for change in the heart of that employee.

In his books on change, John Kotter, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, has put creating a sense of urgency as priority No. 1 in leading change. Whether one calls it a “sense of urgency” or a “burning platform,” it is important to remember that for any given change effort, there isn’t just one — there need to be several. Not only must there be several storylines of the need for change, these storylines also need to be rolled out in ways that are different for various stakeholder groups and individuals.

Take one of Kotter’s examples from his book, “The Heart of Change.” Recognizing the need to drive down purchasing costs by $1 billion over five years, one organizational leader knew that the first step toward the necessary changes was to get management to see the opportunity. After assessing the magnitude of the problem with one item (gloves used in the company’s factories), leaders were gathered into a boardroom and shown the 424 different types of gloves that the company was buying through its purchasing department. 

Seeing that similar gloves purchased by the same factory could cost either $3.22 or $10.55 left these leaders speechless. Presenting the issue in concrete terms — 424 variants of essentially the same thing piled onto a board room table and being purchased with widely variant prices — was all the leaders needed to see to convince them that change was essential.

This illustrates an important principle: When addressing the “why” of change, it’s often insufficient to say costs are too high, show a bar graph, and say, ‘Let’s go cut costs.’  Showing people concrete examples of how the problem that needs to be addressed or the opportunity that needs to be seized connects to their role needs to be one of the storylines. Not everyone will need that particular storyline, but many will.

Here are some other principles that need to be observed or considered in your large-scale, organizational change initiatives. These principles can be applied to both groups and individuals:

  • Who has the credibility to introduce the changes and the reasons for them?
  • What kind of information do they usually find helpful?

    • Big-picture rationale
    • Details of implementation
    • Effect on metrics (financial and non-financial)
    • Effect on customers
    • Effect on employees

  • When do they need/want to be informed of the changes?
  • Have they been given enough time to process the changes?
  • Have you, as leaders, given thoughtful attention to their analysis of the short- and long-term implications of the changes?


While there is much more to managing change than the principles we’ve outlined here, we believe that these are essential considerations to getting your change initiatives off to a good start.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense:  One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to get greater alignment behind systemic organizational changes, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or

Natural organisms have sensors to help them survive in the natural world. Sidney Winter of the University of Pennsylvania points out that some moth species can detect the sonar of bats. To avoid becoming a bat snack, a moth initiates evasive aerial maneuvers to survive yet another day in the competitive animal kingdom. However, in the environment of your family’s living room, these same moths can't detect the sound of a rolled up newspaper whizzing toward them.

Just like nature’s organisms, manmade organizations may have highly developed sensors that help them survive in a competitive marketplace. The key is to make sure that the sensors you use are appropriate for your marketplace and for gathering useful information. After all, if organizational sensors aren’t properly tuned to your environment, your business will take the hit.

Having effective ways to get feedback from customers or clients is critical to the success of any organization that wants to sustain itself for the long term. Your customers or clients are expecting you to help them in some way; you’re making a promise of some kind to them. It’s critical to know how well you’re doing. It’s imperative that you know what your customers perceive that promise to be and that you know how well they believe you’re fulfilling that promise.

Some organizations have sophisticated tools that use technology to gather critical data. In his book, “Business @ the Speed of Thought,” Bill Gates describes Jiffy Lube’s extensive customer database that helps them track customer needs and behavior. Other organizations may decide that a brief survey or phone conversation is sufficient. The key is to know your customers and marketplace. Is your marketplace a cave or a living room?

In considering how to “know thy customer,” it may help to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How do I determine from those who matter most (our clients) whether or not we are fulfilling our purpose as an organization?
  2. How do I know whether or not our clients believe we are helping them in the way we promise?
  3. Should we hire a third-party consultant to provide objective analysis of client input?
  4. What will we do with the feedback and input we receive from our clients? Are we committed to act on even the most critical comments?
  5. How will we let clients know the action we have taken in response to their input?  What action can we take immediately on the “low-hanging fruit?” How will we analyze suggestions that require a significant change in our business model?
  6. How will we use the input we’ve received from clients to develop ongoing communication with them?
  7. How will we identify our most loyal clients, find out why they’re loyal and show our appreciation?
  8. How do we enable our front-line employees to respond quickly and effectively to client concerns?
  9.  How will we track the results of any changes we make in response to client input?
  10.  What are we doing to avoid becoming the moth in the living room?  

In answering the last question, it’s important to inquire of your clients how their needs are changing and, if your clients/customers are businesses, how their industry is changing. How have their needs changed during the last year? How do they see their needs changing during the next year and beyond? And then ask them how they think you can help them as they adapt. If your clients are businesses, are there ways you can help them avoid becoming the “moth in the living room”?

