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.
Every day and every week our team of clever leaders are lucky enough to influence and support some iconic brands and high performance leaders. As a premium brand focussed on making a significant impact we work with selected organisations across New Zealand, Australia and the USA. This video outlines some of our recent work and I am proud to lead it.
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.
A valuable video full of some valuable ideas on Strategic Planning and Strategic Execution from Business thought Leaders and Leadership expert John Spence.
Too often leaders play the blame game. They don’t own the space above the line. This short video is perhaps the best explanation I have come across of playing above the line.
Chances are your company will be led by a group of middle aged men with 30 + years of experience. The vast majority of established companies tend to be. Most won’t use or understand digital tools and they will struggle to understand why and how social media can used to grow their brand, sales and networks. They will be quite set in their ways, used to thinking and doing things in a certain way and change, new innovative ways of operating and motivating others will seem very inconvenient. Lets just say they won’t embrace change!
Don’t for a minute think that I am not advocating the importance of experience (it is very valuable) but if this is all you have chances are you are being or are about to be taken out by an up and coming company that embraces diversity of thinking.
I work with a diverse range of established companies across many industry’s and it staggers me the amount of linear “group think” that needs to be disrupted. That age old culture killing quote “Thats the way we have always done it” which extrapolated out leads to “we get the same results….over and over again” is alive and well.
Working with diverse Boards, reading the latest leadership research, attending Singularity University, Institute of Director training and teaching young leaders at both the University of Florida & Canterbury, I know that the inclusion of young smart people of various genders, ethnicity and backgrounds will lead to better ideas, execution and outcomes. So what can you do to rid yourself of the “Male, Pale & Stale” brigade? A few ideas;
- Disrupt your own business as usual in a good way by including younger people in key projects and planning sessions. Challenge thinking, have robust conversations and debate.
- Bring externals into your team to change dynamics and conversations. Clients, consultants, students, people from outside the industry. This will lead to different outcomes.
- Find talented young people who can reverse mentor by teaching older, experienced leaders their way of thinking and why they might think the way they do. Get them to share the tools they use and why they believe what they believe.
- Ensure your next hires bring new ways of thinking and working to the organisation. Recruit for it, have a robust process to ensure you don’t bring on yet another clone who believes what you believe is the only approach.
- Make ongoing education around change, technology and leadership a major part of the culture of your organisation and senior leadership team. Build on the formal education of the 1990s with ongoing learning, skills training and frameworks.
- Get closer to your clients. If they are increasingly diverse and changing then you also need to be as a company and team to adapt and succeed in the future.
- Be wary of the new data driven, technology savvy start up. They can really hurt you and will be a common & increasing threat over the next few years. A sobering message delivered by Singularity University was “Your biggest competitor in 2025 will be a start up company in 2024.”
Stay nimble. Ensure you lead your organisation to change adapt and pivot to ensure it thrives in the future.
About this time every year for the last four years I have sent out a two question survey to over 200 CEO’s. These are senior leaders not only in my own network but across all of our consultants networks also. This year (as he did last year) our business partner John Spence also sent the survey through his US & global network of US based Chief Executives and business experts.
The results of this survey are a barometer of how senior business leaders are feeling & what they are facing in todays dynamic business environment. As you can imagine a huge amount of information was provided and it took some time to distil the information & to identify the patterns. Here are the results of this years survey;
Question 1: What were the three biggest leadership lessons you learnt in 2016?
- Change is constant & becoming even more so. This has increased the need to make faster decisions & to effect change faster. An interesting pattern was that some felt that resistance to change within their company can actually be due to ambiguity i.e. the lack of clarity on what needs to change which can result in people resisting the change.
- The culture of the company is a critical success factor. Many felt there was a need to act fast to preserve the culture, there was a need to have a culture of high trust between those in the team. It was important to attract & retain people who fit the culture of the company on the team. A culture of coaching & teaching team members to get better in their role was an emerging trend.
- Effective communication is critical to success. It needs to be clear & simple. Issues arising need to be confronted with urgency.
Question 2: What are the three biggest challenges you will face in 2017?
- Leading in continuing change and managing the tempo/pace of this change. Leading “culture” change as companies look to change how they do things. The challenge of proactively staying ahead of change rather than being reactive to it.
- Staying profitable whilst navigating the uncertainty created by ongoing change, global influences, political uncertainty and the impact of global markets.
- Understanding what clients really need. Understanding the opportunities in the market. The challenge of standing out as a brand and getting cut through with important marketing messages.
As you can see there are some big themes around the challenge of leading in ongoing change & the impact this has on culture and profitability. Without question the modern CEO is a change leader and this will be a continuing trend as disruption and complexity increases over the coming years.
Those leaders who are constantly up skilling themselves, keeping abreast of the emerging technology, building resilient leaders within their company will be able execute and thrive in the future. Those who fail to adapt fast enough will not do as well, if they survive at all.
You can look back on last years results (and previous years) to compare trends by clicking this link.
It has been a busy and exciting year to lead in business and there will be no shortage of challenge in 2017. I write this in Atlanta as I wait for my return flight to New Zealand having just spent some time working with clients in Florida and New York. The world is now a very complex & connected place – connected by technology, systems, relationships and markets.
The role of a leader is to lead change with certainty and we look forward to continuing to support our clients as their Strategic Execution Partners as they seek to simplify their business.
I wish you a Happy New Year.
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.
Are you slaying dragons?
We use this video on our Executive Leadership Program. It nicely tells the story of the soft (EQ) skills that are so important as a modern business leader. In fact to move beyond transactional type management and to develop as a leader who can adapt, flex and grow a business in todays disruptive environment these are the skills to develop.
It constantly amazes me how many professional leaders don’t invest in their own ongoing professional development. Those who do achieve a major competitive, they consistently out perform competitors by having a highly engaged confident team delivering exactly what clients need. They pivot through disciplined execution to stay ahead and they are highly profitable.
They have clarity.