I caught up with John Spence today & we reflected on a busy two weeks since we last spoke. A lot has changed in both the USA & in our part of the world here in NZ & Australia. Whilst each country faces a different situation there are some common emerging patterns & challenges that leaders are facing across industries as they lean into the Covid-19 impact.
2019 has been a fantastic & full on year working as part of a talented team and supporting some of the top companies across New Zealand, Australia and the USA. It is important to reflect on achievements, leadership lessons and to recharge in preparation for the projects we are taking on in 2020……..a new decade.
On the home front a baby girl (Sahara) joined our family on 30 Dec 18, so it’s been exciting having another wee one in the house. We moved house, our eldest daughter graduated from St Margarets College & was accepted to study at Canterbury University next year. Our wee boy turned 2 so home life was hectic with many firsts such as talking, walking & other family milestones. It’s been a year where sadly some good friends have died & we’ve supported close family (& several clients) with cancer. So it’s been fulfilling but certainly not plain sailing!
It was my 15th year of self employment, I took 53 domestic & international flights, completed 143 physical work outs (not enough), slept on average 6 hours per night (more needed) & Averaged 9907 steps per day (stats courtesy of my Fitbit). I delivered 208 one to one coaching sessions (for directors, CEO’s and executive leaders), facilitated 23 strategic planning sessions/reviews, developed & delivered 18 one off leadership workshops for Executive Leadership Teams & attended 34 Board & Advisory Board meetings (chairing 31 of them). I took seven weeks off to recharge, rest and have time with family.
In my Army role as an Infantry Battalion commander we have led change, deployed soldiers on operations & been involved in responses to fires in Nelson & floods in Westland as well as the Christchurch mosque shootings which rocked our nation to the core. 2/4 Battalion joined the Army’s operational 1st Brigade (NZ) in July & this role was 67 days work of my work. S
In governance roles there was challenge, break throughs & pivots. During a visit to the USA in my role as Link Engine Management Chair (along with our CEO) we visited some of the top companies in the world (Google, Apple, Facebook, Air BnB, AllBirds amongst 10 others) that since start up have been client centric & design thinking focussed. This was part of a NZ Trade & Enterprise “Better by Design” Tour and involved leaders from 20 NZ export companies. This was a life changing learning experience, as we visited New York & San Francisco over 10 days. I learnt so much about client centricity, culture by design & leading change.
In my role as part of the University of Canterbury MBA Advisory Board, I was lucky enough to be able to have a small part in a bold modernisation of the UC executive leadership programme. A move that reflects the current reality of business leadership and (in my personal opinion) it will allow UC to become one of the most innovative & relevant tertiary providers in the country for experienced leaders looking to pivot their career & lift their leadership impact.
As a business owner we have lived what we teach. We have grown our team numbers & our revenues & profits by 25%. This is an outcome of working with some fantastic clients & business partners & invest in in long term trusted relationships. Our approach supporting chairs, boards, business owners, CEOs & Exec teams to get significant break throughs, has been recognised in the market through growing referral networks. We have measured staff engagement & client loyalty via bi annual surveys & used this information to build on our offering. The Christchurch team will be delivering 22 pre booked leadership workshops in January & February 2020 alone so it is going to be a busy start to the year.
So what leadership lessons have I learnt over the year?;
Business Leaders need to get serious to lead in constant change. It is time lift to your game if you want to succeed globally. Whilst we have some fantastic NZ companies doing very well internationally (in fact a number are clients), they have invested heavily in intentional, qualified and experienced leaders who focus on culture and inputs rather than just the outputs. Too many businesses aspire to compete at a high level but leave their leadership to chance. They invest in the best independent directors, executive leaders and strategic thinkers with an emphasis on execution combined with client focus and great products/services and constant adaptability. The old NZ “no 8 wire” attitude, whilst important to drive innovation, won’t cut it alone in a complex market environment. The best companies in the world value and invest in not just innovative/smart ideas but also qualified and experienced talent led by high performing leaders.
Most leaders won’t have the courageous conversations needed. The number of senior leaders who simply won’t lead a tough conversation or confront poor behaviours (which are a pre-curser to poor performance) is staggering. Those who are action orientated, care deeply about their people and who will initiate a courageous conversation before it results in a big issue are rare and highly sought after. Most hide behind a complex process as a reason for not taking action. In reality they simply don’t have the courage to start what is a simple & effective process.
Stop focussing on outputs and focus instead on the inputs that deliver them. Too many react to results after the fact and it is too late. Spend time creating clever predictive metrics that guarantee the results you are after and create a culture that consistently measures & executes them.
Schedule, value & prioritise unstructured time. Most leaders are simply “busy & sadly that means reactive. They have no time to get ahead of the market and competition because they don’t prioritise the time needed for professional development, strategic thinking, reflection, banking lessons learnt, building strategic relationships or hanging out with clients understanding their needs. There are too many leaders who were the badge of “busyness” with pride and it creates mediocrity and reactive companies. Self discipline is needed to keep the important things ahead of the urgent.