By answering these questions honestly and implementing effective ways of addressing the answers you receive, you will know your customers better and drive the growth you want and the profit you need.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense:  One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to better align your culture, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400, by e-mail at or at

A colleague of mine recalls the time he switched jobs and found himself having a tough time adjusting to a new corporate culture. He went from a culture of collegiality and warmth to one of competition and hard edges. Every time he walked into his new office, even the different smell of the building made his stomach sink as he was reminded of what he had left behind — people he enjoyed being around who supported each other in serving their clients.

You may have had a similar experience, though perhaps you prefer a driven, internally competitive culture. As a leader, one of your roles is to determine what type of culture you want to create, encourage and reinforce. In doing so, you need to address questions such as, “What type of culture will help us achieve the results we promise to our clients?”

In her book, “Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals,” Temple Grandin offers some interesting observations about animal environments and how they can offer clues to creating better working environments for people.

Admittedly, using the findings of animal research may seem like a strange place to begin in trying to understand human needs in a corporate context. However, what Grandin calls to our attention is the fact that animals, such as our pets, have the same core emotional systems in their brains as we do. Here’s an example of what to do and what not to do in your business.

Do: Stimulate seeking, care and play

This is the basic impulse to search, investigate and make sense of the environment. Grandin describes it as a combination of constructs people usually think of as being different: “Wanting something really good, looking forward to getting something really good and curiosity.”

Within a corporate context, one might think of different ways to apply these. Wanting something could be connected to setting goals. What does an individual or group want to achieve? According to Grandin, having goals is one way to encourage mental and emotional well-being.

Grandin describes “looking forward” as the “Christmas emotion.” One could think of this in a corporate context as getting a bonus or having a pizza party or winning a trip to Hawaii. It’s something you anticipate or get excited about.

Curiosity is connected to seeking what is new. It’s wanting the bright, new and shiny thing. In today’s world, it’s often the latest technological development.

Suffice it to say that when employees believe that leaders care about them and the work you do for clients, the sense of well-being will be higher. When you add elements of fun in the workplace, these enhance our sense of belonging, as well.

Don’t: Allow rage, fear and panic

Let’s explore rage in some depth since it might be hard to easily translate this to a corporate setting in a way that is meaningful. In animals, rage occurs when they are captured and held immobile.

In an organizational setting, we see frustration when people micromanage us or exhibit behaviors characterized as that of “control freaks.” It’s that mild form of rage that sparks the slamming phone when someone crosses the line to tell us how to do our job.

Of course, any time there is fear, our brains can freeze up and we can shut down. We’ve all experienced that. And panic refers to our social attachment system. It’s what kicks in when employees feel a sense of loss when a beloved colleague or leader leaves. There can also be a sense of loss during a time of change as we move into the unknown, especially when, as leaders, we don’t prepare people well.

Regardless of the specifics of the culture you want to encourage, there is value in creating an environment that promotes seeking, care and play and minimizes rage, fear and panic. Making your organization a place that is aligned with what we know about human nature can only make it a more effective organization for you and your clients.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to better align your culture, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400, by e-mail at or at

A good foundation to understanding the intrinsic motivation of the employees you lead needs to take into account motivational factors that all employees share, as well as factors that differ in influence for each person.

There are many ways to slice the pie of motivational differences. One way to think about different motivations is through the filter of organizational identity. That is, the ways in which organizations express who they are to employees and clients.

Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, says: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

His quote will likely elicit applause from many leaders and followers. “Of course we need to know where we are going,” they might say. As we all know, many people get irritated by the very mention of vision or, at least, have their eyes glaze over with a “here we go again” look.

Other leaders start at very different places. Inc., for example, while noted for its excellent customer service, starts with an emphasis on culture. As one Zappos senior executive puts it, “I read about how Zappos is focused on customer service. It isn’t. It’s focused on company culture, which leads to customer service. We don’t talk about customer service; we allow it to happen on its own by having the right people.”

Another common belief among organizational leaders is that a business is first and foremost a set of processes. Get the processes right, and you’ve built a great business.

Finally, other leaders emphasize that everything starts with the customer. Everything is about the customer first and all else follows from that.

So, who is right? In one sense, each perspective may be right. The question itself, “who is right,” is problematic since we know that leaders with the perspectives we’ve characterized above know that one has to attend to all aspects of one’s business. However, leaders do have different perspectives either on organizations in general, or their organization in particular, regarding how to lead people to the desired results. Some focus on direction, others on culture, others on processes, and others on the customer. Just think about the way you, as a leader, spend your time or wish you spent your time. That will give you valuable insight into your own preferences.

