Andy Kanefield: Five tips to help you stay focused at work Featured

4:00pm EDT March 31, 2013
Andy Kanefield,Lou Gerstner was right — vision isn’t the answer How to build a corporate strategy through answering tough questions  “There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” — Lou Gerstner, IBM CEO (1993 to 2002) My experience has led me to believe that many leaders think that just having a new mission statement, vision statement, or articulation of their values is sufficient to engage their people.  And after they have restated these organizational imperatives, many of these same leaders wonder why people don’t respond in ways they hope.	 Gerstner’s experience at IBM gives us a clue to one of the reasons. He believed he had good reasons to avoid a new vision statement. The first reason was his observation that IBM had “file drawers full of vision statements.” The second reason was that the problem was paralysis; IBM wasn’t executing. Gerstner knew that while IBM hadn’t created a new “vision,” it had already made some strategic decisions about the future of IBM — which included being focused externally on the customer rather than an “internally focused, process-driven” organization.   So what was Lou Gerstner right about? In order to be successful in the short term and sustainable for the long term, businesses have to be clear on a key set of questions, and “vision” is just one of those questions. Whatever model for building a corporate strategy you choose to use, ensure that it addresses the following questions as a starting point: What business are you in?   First, you need to know whom you’re competing against. Think about being in the restaurant business. That could mean anything from a place that serves pizza slices to the finest sit-down dining in Manhattan. Secondly, consumers like categories such as fast casual or fast food. It helps us set our expectations for our experience with you. Who are your customers?   If your primary customers don’t perceive value in what you offer, you won’t have a business. What do these customers care about? What difference do you make for those customers you just identified? This question is often expressed as a “mission” or “purpose.” It helps express the value that you deliver. How are you different from your peers?   One layer is, “How are you unique or better than your peers?” The answer to this question must be something that engenders customer loyalty over the long-term. A second layer is, “What quality, that is central to the DNA of your organization, enables you to be unique or the best within your category?”  If you are the fastest of the fast food category, what trait have you built within your company that drives that speed? Is it uniformity or an unrelenting focus on continuous improvement?  What are your core capabilities that deliver your strength?   These end up being your strategic priorities. If you’re the least expensive fast food restaurant, your core capabilities may include expert ability to manage your capital, superior logistics, consumer insights and aggressive vendor negotiation. What behaviors are important for success?   Often called values, these are the beliefs that you and your organization have that manifest themselves into organizational and individual behavior. What future do you want to create?   Finally, we get to the “vision.” It is important that you have a direction that people, especially employees, can clearly see. If they don’t know where you’re going, they won’t know how to help you get there. Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision, and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term.  Andy Kanefield is the founder of Di Lou Gerstner was right — vision isn’t the answer How to build a corporate strategy through answering tough questions  “There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” — Lou Gerstner, IBM CEO (1993 to 2002) My experience has led me to believe that many leaders think that just having a new mission statement, vision statement, or articulation of their values is sufficient to engage their people.  And after they have restated these organizational imperatives, many of these same leaders wonder why people don’t respond in ways they hope.	 Gerstner’s experience at IBM gives us a clue to one of the reasons. He believed he had good reasons to avoid a new vision statement. The first reason was his observation that IBM had “file drawers full of vision statements.” The second reason was that the problem was paralysis; IBM wasn’t executing. Gerstner knew that while IBM hadn’t created a new “vision,” it had already made some strategic decisions about the future of IBM — which included being focused externally on the customer rather than an “internally focused, process-driven” organization.   So what was Lou Gerstner right about? In order to be successful in the short term and sustainable for the long term, businesses have to be clear on a key set of questions, and “vision” is just one of those questions. Whatever model for building a corporate strategy you choose to use, ensure that it addresses the following questions as a starting point: What business are you in?   First, you need to know whom you’re competing against. Think about being in the restaurant business. That could mean anything from a place that serves pizza slices to the finest sit-down dining in Manhattan. Secondly, consumers like categories such as fast casual or fast food. It helps us set our expectations for our experience with you. Who are your customers?   If your primary customers don’t perceive value in what you offer, you won’t have a business. What do these customers care about? What difference do you make for those customers you just identified? This question is often expressed as a “mission” or “purpose.” It helps express the value that you deliver. How are you different from your peers?   One layer is, “How are you unique or better than your peers?” The answer to this question must be something that engenders customer loyalty over the long-term. A second layer is, “What quality, that is central to the DNA of your organization, enables you to be unique or the best within your category?”  If you are the fastest of the fast food category, what trait have you built within your company that drives that speed? Is it uniformity or an unrelenting focus on continuous improvement?  What are your core capabilities that deliver your strength?   These end up being your strategic priorities. If you’re the least expensive fast food restaurant, your core capabilities may include expert ability to manage your capital, superior logistics, consumer insights and aggressive vendor negotiation. What behaviors are important for success?   Often called values, these are the beliefs that you and your organization have that manifest themselves into organizational and individual behavior. What future do you want to create?   Finally, we get to the “vision.” It is important that you have a direction that people, especially employees, can clearly see. If they don’t know where you’re going, they won’t know how to help you get there. Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision, and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term.  Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc.. Andy Kanefield,Lou Gerstner was right — vision isn’t the answer How to build a corporate strategy through answering tough questions “There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” — Lou Gerstner, IBM CEO (1993 to 2002) My experience has led me to believe that many leaders think that just having a new mission statement, vision statement, or articulation of their values is sufficient to engage their people. And after they have restated these organizational imperatives, many of these same leaders wonder why people don’t respond in ways they hope. Gerstner’s experience at IBM gives us a clue to one of the reasons. He believed he had good reasons to avoid a new vision statement. The first reason was his observation that IBM had “file drawers full of vision statements.” The second reason was that the problem was paralysis; IBM wasn’t executing. Gerstner knew that while IBM hadn’t created a new “vision,” it had already made some strategic decisions about the future of IBM — which included being focused externally on the customer rather than an “internally focused, process-driven” organization. So what was Lou Gerstner right about? In order to be successful in the short term and sustainable for the long term, businesses have to be clear on a key set of questions, and “vision” is just one of those questions. Whatever model for building a corporate strategy you choose to use, ensure that it addresses the following questions as a starting point: What business are you in? First, you need to know whom you’re competing against. Think about being in the restaurant business. That could mean anything from a place that serves pizza slices to the finest sit-down dining in Manhattan. Secondly, consumers like categories such as fast casual or fast food. It helps us set our expectations for our experience with you. Who are your customers? If your primary customers don’t perceive value in what you offer, you won’t have a business. What do these customers care about? What difference do you make for those customers you just identified? This question is often expressed as a “mission” or “purpose.” It helps express the value that you deliver. How are you different from your peers? One layer is, “How are you unique or better than your peers?” The answer to this question must be something that engenders customer loyalty over the long-term. A second layer is, “What quality, that is central to the DNA of your organization, enables you to be unique or the best within your category?” If you are the fastest of the fast food category, what trait have you built within your company that drives that speed? Is it uniformity or an unrelenting focus on continuous improvement? What are your core capabilities that deliver your strength? These end up being your strategic priorities. If you’re the least expensive fast food restaurant, your core capabilities may include expert ability to manage your capital, superior logistics, consumer insights and aggressive vendor negotiation. What behaviors are important for success? Often called values, these are the beliefs that you and your organization have that manifest themselves into organizational and individual behavior. What future do you want to create? Finally, we get to the “vision.” It is important that you have a direction that people, especially employees, can clearly see. If they don’t know where you’re going, they won’t know how to help you get there. Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision, and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term. Andy Kanefield is the founder of Di Lou Gerstner was right — vision isn’t the answer How to build a corporate strategy through answering tough questions “There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” — Lou Gerstner, IBM CEO (1993 to 2002) My experience has led me to believe that many leaders think that just having a new mission statement, vision statement, or articulation of their values is sufficient to engage their people. And after they have restated these organizational imperatives, many of these same leaders wonder why people don’t respond in ways they hope. Gerstner’s experience at IBM gives us a clue to one of the reasons. He believed he had good reasons to avoid a new vision statement. The first reason was his observation that IBM had “file drawers full of vision statements.” The second reason was that the problem was paralysis; IBM wasn’t executing. Gerstner knew that while IBM hadn’t created a new “vision,” it had already made some strategic decisions about the future of IBM — which included being focused externally on the customer rather than an “internally focused, process-driven” organization. So what was Lou Gerstner right about? In order to be successful in the short term and sustainable for the long term, businesses have to be clear on a key set of questions, and “vision” is just one of those questions. Whatever model for building a corporate strategy you choose to use, ensure that it addresses the following questions as a starting point: What business are you in? First, you need to know whom you’re competing against. Think about being in the restaurant business. That could mean anything from a place that serves pizza slices to the finest sit-down dining in Manhattan. Secondly, consumers like categories such as fast casual or fast food. It helps us set our expectations for our experience with you. Who are your customers? If your primary customers don’t perceive value in what you offer, you won’t have a business. What do these customers care about? What difference do you make for those customers you just identified? This question is often expressed as a “mission” or “purpose.” It helps express the value that you deliver. How are you different from your peers? One layer is, “How are you unique or better than your peers?” The answer to this question must be something that engenders customer loyalty over the long-term. A second layer is, “What quality, that is central to the DNA of your organization, enables you to be unique or the best within your category?” If you are the fastest of the fast food category, what trait have you built within your company that drives that speed? Is it uniformity or an unrelenting focus on continuous improvement? What are your core capabilities that deliver your strength? These end up being your strategic priorities. If you’re the least expensive fast food restaurant, your core capabilities may include expert ability to manage your capital, superior logistics, consumer insights and aggressive vendor negotiation. What behaviors are important for success? Often called values, these are the beliefs that you and your organization have that manifest themselves into organizational and individual behavior. What future do you want to create? Finally, we get to the “vision.” It is important that you have a direction that people, especially employees, can clearly see. If they don’t know where you’re going, they won’t know how to help you get there. Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision, and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term. Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc..

