Leading: The Fine Art of Story Telling

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.

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South West Africa, 1996

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;

Adaptability is the New Success Indicator

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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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

The Pivot: Staying at the Top of Your Game

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?

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The best teams change before change is needed. They pivot and iterate to stay ahead of the crowd.

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.

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A summary picture of the key chapters & topics of the book “Legacy” by James Kerr.

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.

It is about confidence and momentum.

Just start the journey.

 

Average “Pisses” Us Off: Why we do What we 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. 

Do Something different
Get a different result rather than learn the same thing again.

 

 

The Ever Powerful: Purpose & Legacy

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.

 

Don’t want to Change? Just Wait it out……

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A fantastic quote from All Black Coach Steve Hansen that applies as much to business (and the change ahead) as it does to Rugby, England 2015

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.

Feedback from Over 200 CEO’s: What they Learnt in 2015 and the Challenges They Face in 2016

 

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Business change is constant and increasing at an alarming rate. We will face more change in the next 5-10 years than we have seen in the last 100.

In December 2015 I went out to a wide network of CEO’s and asked the same two questions I have asked in 2013 (Link to the 2013 results here) & 2014 (Link to the 2014 results here). The questions asked were;

  1. What were the biggest Leadership Lessons you learnt in 2015 (and/or leadership observations you have made)?
  2. 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)?

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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?

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.

 

The Challenge of Getting Out of The Way

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Business is hard enough without fighting about the way things used to be done.

In our work with Business Leaders change is inevitably on their radar. Whether it is change due to market conditions, competitor moves or the increasing realisation of just how fast & how much technology is disrupting the status quo. Often too succession is a challenge and at a time when the the tempo of change is increasing owners of businesses are looking at how they get out. Do they sell it or retain it under management. Could they? should they?

A business is not truly valuable until it is at stage that it is not reliant upon the owner/s. If key parts of the business have a founder who is a critical success factor either working in a day to day Management role or as the main member of the Board of Directors then it becomes challenging to sell & is a barrier to maximising the value if is to be sold. Often the owner/s & founders are in the way of the business moving to the next level. Some common reasons for this;

  • An ego that won’t allow others to lead in different ways. This prevents the business getting a different outcome.
  • Doing the same things over and over again……and guaranteeing the that same outcome.
  • Getting good advice from their Board, trusted advisors and their management team…….and largely ignoring it.
  • Getting involved at all levels of the business (Governance, Management level & at line manager level) despite paying good people to do own it. This shuts innovation down, causes frustration, confusion & disengages good talented staff.
  • Continuing to make decisions based on gut feeling rather than good Key Indicators based on data & interpretation.
  • A lack of planning (Strategic, Operational and contingency planning). This creates a company that is continually reactive rather than proactive & one that has a short term focus.
  • Not addressing the big elephants in the room. Missed opportunity, poor performance, lack of direction, succession planning are all left out of discussions creating speculation, ambiguity and mediocrity.
  • No clear roles and performance measures which allows the business to be an “average” performer.
  • Ignoring systems & processes that have been introduced to streamline Finance, Operations, Sales and to allow the business to scale through consistency.
  • Assuming that the Voice of the Customer of the future will be the same as it has in the past and never seeking real feedback.
  • A lack of innovative thinking, ideas and development leads to ageing & mediocre products, services & Intellectual Property.
  • Lack of investment into the future leaders of the company through training, mentoring and coaching. This adds to the succession problem & dooms the company to always having to seek senior leaders from outside the company.
  • Create friction within the team that actively takes the focus of core business. The modern business environment is complex enough without fighting those who are on your side.

Without doubt, as a Business owner it can be very hard to recognise the issues that need to be addresses and to then start the process of getting out of the way. In fact it often does not begin until a crisis looms (such as a health scare, a major disruption to the industry, a change in the economic environment, a new competitor entering the market or the loss of a key client etc). Generally what has got the business to its current point in time will not get it to where it needs to go in the future.

The number businesses seeking to break this cycle is truly staggering & it is not for lack of understanding of the need to change. The barrier is actually “taking the action” (actually doing something about it) and being brave enough to actually get out of the way of the business and to let others lead the business to the next level.

It is not until Business Owners understand what needs to happen and start to actively get out of the way of their own business & talented staff that the magic begins to happen.

It seems everyone has a story to tell about this. They have either been that person who needed to get out of the way, or worked for them, or have been involved with someone who needs to.

What is your story?