How does this relate to employee motivation? Your employees follow the same patterns outlined above. You have employees whose first concern is one of the following:

Where are we going? What kind of place is this to work? What behaviors and beliefs are important to us? How do we get things done and how do we measure our progress? Who is our customer and how do we define and improve on the value we deliver?

Your employees are typically going to focus more on one of these question clusters than the others.

Do you have clearly articulated answers? If not, employees will either fill in their own answers or look for a place that does have clear answers.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO's Tale of Getting in Sync.”

Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Andy can be reached at (314)863-4400 or You can reach him by e-mail at

Motivation is commonly viewed in two ways: external motivation and internal motivation. External motivational tactics should only be seen as reinforcement of employees’ natural inclinations or intrinsic motivators. For example, compensation programs, rewards and recognition programs, professional development efforts, performance reviews and other extrinsic motivators should not be seen as primary ways to motivate employees. Unquestionably, these are indispensable aspects of organizational life. However, if you depend on them without understanding how they connect to the nature of intrinsic motivation, you do so at your own peril.

A good foundation to understanding intrinsic motivation needs to take into account both motivational factors that all employees share as well as factors that differ in influence for each person. Let’s focus on factors that people have in common.

In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Dan Pink proposes three key principles that are components of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.


Who among us likes to be micromanaged? Few would answer yes. Does unnecessary interference inspire us to greater heights of accomplishment? Is it uplifting and inspiring? For most of us, even when interference is well-intentioned, it misses the mark for a variety of reasons. Having an appropriate level of control and self-direction for a given task or role is key to employee motivation.


Who wants to be known for doing a job poorly? We all want to do our jobs well. Continuous improvement is built into our nature. If we’re doing something we believe to be important, we want to get better at it. And Pink reminds us that mastery requires sacrifice and determination.


Intrinsic motivation requires that we believe in what we’re doing. Nonprofit organizations understand this better than most. Attract people who believe in what you’re doing and carrots and sticks become less important in your toolbox of management tactics. Just make sure you don’t get in the way of your employees. Don’t build barriers to your potential success and employees’ natural motivations to work toward a shared purpose will be a powerful engine for achievement.

What are some lessons to be learned from these motivators?

Find people who are passionate about your organization’s purpose and have proven to be persistent in the face of adversity. Ensure that the degree of autonomy you provide is a good fit for your employees. Ensure your employees have the resources they need to get continuously better.

Best-selling author and professor of psychology and behavioral economics Dan Ariely states that, “People don’t just care about money. We care about competition and completion, and we care about self-fulfillment and friendship and obligation — all kinds of things.”

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO's Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Andy can be reached at (314)863-4400 and at

Tuesday, 05 July 2011 15:04

Character counts

“Leadership is much less about what you do, and much more about who you are,” writes Jim Collins, in a foreword to the book, “Hesselbein on Leadership,” by Frances Hesselbein.

Seth Godin offers a different perspective:

“Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise, not being who you are,” Godin says. “That’s because ‘being’ is too amorphous and we are notoriously bad at judging that.”

We take the view that being and doing are inextricably intertwined and we should not fall into the trap of emphasizing one over the other. Our behavior is influenced by who we are and it also reinforces innate qualities. The habits that flow out of who we are also build neural pathways that are difficult to reroute. That is one of the reasons that as we choose leaders, we must be diligent in ensuring that they have a track record of both accomplishment and character.

Most business leaders are much more comfortable discussing the domain of “doing,” that is “the ability and proven track record to accomplish what the role requires.” Some may even suggest that if you can’t measure a construct, it’s not important. And we would all acknowledge that “being,” or character, is hard to measure.

Yet, we ignore it at our own peril. Unconvinced? Try the following thought experiment: Bernie Madoff has just been approved for a work-release program. How would your board react if you proposed that you hire him as your new CFO or CIO? Character suddenly becomes very important. We may not be able to measure it, but we know good character when we see it. While you or your board members may admire Madoff’s ingenuity and confidence, his deceit would kill any chance he would have at being on your team. His character doesn’t meet the “sniff” test. He can’t be trusted. Honesty is a character trait one wants in all employees.

So what are some of the character qualities of an effective leader? Jim Collins suggests that a “Level Five leader” is one who demonstrates humility and a persistent will: “Modest and willful, humble and fearless.”

This suggests three initial considerations for choosing leaders: Humility, persistence and courage. While these three qualities are not a comprehensive list, they do seem to suggest a starting point that is hard to dispute.