Invest in a future focussed Board that reflects the voice of your customer. Who on your board represents the voice of the purchaser of your products or services? Too many boards spend their time looking backwards instead of setting the culture of the business and driving the strategic agenda. To win in todays constantly changing & dynamic business environment the conversations of shareholders, directors and management must be separated, defined and deliberate. Get serious about it & have both a succession plan & professional development for your board.
If you sword fight with Zoro you will get cut. As a leader there is always someone who thinks they have the solution or is hyper critical of a decision. In reality to lead at a high level you need to have confidence & clarity. Make the best decision you can with the best information available at the time and iterate it as needed. Leaders stand for something, they can take a punch and are resilient enough to carry on and win. It therefore stands to reason you will make a few mistakes, get things wrong, piss a few people off and attract the armchair critics. Accept this, reflect and commit to being always a better leader, stay true to your values & purpose and surround yourself with a wide network of coaches, mentors & peers who want to see you do well. Most importantly enjoy the ride because executive leadership is one of the most challenging & satisfying things you can do in the world. Most people can’t or won’t step up the the plate & thats fine……there have to be followers.
So overall 2019 has been a fantastic year. There have been the challenges of leadership and people that every business faces. Highs, lows and everything in between. Without a doubt the best things have involved family and friends growing and changing. Many of our clients have won national and international awards and their energy and thirst to get better and better has inspired me to keep learning and to get better at what I do professionally. As a professional leader it doesn’t really get much better than that & in the world we live in we require adaptability and agility to navigate the change we face over the coming years. Thank you for letting us play a small part in your leadership journey…….I really value it.
That said it is time to have a break, to disconnect, to have a beer (or 3) and to recharge over the summer break. Hows 2019 been for you? What valuable leadership lessons have you learnt?
The Army is a culture of history, rituals, traditions and story telling. Soldiers tell stories of hardship, often using humour as a medium. Taking the piss out of one another, laughing when things get tough, keeping it real and connecting with each other. One of the things I loved about being a professional soldier and now as a Battalion Commander in the Army reserve is the camaraderie of being part of an Infantry unit. Like minded people, prepared to serve connected by common purpose, experience and at times hardship, overseas and in harms way.
In fact we as humans are genetically hardwired to tell stories. In ancient times in all cultures the art of storytelling was the the “google” of the time. This was how methodology, family history and lessons learnt were passed on to the next generation. It was human connection, the entertainment of the time, education of the time and the essence of tribe.
In the modern world this lives on in movies, youtube, games, the entertainment industry, book etc. In many ways things have not changed even if the methods of delivery might have. As a leadership tool the ability to connect people through stories is a skill that greatly enhances effectiveness. Telling a story is a great way to teach, inspire, influence and connect. The best CEO’s and leaders I know are the best storytellers. I love Tom Peters analogy “Manage by storying about”.
Here is 2 mins on the subject from a recent leadership panel I took part in;
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.
I recently attended the 3 day Singularity University Summit in Christchurch. A 36 hour fire hydrant of the latest information looking at the mountain of change all of us on this planet face over the coming years. It was at times overwhelming, often daunting, incredibly exciting and certainly full of opportunities.
As businesses face the prospect of disruption through technology change I am struck by the two most common responses. Either;
They know it is coming but don’t know where to start planning for it and how change might impact their business. So they don’t start the journey to understand what they don’t know yet.
They are so inward focussed on their own business they simply have no idea things are even changing around them.
Some actual recent scenarios I have had working with the Senior Leadership Teams from a range of industries ($10m revenue companies through to $1Bn plus) as they lift the horizon of their planning to beyond the next 1 – 3 years. In the last few months;
A manufacturing company who thought robotics & automation would not impact their business in this decade but after research & discussion realised the impact on their plant, equipment, people is less that 2 years away.
The company who realised that their business model would probably be totally obsolete in 15 – 20 years but were not doing anything about it because none of them would be in the company then and they never looked that far ahead nor had any sort of agenda to discuss it as a group. When we led the discussion they have totally changed this view point as leaders of a large organisation.
The transport company who as a senior team felt that automated vehicles are 10 years away but after committing to explore this & visiting Europe they discovered that not only will their whole fleet and drivers be impacted significantly, it will start in Feb 17 when their next 3 trucks are delivered with a driverless capability & already they can see that their insurance companies will reduce premiums because this technology is safer. This will drive the change faster across the industry.
I could go on. My point is that this will be the biggest leadership challenge any of us leading in business over the coming 5 – 10 years will face. We can’t duck dive the wave of change but we can choose to consciously start to understand how it will impact us and our organisations. I am reminded of a quote I once heard “You might hate change but you will hate irrelevance even more.” Ignoring it is not an option and the sooner you start the easier it will be to adapt.
