Stephan Liozu: Getting things done — Five tips to fostering urgency and discipline in your company’s executionWritten by Stephan Liozu
The difference between good companies and great companies is an ability to get things done and to execute religiously on promises. Having outstanding business models, being innovative and selling the best technologies isn’t enough. I see this time and time again when buying from businesses or consulting for them.
Being creative and getting things done is a powerful combination of skills and capabilities that you rarely see in leaders or organizations. When they possess that combination, they are usually unstoppable — like Netflix, Chipotle, Amazon, 3M, Grainger and ARDEX.
Most companies struggle with one of the two dimensions. That typically leads to the tolerance for mediocrity and a diluted customer experience despite having exciting offerings or business models.
So, what is behind this lack of attention to deliver excellence and execution? I would propose it is complacency with success and growth. Some organizations adopt the position that they are uniquely differentiated, provide great value, and that customers will come and buy anyway. That may work in the short term — until a competitor emerges and forces them to shape up.
If your organization lacks a sense of urgency and a discipline of execution, here are five tips:
1. Create a culture of accountability. There are different levels of accountability: individual, work groups, teams and organizational. Execution requires organizational accountability where silos are broken down and team members help each other accomplish greater outcomes. It requires collaboration, teamwork and solidarity built on a strong, shared vision.
2. Manage projects and tasks. Project management professionals can help keep projects on track and tasks accomplished. It’s surprising how project managers boost your ability to get things done. If you cannot afford a full-time PMP, get someone PMP certified as soon as you can for a great ROI.
3. Prioritize and simplify. Poor execution might be a symptom of too many priorities, projects or initiatives. If you want to give people the chance to get things done, make a point to work on what is essential.
4. Track and measure execution. You can only improve what you measure. Define the right execution-oriented key performance indicators and set up trackers. You can use software that specializes in project or task management, your current customer relationship management solution or Outlook.
5. Learn from failures and continuously improve. Reliable and mindful organizations pay attention to details and learn quickly from failures. Customer complaints, service breakdowns and product quality issues become opportunities to learn lessons. Celebrating successes are important, but learning from failures is critical.
Being differentiated and innovative are musts in today’s environment. However, success in strategy and business model innovation requires strong discipline, and a focus on execution is essential for survival. Organizations should pay equal attention to the creative and disruptive sides of their business models, as well as to excellence in execution of critical business model components. This is the difference between good and great. ●
Stephan Liozu is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. Stephan specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University.
Leslie W. Braksick: Preparing for your next season — Finding a new purpose beyond the corporate worldWritten by Leslie W. Braksick
When you are in the heat of the battle as a corporate executive, it’s hard to imagine what’s on the other side. Your life is consumed with phone calls, meetings, travel, dinners out, presentations, explanations, expense reports and budgets.
There are endless requests for your time and point of view. It is a relentlessly busy, all-consuming lifestyle.
The higher you are in your company, the more command it has over your non-work time and commitments. Add to that family obligations and you have a schedule that is long on appointments and short on time.
It is hard, if not impossible, for executives to commit to non-work leadership opportunities due to the unpredictability of their schedules. Even close friendships tend to have a work connection.
But as words such as “retirement” get used with increased frequency, executives can experience a real sense of anxiety as they imagine the implications. What will I do with all that time?
For many, the fears run deep. For all, thoughts/concerns about retirement are deeply personal. Who will I interact with? How will I stay mentally sharp? How will I stay “in the game” of business? What will the relationship with my spouse/children be like if I am home all the time?
After a lifetime of being part of something bigger, it’s painful to imagine a future without portfolio or primary affiliation. The natural orientation is about what will be left behind versus what you are moving toward.
A time for reflection
The renaissance happens, though, when the focus shifts away from a life constructed around productivity to one oriented around purpose. It is the opportunity to transition from a season of getting to one of giving. The possibilities are endless.
The often overlooked step in that transition, however, is the pause for intentional thought and discernment.
What have you always wished you had time to do? What activities over the past decades brought you the most joy?
Endless possibilities for giving back
Your gifts can find their way to places where you can make a real, meaningful difference in the lives and futures of other people.
If you are seeking another day job, there are companies who need seasoned talent in key roles. Nonprofit organizations are clamoring for people with strong leadership and organizational skills. Small and midsized boards prefer bright, pragmatic board members who have “been there and done that.”
And then there are the little and not-so-little people in your life — who have been waiting patiently (or not so patiently), hoping for more time with you, more opportunities to have you influence their lives and futures.
The possibilities of the next season are truly endless and there is no right answer. It begins, however, with pausing to discern where your next calling is. This transition isn’t one from fall to winter but rather spring to summer — and its wonder, promise and possibility unfolds in its own time frame, not according to a corporate calendar. •
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D. is a managing partner at My Next Season. After over two decades of helping senior executives on the “productivity” side of the equation, Leslie and her business partners have started My Next Season to help executives transition from careers oriented around productivity to lives anchored in purpose.
My entry into the oil and gas industry was not a traditional one — I started in the energy industry with food. My company, Amelia’s Elegant Catering, serves meals on-site to crews working on oil rigs and frac sites.