While humility may seem out of place to some, it does not require common connotations of undue deference or weak-willed behavior. Leaders demonstrating humility don’t let their egos get in the way of organizational success. Organizational success and reputation come first for great leaders. It doesn’t take long to think of leaders one knows that put themselves above the organization and have been rendered ineffective because of it.

Persistence is essential to go through or around barriers that are a daily reality for leaders. The ability to set organizational and personal goals and work diligently to attain them is key for your leaders. While some would suggest this belongs in the “doing” domain, it is clear that some people have internal motivation to achieve that is higher than others. It is an element of “being” that is reflected in “doing.”

Leadership involves risks. Courage doesn’t deny the risks of leading an organization into the unknown. It simply allows leaders to take leaps that others might not make. Progress requires risk. Leaders have the courage to make decisions that propel an organization forward.

There is another important reason these qualities are important for leaders. Each is important in leading a sustainable organization that has a clear identity. As Stephen Covey notes, every organization needs to “have a center. You need to have identified values. You need to know what you stand for and you need to stand for it so that others know too.”

Standing firm for what your organization stands for requires the ability to put the organization before your own personal ambition, the will to persist when it’s hard to live what you stand for and the courage to make hard calls when you and others aren’t living up to your own standards.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO's Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Andy can be reached at (314) 863-4400 and

Saturday, 30 April 2011 20:01

Make sure your leaders are right for you

In last month’s column, we offered three suggestions to form the foundation for a leadership team: Clearly define your value. Clearly define your role as CEO. Clearly define the purpose of your team.

Until you understand the value your organization provides to stakeholders, the role you need to play within your team and the value your team will deliver within your organization, it will be virtually impossible to ensure you have the right people to lead with you.

Once you have clarity in these three critical areas, it becomes an easier (but never easy) job to fill the roles on your team. One simple way to think about selecting leaders is to focus on doing and being.

Doing is the ability and proven track record to accomplish what the role requires. Both are critical if one is to serve on a leadership team. It’s not enough to have ability. If one is to be a leader, there must be a track record that instills confidence and trust from peers and other employees who must believe in that leader. And, of course, when hiring an outside resource for your team, one must take great pains to ensure that you have thoroughly vetted the claims made regarding past performance.

Study leadership roles

Have you identified the competencies necessary to perform each role within your team? For example, what is the role of your CFO? In addition to financial acumen, does she need to be the point person for the investment community because that’s not your area of strength? It is imperative that you think about the complement of strengths on your team and not just the strengths of team members in isolation.

What about HR? Do your employees need more of a relational HR leader rather than one that prefers to focus on HR transactions? Do you need an HR leader that prefers to be a face of the leadership team and interact with employees or one that is in his office poring over the latest compensation and benefit options?

In addition to the competencies for each role, you need to think about the competencies that your team as a whole needs to possess. These may be found in one person or multiple team members.

Think about questions

Are there people on your team who naturally ask the following types of questions?

1) Where are we going next? What are the latest, most relevant trends in our industry?

How are customer needs changing? How do customers describe our value? What is the strategy? How will the strategy cascade throughout the organization?

2) How will this initiative get done? What’s the timeline for getting it done? How much will this cost? Who will be affected? Who will do it?

3) How will these initiatives be communicated? How do we use these initiatives to develop our people? What are our greatest strengths?  How do they differentiate us?

You’ll notice that these questions are a blend of strategy and tactics, tools and people. A well-rounded team will have people who have a natural preference for being advocates for the critical domains of your business.

What happens when you don’t have the ideal complement of team members? Look at your succession plan to identify your next generation of leaders. Find the leaders who can serve your senior leadership team by filling in the gaps. This creates an opportunity to see them grapple with both strategic and tactical organizational issues.

Ability and track record are critical for your fellow leaders. Ensuring that you have a good match for both the role of the individual and the strengths needed for your team are essential for building a high-functioning team.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. He can be reached at (314) 863-4400 or at

Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

What do you stand for?

In the book, “Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls,” Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis state that “Judgment is the essential genome of leadership.” They add that “While misjudgments in any domain can be fatal, the one where a misstep is most damaging is poor judgment about the people on your team.”

Tichy and Bennis have articulated what many of us know from experience. We’ve demonstrated poor judgment or seen poor judgment in action when it comes to building an effective team. So how do we maximize the opportunities we have to build effective teams? Here are a few suggestions that provide a foundation for building a leadership team before you even address whom to put on your team.

Clearly define your value

One of the first considerations in building a leadership team is being clear about the value you’re trying to create. In last month’s column, we discussed the importance of knowing your primary organizational strength. The roles that need to be represented on your team need to support the value you’re creating.