A colleague of mine used to live in Russia and was stuck in more than a few traffic jams on those rare occasions when he wasn’t on the subway or a bus. Moscow, a city of more than 10 million people, had a highway system built for fewer cars.

The Russian word for traffic jam is probka — which also refers to a “cork,” which one might encounter in a bottle. When you think about it, that’s an apt description for a traffic jam.

In a similar way, our thinking and the organizations we lead can get “bottled up” too if we don’t have an effective system for reining in our attention and focus.

Thinking can be a bottleneck

One type of bottleneck that can occur is with our thinking. We have all experienced what one psychologist calls a “response selection bottleneck.” This happens when our brains try to react to multiple stimuli at the same time. For example, the “multitasking” CEO allows bottlenecks to occur when he or she believes that it’s possible to effectively tackle two conscious tasks at once.

We know, of course, that most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time. But, as John Medina states in “Brain Rules,” we are “biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” Medina suggests that we really can’t listen effectively to the conference call and respond to email at the same time.

What is actually happening when we think we’re multitasking is that we’re doing what some call “switch tasking” — we’re switching our attention from one task to another. Some of us may do it more quickly than others, but our brain isn’t really processing two tasks at once.

The most common contemporary example of this fight for attention in our everyday lives is — you guessed it — talking on a cell phone while driving. Medina points out that those talking on the phone are a “half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies” because our brains have to switch tasks, and this eats up critical time. He adds that “50 percent of the visual cues spotted by attentive drivers are missed by cell-phone talkers.”

Not only are there limits for individuals, but the organizations we lead have similar limits. Are there organizational decisions stuck at a bottleneck because you have too many competing priorities?

Our organizations are often very complex, which makes it hard for employees to focus on what will lead to individual, team and organizational success. We’re all working longer hours, often feeling like we’re moving from treading water to drowning.

How do we distinguish the imperative from the important?

Here are five tips to get started:

?  Identify what you’re best at.

?  Figure out what your key stakeholders value and need most.

?  Identify where your answers to 1 and 2 intersect.

?  Define how you deliver value differently than your competition.

?  Develop a clear and authentic way to communicate your value.

As one psychology professor puts it, “We’re really built to focus.” What are you giving your organization to focus on?

P.S. As a bonus tip, when meeting with your senior team to discuss the tips above, are there at least portions of your meetings when everyone’s smartphone can go into a black box until you’re finished? ?

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense:  One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” To explore how to promote organizational sync through greater focus, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or andy@dialect.com.