In early September in my role as Chairman of tech company Link Engine Management Ltd, the CEO & I went to the USA as part of the New Zealand Trade & Enterprise Better By Design Service. We are a company that works closely with and highly values the business advice, market support and development funding opportunities provided by NZTE as we expand across the USA.
The Purpose of the trip was to immerse ourselves in some of the best companies in the world that have been client centric in their design thinking since start up. Along with 15 or so other prominent NZ export businesses we visited 15 different companies in both Manhatten, New York & in San Franciso. Companies such as Apple, Facebook, Air BnB, Chabani, WW (formerly Weight Watchers), Sidewalk Labs & AllBirds. I say total immersion because it was like drinking out of a fire hydrant in terms of what we learnt and reflected on. We had unprecedented access to C-suite executives ranging from CEO’s, Founders, Chief Development Officers etc. Weeks later I am still distilling the many things I learnt as a Chairman, Strategy Consultant, Leadership Coach and Business owner.
Google stood out due to its prominence as a brand, size & scale. With annual revenues of $137Bn USD, over 100,000 employees globally working across 9 products (each with over 1 Billion users) it can take some time to get your head around.
Here is what I learnt from Google;
Don’t screw up the culture: Culture is key and it drives every aspect of life at Google. Like most of these companies we visited, the war for real talent is very real & like Google most are feeding their staff 3 meals a day and making life easy to do great things. Behaviours, teams, leadership & soft skills are prominent and highly valued. In fact if you work against the team you will be fired no matter how brilliant you are. Work hours are 9 – 5 and working long hours (or weekends) are actively discouraged & this behaviour is modelled by senior leaders.
Hire slow, fire fast: Google undertake 8 interviews in the recruitment process over a number of months followed by 4 months of induction. It is hard to get in and if over 2 quarters you don’t perform staff are exited (after coaching, mentoring and clarity around KPI’s).
Cultural add: Whilst cultural fit is important more, front of mind at the hire stage is the Cultural add. What will you add to our culture. This is where they actively find diversity and give mandate for new employees to add and enhance the culture and teams they join.
Unstructured time: 20% of all employees time is unstructured and they are expected to work on projects within the company they are passionate about. Projects that solve company problems or move Google forward.
KPI Clarity: KPIs range from hard numbers to softer KPIs such as failures. Failure is encouraged if employees learn the lesson & teach others in the company the valuable lessons. The expectation is the lesson is not learnt again. They don’t focus on the outputs in terms of their KPI’s, they focus on the inputs that guarantee the outcomes they seek. Feedback is constant and 360 via platforms that allow your team, your peers, your bosses to give live 360 feedback. This is the same from the CEO down.
Be the Best at What you do: Like many of these companies Google expect you to be the best at what you do. If you are in the technical stream they expect you to be at the top of your game & getting better. If you are leading teams they expect you to be the best leader. A key point here is you don’t have to lead people to advance (role & remuneration) if you are a technical expert. Consider that in most NZ businesses where the only way to advance your career is to lead bigger teams!
Client centric: The work spaces are designed for learning, to stimulate innovative thinking, to break down silos and status quo thinking. The client is at the centre of all the products & services they develop. 9 products each with over 1 billion users. By having break out areas and fantastic working environments there will be a minimum 9% lift in productivity & very high engagement.
High levels of trust and autonomy: Employees are expected to perform, trusted to do what is needed, can buy the equipment they need and travel, accommodate etc by choosing from a range of providers. Money they save the company in expenses are shared 50% with the employee so there is incentive to be smart.
Fail fast: New projects are well led and it takes strong leadership to fail fast, to decide to stop a project.
Get Serious: Most New Zealand businesses with the aspiration to grow globally need to get serious. Invest in competent, forward thinking & qualified directors that will challenge the status quo & most importantly support the CEO & management team to upskill & excel. A client centric intentional Culture enabling seriously talented & experienced people to do great things will ensure companies iterate & adapt. They need to invest in the advice, skills & technology that allow them to scale. Most importantly defining true purpose & a long term compelling vision is as critical as telling the story.