Let’s use UPS as an example. Its primary organizational strength is operational efficiency. The value to the customer is dependable, cost-effective delivery. When thinking about building a leadership team for an organization like UPS, it seems logical that one team member needs to have operations as his or her sole focus.

If, however, you are leading a social service organization, while your processes need to be efficient, it probably won’t be your primary organizational strength. Your operations may fall under another function such as finance. However, talent management is critical. You may want to consider having someone outside of your transactional HR function serving on your senior team since your value is so critically linked to the attraction, retention and development of your people.

Of course, everyone on your leadership team is critical to your success. Each team member has different roles that will depend on your organizational strength. The key question is, “What functional leadership do you need to ensure that you’re building the value you’ve agreed on?”


Clearly define your role as CEO

As leader of your team, you serve two broad functions: One is to ensure the organization’s goals are met. The other is to ensure that your team has the resources it needs to meet those goals.

In order to do the first, you need to lead the team in defining who you are as organization. This includes, but isn’t limited to, your organizational purpose, direction, how you’re different or better than your competition and the behaviors that are key to your success.

You also need to lead the team in creating shared goals that support your identity. What will you do to make the identity come alive and how will you measure your progress over time? You need to ensure that the team has resources to meet your goals. This includes having the necessary talent, setting the right measures and ensuring the commitment to measurement and adaptation when you’re not meeting your goals.

Clearly define the purpose of your team

Other than being your direct reports, why does your team exist? What purpose does it serve? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Your team exists to be stewards of your identity and shared goals.
  2. Individual leadership team members lead and serve their teams by ensuring they have set goals that support the entire organization and that resources are available to meet those goals.
  3. Leaders need to model the behavior outlined in your organizational identity. You need to live and demonstrate what you expect from others.
  4. Leadership team members hold each other accountable for the goals you co-create.

Unless you address these three steps first, even the best leaders can flounder in helping your organization create the future you long for.

 Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO's Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Andy can be reached at (314) 863-4400 and

Wednesday, 02 March 2011 13:18

Know your strengths

All individuals have strengths and skills that they have honed to perfection through a multitude of experiences. But we may think less often about how to effectively use our organization’s strategic strengths. Sure, we may have a list of our tactical strengths from a SWOT analysis. But we may not have taken the next step of seeing how those tactical strengths build strategic value.

We believe there are four organizational strengths that need to be in sync in order for you to build value. One of the following usually emerges as your primary organizational strength: vision, culture, customer focus or process.


Organizations with vision as their strength are those that “see around corners.” They create the next new thing. Apple is an example of a company that shapes the future. For example, the leadership at Apple created a music environment for consumers that few of us would have imagined. Does your organization have the resources and talent to recognize trends and consumer wants or needs that have yet to be uncovered? If so, this might be your primary organizational strength.


Some organizations nurture a culture as their primary strength. Many of these companies are found on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For list. What do they have in common? They have a core belief that culture is the “secret sauce” necessary to create great customer interactions. They know what’s important to their employees and screen them well before they join the company to ensure they fit. Are your customers drawn to your company because of your people? If so, culture may be your top strength.

Customer focus

Nordstrom creates an environment in which knowledge of the customer is its primary organizational strength. It creates systems that allow employees to know their customers better than their competitors. Nordstrom also encourages its employees to adapt to the needs of their customers rather than having customers adapt to rigid company processes. Do you know your customers so well that you can anticipate their needs? If your customers believe this, this could be your strength. If you don’t ever survey your customers, this probably isn’t your organizational strength.


Finally, some organizations excel at maximizing processes. Are you like UPS, which not only excels at creating efficiencies for itself but consults to help other organizations do the same? Are you adept at continuously implementing efficiencies? If so, process may be your primary organizational strength.

Of course, every organization has to perform well in each of these areas. The organizations we lead have to think about the future, build a workplace that people want to engage with fully, maximize efficiencies and understand customer needs. At the same time, we know that we can’t be the best at each of them. One of those strengths will rise to the top based on our investment of time, money and effort. Even Michael Jordan couldn’t be the best at everything.

How does knowing your primary organizational strength help? It’s part of your guide for investing your time, money and talent. When faced with tough choices, you will know that, in order to keep your edge, you need to invest in your primary organizational strength. When tempted to cut back, just ask yourself if you would want Apple to reduce resources spent in product development or Nordstrom to cut back on training employees in the best way to meet customer needs.

Do you know your primary organizational strength? Are you investing the time, talent and money to “sharpen your saw” and continue to excel in that strength?

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Kanefield can be reached at (314) 863-4400 or

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