I caught up with my good mate John Spence in Auckland this week. John was over doing a bit of work with our company and speaking at a conference. While he was here he appeared on the Am Breakfast show speaking about whether NZ can compete on the global tech stage. I spoke with him on Tuesday in this short video.
Strategic execution is all about behavioural leadership. By this I mean that it is all about getting people to change behaviours and to make the important things happen. To execute relentlessly you need to constantly hone your skills as a leader and keep them top of mind.
One of the biggest challenges in business today is Executing Strategy which is critical if a business is to succeed in the future. I lead a business which is at the forefront globally of Strategic Execution and our team works with CEO’s and companies around the world each day as they actively seek to evolve and change by executing their strategy in a deliberate and disciplined way. This is a behavioural leadership problem to solve and one which requires a lot of courage. The courage to change, listen, make mistakes, make tough decisions, ask for help, get their people to change and to do what is right to move the company forward.
Business change is constant, fast and ever increasing so the challenge is very much about getting ahead of it because leaders who want their businesses to thrive in the future need to be able to effect change before it is needed. To be proactive instead of reactive. Whilst this sounds logical and achievable the reality is that it needs courageous leaders who are adaptable, emotionally aware and committed to getting better and better at this “behavioural leadership”. As this recent blog (Harvard Business Review) outlines: Strategic execution is a people challenge.
An simple executable plan is needed for sure, but this is the easy bit. Too often there is a great plan in place but the senior team executing it doesn’t buy into it & generally this is because they have not been involved in developing it and don’t understand the “people behaviour” skills needed. I see this play out time and time again. Leaders who are really frustrated at a lack of action but who have no idea why this is so & how they can practically overcome the problem. Here then are some practical ideas;
Take time to get to know your team and build trust. Trust is the foundation of any team and its future success. Get to know the personality’s of those you lead, spend time listening to them, get into their environment, understand where they have come from and where they want to go and set about making them as successful as you can. Profile them, share yours, share them as a team. Have fun, tell them about what you are seeing, learning and offer them feedback & guidance.
Force reflection. The best leaders constantly learn, evolve and iterate. Soft skills and the ability to self regulate behaviour through awareness is a very valuable skill and one effective leaders focus on mastering. Keep a journal of observations, key decisions and their outcomes, lessons learnt and make your direct reports do the same. Too often I find senior leaders who simply cannot reflect on what they are seeing and make observations or draw conclusions to make things even better.
Have a simple and clear framework for leading. Prioritise meetings, get the agenda, frequency and content right. Use key numbers and ensure there is an action log. Seek feedback, let others run them, do more of them if the pace is increasing. Avoid the tendency to cancel you functional and leadership meetings when things get too busy. This makes for more confusion, lack of alignment and inefficiency. Use one on ones, reviews, full team (town hall) meetings, social media, internal comms and stand ups to get messages across many times. Get the mix of weekly/monthly/quarterly and annual reviews mapped out and in the diary a year in advance. Make sure professional development, technical and leadership training are conducted regularly to keep people engaged.
Have fun. Too often life and business is all a bit serious. Take every opportunity to hang out, socialise, tell stories & make it something everyone looks forward to. Bank the wins both big and small & recognise those who do the right things.
Provide clear expectations. Team rules, meeting rules, constant feedback and observations all make for better clarity. The role of a modern leader is to coach and mentor and guide alongside the traditional “management” role. Clarity and simplicity make for a better and more efficient team environment.
Be consistent. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make are they are not consistent. This undermines trust. People want to know where they stand, want familiarity, and to be able to rely on not only colleagues but their leader to be there for them. Consistently confronting issues early, giving frank and honest feedback etc will build high levels of trust.
Be deliberate. Too often the important components of teamwork and leadership are left to chance. Be transparent and open in your communications. Ensure the team reviews meetings, decisions, projects, client feedback, financial/sales results. Ask for input and draw lessons learnt. Have the soft conversations about issues, things that went wrong and commit to getting better. The important things in life are easy to do. They are also easy not to do.
Be courageous. Have the ongoing tough discussions as they are needed. Don’t wait, dive in and shape thinking and outcomes to keep things on track. If you have a decent sized team then it is important everyone keeps moving in the right direction and stays aligned. This will be constantly needed. Be humble, ask for help, discuss when you got it wrong and lead the way to show others in your team how to get better in this space with their team.
Be prepared to fail on this stuff. People are all different. You can’t & won’t get it all right. There will be times you push too hard, not hard enough or simply get it wrong. On the people stuff you have to be 100% accountable for your actions but also understand that how others react will be up to them. Be open and honest and when you get it wrong admit it & share it with your team so you reflect and learn. Don’t beat yourself up but do regroup and recommit to improving.