At Advisory.Works we believe that leaders and organisations must adapt & constantly change in the future so that they can thrive. There is massive business opportunity within this change and for many “what” they do may not change but “how” they do it certainly will. Those of us leading now must build the Adaptability Quadrant (AQ) of ourselves, our people and our organisations. Moving forward AQ will become a key predictor of success much as IQ & then EQ did.
Leaders and organisations must be adaptable so they have the resilience to constantly adapt, iterate and evolve. Now more than ever leaders must invest in professional development and this start with an awareness of what they will face in the future.
Without this you will simply just hit a brick wall as an organisation.
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.
Last week I spent time in Florida doing some work with Top 100 Leadership & Business thought leader John Spence. I spent time working with him and a number of other business leaders on “Purpose”. Most people (and organisations) know “What” they do and many know “How” they do it. Not many take the time to work through “Why” they do it.
Even more importantly very few people take the time to talk this through with their business team. This process starts the alignment process & inspires like minded people. It is the beginning of “Tribe” and the “Being of team.”
A great start point is the book “Legacy” by author James Kerr. In this video John Spence talks a bit about the subjects.
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.
What were the biggest Leadership Lessons you learnt in 2015 (and/or leadership observations you have made)?
What are the biggest challenges you feel you will face in 2016?
This survey also took in to account the responses from 104 New Zealand CEO’s conducted for The RESULTS Group by an independent research company (Per.ceptive Research).
It is fair to say that surveying over 200 CEO’s (in many varied industries) across New Zealand (mainly), Australia and the USA meant I received a huge amount of feedback. It was a challenge to consolidate this feedback, despite there being some clear common themes. Here are the results.
Question 1: What were the 3 biggest Leadership Lessons you learnt in 2015 (and/or leadership observations you have made)?
“The importance of company culture and just how difficult it has been to lead both change and people (to change).” Change has been constant especially with technology disruption in many industries. Understanding what needs to change and then to actually get people try different things or new ways, new systems & processes has been really challenging. The quality of people in the team, their skills and the ability to actually get things done has often been the main point of differentiation over competitors.
“Establishing the Accountability within your people to get things done/to take action.” There has been more focus & need to have clear KPI’s and measurements in place so as to lift engagement and accountability within Companies. Taking action, executing and making things happen is increasingly important in an environment of constant change. To try new things, fail fast, adapt or simply just to do what has been agreed to is critical. The challenge of holding people to account, measuring and managing has increasingly been seen as vital in business in 2015.
“Being able to change fast enough whilst keeping it simple.” It has been increasingly harder to keep things simple and to identify & focus on doing the important things. Saying “no” to opportunities, constantly trying to keep things from becoming extremely complex has been a real challenge in a world that tends to expect you to do more and more. “Busyness” is the new plaque and separating the important from the urgent has become ever harder to achieve.
Question 2: What are the three biggest Leadership Challenges you think you face will in 2016?
“Remaining profitable through Growth.” We all know growth sucks cash and typically businesses are under capitalised. Often the main measure of Business success is profitability and it is widely felt it will be increasingly harder to deliver profits as change increases, profitability shrinks and as businesses grow.
“Developing future leaders and motivating good people.” Succession is increasingly looming on many company radars. Developing future leaders to take the business forward, to be able to sell the business, to step up as current leaders step back are all challenges many see in 2016. Motivating and engaging good people to stay longer term & to set the business up for future success are skills CEO’s are seeking and actively looking to invest in.
“The increasing pace of Change in the Market place & the ability to adapt.” It is perceived that there will be more change in 2016 & it is increasing. The ability to adapt to change, embrace new technology tools and compete is seen as becoming more of a challenge for CEO’s to remain profitable and to grow. Developing new products &/or services quickly enough to meet the market and client expectations are key challenges identified.
Every year in business is a different one that brings a mix of the ongoing leadership challenges along with many new ones. Certainly change is now a constant and that pace of change is really starting to pick up. The impact of new technologies in communication, automation, artificial intelligence, online applications and tools & social media are changing things fast. In fact much commentary is suggesting we will face more business change in the next 5-10 years than we have in the last 100.
One thing that does not, and will not change is fact that every Company (and indeed group of people) needs a leader. In fact research shows we all want to be led in some way, shape or form. The importance of a leader and his/her ability to inspire, coach, mentor & influence good people to get important things done in an environment (culture) they enjoy is often the main (sometimes the only) point of differentiation a company can have over competitors in increasingly crowded markets.
Strong leadership & excellent change leadership skills are increasingly the most important skills that will define a businesses chances of long term success. During 2015 our Executive Leadership Program has become the fastest growing part of our Business as we seek to support CEO’s to lead change, achieve sustainable growth and to support them to prepare for sale, economic downturn or industry disruption. More than ever high performance business leaders need & seek good practical smart advice, support, facilitated planning, time out and an unwavering positive outlook to navigate the challenges 2016 will bring.
What are you planning to intentionally do differently to lead Business Success in 2016?
You can link here to the CEO blog summary doc which shows the comparable results of all 3 surveys.