Many of these things challenge the way we think and certainly to the level they could be done. In my discussions many NZ business leaders are dismissive of Google given its size & scale ie it is easy to do this when you are a huge company. I make the point that Google started with a clear vision & purpose in 1997 and is only 22 years old.
Where will your company be in 10 years if you start focussing & executing on some of these important things & get really serious about attracting and leading top talent?
The investment by our company in this experience was significant but the networking and relationships formed with a really talented cohort & the business leaders we met provided a massive return on investment. This combined with the ideas we have decided to execute and the input from a very talented NZTE host & design thinking team will allow us to continue to navigate our future growth aspirations.
One of the biggest challenges and frustrations that business leaders have in 2018 is how to execute their Strategic plan to ensure the future success of the business. Over the last 18 months we have conducted in depth surveys with 161 business leadership teams across New Zealand, Australia & the USA asking them 35 key questions over a 2 hour gap analysis assessment.
When it comes to Disciplined Execution the basics really count and the surveys highlighted a common gap in four areas as highlighted by the data;
Role Clarity: 110 (68%) of the 161 teams interviewed had not clearly documented who was accountable for key roles in the business & how their performance would be measured. It stands to reason that if there is no real role clarity then there will be overlaps in effort, low levels of accountability & frustrations. In many cases roles had not been updated as the team grew, head count increased and the company evolved. Putting in the effort to document and get clarity on roles and measurements makes a huge impact and is an engaging discussion to have as a team.
Consequences: 106 (66%) of the 161 teams had staff that did not know the consequences for achieving (or not achieving) the performance standard required for their role. Without praise and recognition for great work (catch people doing things right) there is no incentive to go above and beyond. Likewise if poor performance is not confronted it becomes hard to perform as a team and good people leave due to the mediocrity that is tolerated. These topics should be discussed as a team so there is clarity which will in turn lift engagement. (See “The Power of Consequence”).
Meetings: 117 (73%) of the 161 teams did not conduct well-structured “execution meetings” with team members on a weekly basis. Most leaders hate meetings and their team members hate being part of them. Yet if you lead people you need to be excellent at leading engaging team meetings that allow you to live your culture. What makes a great meeting? Respect for time, never cancelled, clear team rules, being prepared, having each attendee speak to their numbers, a review of results, clarity on future actions, updates on strategic actions/projects, documented decisions (who, what, when), core value stories, connection & fun as a team. A clear cadence of meetings will make a huge impact on team engagement, execution and will maintain momentum.
Quarterly Reviews: 132 (82%) of the 161 teams did not review their performance against their strategy and then update and communicate the strategic direction every quarter (90 days). Most Companies have a strategic plan that is reviewed annually or bi-annually but few review and update progress quarterly. It is a static plan. This quarterly review is a key meeting that drives reflection, lessons learnt, measures numbers and progress and allows the plan to iterate and remain highly relevant. A quarterly review every 90 days is a real game changer.
I have worked with hundreds of good leadership teams over the last 10 years and whenever these four game changers are implemented execution, engagement and accountability really starts to lift and it doesn’t cost anything. The team lifts to another level. It requires the CEO to refocus on several important things that will make a huge impact. Below are two short videos on these topics.
48% of NZ businesses will need to navigate the challenge of Leader, Founder and possibly ownership succession. It is a global trend as baby boomers come out of their business that will peak around 2028 – 2030. It also presents a massive opportunity to get right. How do you create a culture of leadership development and succession planning? How do you start to get your head around the journey ahead. This panel video is worth watching as you start the conversation and the journey.
As a leader communication is a core competency you need to have. Likewise healthy conflict is good as a team collaborates, norms, storms and performs. Ideas are challenged and new ways are discussed. This short clip with John Spence discusses the topic. How do you approach it?