Growing in this business, I realized that the male-dominated energy industry was starting to include more and more women who needed a way to connect and promote each other in the industry.
I founded Young Professional Women in Energy and began working to create an organization that would empower, promote and encourage women at all levels and positions in the industry.
I am very passionate about mentorship and strive to help those around me, while continuing my own journey in energy — first with my catering company and later with the addition of my women’s protective clothing business.
Currently, the Young Professional Women in Energy’s network includes many wonderful women who are working to leave the industry better than they found it for future generations and to see an energy industry equally led by women and men.
When I made my entry into the industry, I wanted a mentor. Today, I have become a mentor myself, and truly love helping other women and promoting an atmosphere where women can share ideas and build each other up.
Entering the energy industry
Based on my own experience, my advice to women in, or looking to enter into, the energy industry is that there are no shortcuts. Things will be hard, but if you believe in yourself and are passionate about what you are doing, then it will happen.
Persistence plays a key role in our personal and professional success — start it, follow through with it and above all, own it. Nothing happens after one attempt.
I encourage all women to be themselves. While the energy industry is very much still a “good ol’ boy’s club,” it is not about changing yourself to fit in. It is about being yourself and proving your worth as a unique individual bringing something new to the table.
Collaborate for success
Aside from passion and persistence, I always encourage men and women to expand their network. Entrepreneurship is a lonely and short path if you choose to take it alone.
There are many groups and driven professionals willing and wanting to collaborate with other motivated individuals.
You should take advantage for two reasons: It immediately displays your value as a mentor and it helps expand your network. The old saying, “what goes around, comes around” truly does apply.
So, get out there, find like-minded individuals, put your ideas on paper and go for it. But always remember: You’re never too far along to ask for help. •
Amelia Roncone is the founder of Young Professional Women in Energy. Amelia is also the owner of Amelia’s Elegant Catering and Fire within Apparel, a clothing company specializing in fire resistant women’s clothing. She is the author of “Empower!: Women’s Stories of Breakthrough, Discovery and Triumph,” available on Amazon.com.
After careful planning to refresh company strategy, a major financial services company set aggressive objectives for the coming year. The executive team aimed to create a consistently outstanding customer experience across every access point.
Leaders resolved to hire a new chief service officer, broaden the roles of field personnel to “quarterback” the service experience across product lines, shift to a customer-centric culture and provide technology that integrated customer support across all portals.
In addition to setting clear annual targets for revenue lift, share-by-region and so on, leaders developed a tactical action plan with aggressive, but reasonable, quarterly milestones to monitor progress.
By the end of the third quarter, the picture was already clear. They were achieving the action plan milestones, but not the results targets.
Why? The answer is that the company had not implemented changes in actual, daily behavior to underpin its tactical moves.
Field personnel were still operating within their specific areas of product expertise despite new job descriptions, training and processes. Service centers and branch offices were still providing conflicting advice to customers despite new technology to provide common information.
There was little evidence that the culture was changing, despite a well-intended corporate communications campaign.
Beyond checklist management
Most organizations start their fiscal year with annual goals and execution plans. But only the best apply consistent practices that maximize their ability to deliver year after year.
Highly effective leaders venture beyond “checklist management” (completing one-and-done project milestones) and focus instead on essential, week-to-week practices that foster high-impact behaviors — behaviors that ultimately drive new and better results.
As you think about your own readiness to achieve your annual plan this year, ask yourself:
- When your employees walked into work today, could a majority tell you the specific, new behaviors that will achieve the new results targets you are accountable for this year?
- Are they performing these behaviors consistently and consistently well?
- Are they performing the new behaviors because they want to, or because they feel they have to?
It’s not enough to have clear annual targets or even aligned organizational changes.
Your annual planning must specifically examine the following: Which of our annual objectives are especially challenging and, of these, which require significant behavior change that is not likely to happen without special focus?
With the financial services company, executives could have devoted time to ask whose behavior — and what behavior — most directly impacts the daily customer experience. Further, what specific and direct behavior change plans would immediately accelerate this essential component of its success?
Companies who emphasize executive and employee behavior in their annual planning are surprised at the results. They routinely meet and exceed their most audacious goals, achieving historic revenue growth, unprecedented levels of cost reduction, record reliability and quality measures, industry-best safety records and industry awards for customer excellence.
It all starts with understanding that the right tactics get you started, but breakthrough results require new and different practices underneath it all — a behavior breakthrough, if you will.
As you commence your 2014 plan deployment, be sure to consider: Are you ready to fully execute the plan, including encouraging and sustaining the new behavior that you need to achieve new results? Are you sure? ●
Steve Jacobs is a chairman and senior partner at CLG Inc., a business management consultancy that advises executives on how to achieve new performance, culture change and lasting competitive advantage through the principles of applied behavioral science. He is also the lead author of “The Behavior Breakthrough — Leading Your Organization to a New Competitive Advantage” and can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.behaviorbreakthrough.com or www.clg.com.
As a CEO, I met with many strategic suppliers during performance review meetings, contract negotiation meetings and social events. During negotiation meetings, I had one simple question: What makes you unique and why should we buy from you — and not your competitors?