Too often CEO’s try to outsource many of the important things that drive a high performance culture. These skills are ones which must be developed in order to lead a growing thriving business that can change ahead of competitors in an increasingly complex business environment. This means they must be consciously developed and worked on to stay at the top of the leadership game.
This is an edited version of a leadership panel I took part in during a recent visit to Florida. It involves leaders from Infinity Energy, Santa Fe College & the University of Florida and covers the topics of Leading in Business today, change, disruption, execution and the challenge of leading people. The audience includes 135 business members from the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. I learnt a lot taking part in this and it makes for some interesting topics.
How do the top performing teams in the world stay at the top of their game? Sports teams, racing teams, leading brands, innovative teams, military teams and many others? What do leaders at the top of their game do to stay at the top? What does this mean for business?
Right now things in business are going pretty well. There is uncertainty in the medium and longer term as to what is going to happen in money markets, commodity markets, the Chinese/US or EU economies. There is a lot of technology disruption starting to show up on the fringes of even the least tech savvy industries. Change is coming and whether it is disruption, a softening economy, a total global meltdown or even a major political event we will all need to navigate it.
The RESULTS Group work with good companies and proactive leaders who want to get better at what they do. Our clients tend to be the long term brands that over decades have performed exceptionally well. They are actively seeking to stay at the top of their game.
In the next 5-10 years all of us leading (me included) are going to face more change than the world has seen in the last century. It will be fast, ongoing and relentless and will be an exciting and challenging time to lead. Some commentators say we are in year 2 of a 35 year technology disruption. How true is this and how will it affect our own business is open to interpretation but we are all starting to see the wave of change.
To stay at the top in any professional environment there is a need to develop a culture of continuous learning. If we look at the All Blacks (the most successful global high performance professional sports team/brand with a winning record of 86%, two back to back world cups & recently voted the best team in the world across all codes). In James Kerr’s book “Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life” you will see Chapter 2 is entitled “Adapt”. In essence the commentary is all around “When you are at the top of your game, change your game.” This is about changing consciously before you need to, in order to stay ahead of the competition and to remain the best of the best. To keep an edge or a sustainable point of difference.
I like to refer to the term “pivoting”. I saw this in action during some work I recently did at the University of Florida, assessing entrepreneurial engineering teams and the projects they were completing for private business. They were presenting what they had achieved and were seeking feedback so they could iterate and improve their project. They were seeking a “pivot” through good insights and application of ideas.
The best leaders and companies we work with are already pivoting at a time when they are performing well. They know through experience that the good times won’t last. To stay ahead of their competition and to navigate change they must understand what success continues to look like. How do they do this?
Those CEO’s proactively keeping ahead of the crowd prioritise the following;
They invest in their own development and leadership skills so they can lead smart innovative people in a collaborative way.
They spend time in strategic and operational planning with their teams, senior leadership teams and functional teams. They continuously define the priorities and focus of action.
Actively build an aligned plan to execute continuous change and constantly reflect on it, revise it and iterate it to make it better. They empower their people to lead parts for the execution.
Focus on execution and getting the important things done.
Seek the best advice on technology disruption, the economy, competitors, new entrants and possible substitute products and services.
Stay very close to their clients and know what they value, expect and want improved. They build collaborative and close relationships through many channels including social media.
Invest in leadership development (and education) and focus on increasing staff engagement to build resilience and an ownership mentality. This aids the change process and brings innovative and collaborative thinking to the fore.
Focus on the numbers. What gets measured can be managed.
Actively disrupt the companies “business as usual” in a positive way so as to build capacity and capability in a continuous way. This allows the organisation and the team to scale up in a long term sustainable way.
Make the tough decisions early.
Learn the lessons of previous economic downturns and change projects so as to ensure the same mistakes are not made again, and
Recognise success and continue to have fun along the journey.
This all sounds simple (and it is) but it is not easy. It takes focus, good strong proactive leaders committed to ensuring the important things happen and not just the urgent things of modern business. It is about going beyond reactive firefighting and consciously picking & executing the plan for/route to success.
Staying at the top of your game is about changing before you are forced to change. This means having a good team committed to getting incrementally better at what they do.
I am often asked what we do and why we do it. A few weeks back I spent some time working with my good friend & Leadership Expert John Spence in Florida. We took the opportunity to shoot a few videos and I thought it was time to articulate this starting with this Introduction to The RESULTS Group.
Why do we do what we do?
The RESULTS Group exists to make an “intentional difference” to peoples lives. We love what we do and are very good at it. We work with leaders across many organisations and industries as they seek to make a true difference in their lives and the lives of those they lead. We work with good companies seeking high performance results. We keep them ahead of disruption and support them to grow capability and capacity……to execute the important things. The connection we have with people inspires us to go that little bit further, to do what it takes to make a significant impact on people and the organisations they choose to lead and to be part of.