So often the topic of succession is ignored or seen as negative. The reality is that it offers a big opportunity to ensure business continuity, a legacy to be realised or an investment to be realised. A culture that invests in leadership assists greatly in ensuring that a business will thrive beyond its current leader (be that a founder, owner or professional CEO).
In this video John Spence and I discuss the topic and some of the challenges and opportunities.
A fantastic Canterbury Company taking High Performance Motor Sport Technology to the world. Link Engine Management is a global exporter of engine enhancing technology. As finalists in both the Champion Canterbury Business Awards and the New Zealand High Tech Business Awards in 2017 it has been a year of growth successes. I am proud to play my small bit as Chairman of the Board of Directors as we support a talented leadership, marketing, distribution, manufacturing and engineering team.
One of the biggest challenges many businesses face is that of succession. Too often it is seen as something negative, stressful or is an unspoken topic. Certainly it is one that can be full of emotion especially in family businesses or it can appear to be simply a problem too big to tackle.
It is considered the realm of Lawyers and Accountants and many seek to engage these professionals to “solve” the problem for them. Without a doubt they need to provide good advice but succession is a leadership issue rather than a technical problem. It is one that requires courage, planning, transparent communication, good ongoing advice from a number of specialists and clear decisions. It is a journey, not an event.
Succession is not just about an ageing business founder/owner. The professional CEO needs to develop other leaders in their team to be able to take over the their role when the time is right & any organisation needs to have some contenders who can take on the top role (whether they do or not will depend upon the needs) and this requires a culture of investing in leaders at every level to step up.
Each week we speak to & work with business leaders who are looking to get out of their business. I have personally supported many who have started and successfully completed the journey.
Ten recommended considerations;
Face into the opportunity. Ignoring succession will not make it go away. A compressed timeline or sudden change due to death or illness significantly reduces the chance of long term success.
Select those who will succeed you carefully. Make sure they fit, buy into the vision, care about the mission and people and build trust. Succession is all about people, decisions and change. Lead well.
Plan for success. Have a plan with key milestones and understand the process and journey. Get all the people involved who need to be and get the issue on the table. Build a plan that will iterate and evolve.
Understand that succession is part of the evolution of any organisation, business and family. Change is constant and people don’t deal with change well. Embrace the journey and don’t treat it like it is “negative” or an “event”. It is a fantastic opportunity to evolve your business and to ensure it thrives (not just survives) in the future.
Get good advice. Have external help in getting the plan and issues on the table. Seek good legal and accountancy advice throughout the journey but don’t leave the “people” plan to a tax specialist or legal advisor. This is about people and change rather than just a structure or contract.
Succession is all about the future so a good vision and strategy will be needed and good leaders who can execute change. Succession is about leadership so include it in all your leader development programs. If you don’t have a leader development program get one in place. Little bits regularly can really make a big impact on the future vitality of an organisation.
Make good clear decisions at every stage and map out the decision points & timeline. Document and communicate things & keep things on track.
Implement and invest in key structures that enhance success. Independent Governance (or a Advisory Board as an initial step), bringing the business under management, coaching and leadership development for key current and future leaders, good independent advisors, implementing legal and financial structures and processes based on future plans are all critical as a business moves into a space whereby the business is not reliant on the founder or owner. Many of these take considerable time to implement and re a real culture shift for the business.
Network with those who have done it. Find those who have made the transition and ask questions. Hear what went well and more importantly learn form the mistakes they made as you look to apply things to your own situation.
Enjoy the journey. For those who successfully navigate change and ensure that their business will ensure into the future providing for the next generation the rewards are great. If a trade sale is involved the satisfaction of seeing the business moving to a new level is exciting whilst at the same time providing a new found freedom.
Each week we are delivering valuable services as true trusted Advisors throughout New Zealand, Australia and the USA to High Performance Businesses and Executive Leaders looking to Execute, simplify their business and to increase their influence as professional leaders. A snapshot of the team in action.