That was a destabilizing question for many salespeople. They were caught unprepared and could not articulate their true differentiation in a clear fashion.
I got some of the usual answers: “We have been around for 50 years.” “We have had a good relationship with your buyers for more than 10 years.” “Because we provide good value to your business.”
The reality is that many firms do not clearly know their true differentiation. Most of the times, they confuse “true” differentiators to win business, with “must-have” elements to stay in business or “nice-to-have” components to be in business.
Taking a tried and true idea
The concept of differentiation is not new. Edward Chamberlin originally proposed it in his 1933 Theory of Monopolistic Competition.
His definition is: “In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors’ products as well as a firm’s own products.”
Understanding your differentiation
So, differentiation is often the name of the game to win in business, but it is fairly difficult to create, extract, measure and communicate it. In engagements with clients, I coach them through the following process:
- Understand your true differentiation internally. Hold brainstorming sessions with key employee groups within your organization to identify “nice-to-haves,” “must-haves” and “true” differentiators of your business model. Most often, you will identify only two to three true differentiators.
- Align all internal stakeholders around this understanding. Identify internal gaps in intended versus perceived differentiation among various employee groups. Create one understanding across the entire organization.
- Validate true differentiation with customers and prospects. Conduct an internal assessment on how customers perceive you as well as informal customer interviews about the elements of differentiation. You also can do a formal win/loss deal analysis with your prospects and existing accounts for the past year.
- Modulate internal perceptions of differentiation and adjust value communication. Peter Drucker said, “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it is selling him.” Aligning internally intended differentiation with externally perceived differentiation is a must. What really matters is what customers perceive you do well for them, so your value communication plan has to reflect that.
- Train all commercial staff on the perceived dimensions of value and differentiation. Conduct specific training on your true differentiation so employees can believe in it fully. Have them memorize a value elevator speech that clearly states the most important dimensions of your differentiation. This will boost their value selling capabilities.
- Start over and never accept the status quo. Value and differentiation perceptions evolve with time. Conduct this process every year. Never get complacent about what you do well. Competitors are watching you.
If you claim to be differentiated versus your competitors, it is essential to understand the nature and degree of your differentiation. It is equally important that you communicate your differentiated customer value proposition to your salespeople. Then they will have a clear answer, the next time a CEO asks, “What makes you special?” ●
Stephan Liozu is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.stephanliozu.com.
When unwanted attrition happens, the usual reaction is, “Why? Where are they going?” Most organizations use the exit interview to answer these questions. An HR professional meets with the departing person and attempts to learn the good, bad and ugly about why they are leaving. Unfulfilled promises and hopes are revealed as the interviewer shrinks in chagrin, wishing this critical information had been discovered sooner.
If the departing talent is senior in the firm, or in a key role, the departure interview will be shared with the company’s top executives and board of directors. Here the “why” questions intensify. The board will pepper the CEO and chief human resource officer with questions such as, “What were the warning signs? Why weren’t they heeded? What have we learned from this terrible loss? Are we at risk with others? How do we prevent this from happening again?”
These are precisely the right questions to ask. But why wait for the loss to happen, or even the threat of loss to appear, to know the answers?
We know that the millennial generation will be employed by an average of six different companies during their working lives. We also know that they are extremely connected. LinkedIn and Facebook constantly push information on new/available opportunities to subscribers, so one doesn’t even have to seek new opportunities or wait for a recruiter’s call. These vehicles also enable departing employees to stay in touch with their former colleagues, independent of communication vehicles that touch the employer. Alumni networks of former employers, colleges and professional associations are powerful magnets pulling on the brightest and best talent, all the time.
So how do company leaders stay in tune with what’s really happening with their brightest and best? How can they really know what their star talent is feeling or what might cause them to leave?
It’s easier than you think. Engagement surveys are not the answer, although they can be barometers of company culture and leadership. The best way to know how your employees are feeling is to simply ask them in a one-on-one conversation. Ask the same questions you’d use in an exit interview — but don’t wait until they leave to do so!
One of the many gifts of the millennial generation is their comfort level with directness and transparency. They are straight shooters with one another and value when they receive it from others. Just ask them the questions you want to know. And tell them directly how much you and the company value them.
And don’t assume they know what growth potential exists for them in your organization. For most millennials, advancement within companies happens too slowly, in contrast to their expectations.
This is all the more reason why executives and senior HR leaders need to budget time by having direct, crucial conversations that yield immediate understanding of what matters most to these key employees — and that conveys clearly how much they are valued/appreciated, and what their future can be within the current company.
What are the most effective tools for preventing the unwanted loss of our brightest and best talent? They lie in our leadership behaviors. Don’t wait for an exit interview to know why your top talent is leaving.
Instead, have those crucial conversations early enough to discover how to prevent the departures from ever happening.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc., co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or email@example.com.
For more information, visit www.clg.com.
The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.
I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.
Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.
A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.
Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.
Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.
As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7078.
When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.
While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.
They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.
Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.
And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.
You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?
During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●
What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.
Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.
Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.
Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.
As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.
On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.
In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.
If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.
There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.
Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.
To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.