Our Mission (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to disrupt Business Advisory (to redefine Advisory in a good way) by 2020 for High Performance Businesses and Leaders.
What gets under our skin?
We hate that Advisers provide average advice and charge a lot of money. We are sick & tired of the fact that the advice is generally just Accounting advice from people who have no understanding of how to implement change or to apply the advice to real life situations. These same people are being significantly disrupted in their own industry and are often not living what they are teaching.
Other advisers make it a dark art and seek to charge as if they have the “magic bullet.” Often their work is not tangible nor the difference they make measurable. Sometimes their clients struggle to apply it and in frustration don’t get the break throughs. Further those dispensing the advice have not led at a high level themselves. They have not made real life mistakes, earned a few battle scars nor dealt with the behavioural challenges of leading people. They can’t tell real stories that bring things to life.How can you give advice if you have never done it? Worse still these advisers rarely ask for feedback from their clients.
It is not good enough and we are doing something about it.
What do we do?
We work with good Companies to support them to execute their strategy. We are their “Strategy Execution Partners.” We collaboratively work with our clients as the “generalist” in their business. They are after all the experts and have achieved a lot over many years.
We ask the questions, we create the discussions within their teams, we apply a framework to bring it to life. Further we don’t keep it a secret. In fact our frameworks and tools are freely available and based on the research of the worlds experts. The value is not in the tool but in the discussions and alignment of the leaders in the business. It lies in the application of theory into the current business reality.
Our clients are privately held established Companies seeking to intentionally get better at what they do.
Core Business is getting the important things done which means supporting Business Leaders to disrupt the day to day Business as Usual Operations of the Business to grow capability & capacity. This means supporting them to change and adopt new ways of leading and focus. We help them to “Simplify their Business” by ensuring they have a simple Strategic Plan that their people can execute.
Often we support Leaders to develop their skills to lead at the next level or to grow and develop the leaders in their organisation so they can step back or bring the Company under management. This may be at the Governance, Advisory Board, CEO, GM or Senior Leadership Team level.
It sounds simple (and it generally is) but it is never easy to make a commitment to incrementally get better & better in an ongoing way. It takes focus and requires the important things to be done rather than the urgent.
This is about building a culture of high performance, learning, growing and coaching. The best leaders are the best coaches, managers, mentors and life long learners.
We know it works too. Our clients tell us each 6 months exactly what difference it makes in their lives & businesses. We also measure it so we have the data to show a very good return on their investment of time and money. There are no magic bullets either. It takes focus, hard work, clever thinking, tough discussions and a “try new things, fail fast & iterate the plan” approach to leading smart people.
Taking a long term approach to working with client companies we know they never leave our networks. They may disengage as a paying client but they re engage when they need us. We often work with clients for 3, 4 or 5 years (longer with many) and they come back as they need to grow to another level.
We also have fun, apply the same frameworks to our own business and live our Purpose and Values each day. Our people have been there and done it. Sure they have the academic qualifications but more importantly they have the real life experience of leadership & they love what they do. We make a difference & that it is valued by those we choose to work with.
But don’t take our word for it either…….ask any of our clients & as you join our networks there is plenty of opportunity to do this.
This blog on Linkedin by Ziyad Jawabra delivers a very powerful message (Link Here) about Nokia. A global company & well known technology brand recently acquired by Microsoft. The CEO tearfully announces “We didn’t do anything wrong but somehow we lost!”
Powerful why? Because change is constant and ruthless to those who ignore or can’t navigate it. In fact it is worse than that, knowing change is needed is very different to actually leading or executing it. Earlier in the year I published my 3rd annual survey results whereby I asked over 200 CEO’s what they had learnt as leaders in 2015 and what they think they face in 2016 (Link Here: CEO Survey) and as you can see it is all about the challenge of change. The impact of constant change, changing fast enough to meet market and competitor moves and most important of all change to meet client expectations. On top of that staying profitable and having a culture that builds resilient people because change is tough.
We work as the Strategic Execution Partner in our clients businesses and are their most trusted adviser supporting strategy and leader development. Most importantly we are enabling Strategic Execution i.e. the doing bit. Working across dozens of industries with a vast number of clients I can assure you the problems are the same and simplicity is needed. Change is now constant, adds to complexity and requires agile thinking & speed of action. Make mistakes and fail fast (iterate the plan fast) is what my Chairman tells me as Chief Executive and this too applies to all leading.
The next 5 – 10 years holds more change, technology innovation and industry disruption than we have ever seen in business so it is a skill every leader must master to prevent the situation we have just seen a Nokia. The alternative is to sit and wait and let the wave of market change pound you.
How do you keep it focussed, simple and lead in constant change? That takes commitment to intentionally learning new skills.