4 Game Changers to Improve Execution

One of the biggest challenges and frustrations that business leaders have in 2018 is how to execute their Strategic plan to ensure the future success of the business. Over the last 18 months we have conducted in depth surveys with 161 business leadership teams across New Zealand, Australia & the USA asking them 35 key questions over a 2 hour gap analysis assessment.

When it comes to Disciplined Execution the basics really count and the surveys highlighted a common gap in four areas as highlighted by the data;

  1. Role Clarity: 110 (68%) of the 161 teams interviewed had not clearly documented who was accountable for key roles in the business & how their performance would be measured. It stands to reason that if there is no real role clarity then there will be overlaps in effort, low levels of accountability & frustrations. In many cases roles had not been updated as the team grew, head count increased and the company evolved. Putting in the effort to document and get clarity on roles and measurements makes a huge impact and is an engaging discussion to have as a team.
  2. Consequences: 106 (66%) of the 161 teams had staff that did not know the consequences for achieving (or not achieving) the performance standard required for their role. Without praise and recognition for great work (catch people doing things right) there is no incentive to go above and beyond. Likewise if poor performance is not confronted it becomes hard to perform as a team and good people leave due to the mediocrity that is tolerated. These topics should be discussed as a team so there is clarity which will in turn lift engagement. (See “The Power of Consequence”).
  3. Meetings: 117 (73%) of the 161 teams did not conduct well-structured “execution meetings” with team members on a weekly basis. Most leaders hate meetings and their team members hate being part of them. Yet if you lead people you need to be excellent at leading engaging team meetings that allow you to live your culture. What makes a great meeting? Respect for time, never cancelled, clear team rules, being prepared, having each attendee speak to their numbers, a review of results, clarity on future actions, updates on strategic actions/projects, documented decisions (who, what, when), core value stories, connection & fun as a team. A clear cadence of meetings will make a huge impact on team engagement, execution and will maintain momentum.
  4. Quarterly Reviews: 132 (82%) of the 161 teams did not review their performance against their strategy and then update and communicate the strategic direction every quarter (90 days). Most Companies have a strategic plan that is reviewed annually or bi-annually but few review and update progress quarterly. It is a static plan. This quarterly review is a key meeting that drives reflection, lessons learnt, measures numbers and progress and allows the plan to iterate and remain highly relevant. A quarterly review every 90 days is a real game changer.

I have worked with hundreds of good leadership teams over the last 10 years and whenever these four game changers are implemented execution, engagement and accountability really starts to lift and it doesn’t cost anything. The team lifts to another level. It requires the CEO to refocus on several important things that will make a huge impact. Below are two short videos on these topics.

My website: www.kendalllangston.com

2017: The Leadership Lessons I learnt

IMG_0264

Life is a journey and you have to stop every now and then, get off the track and reflect. It is essential to pause and reflect on what has been achieved, the patterns you see, the lessons you have learnt and what you need to change as you start another busy year. 2017 for me was a full on year. A CEO role (stepping down on 1 December 17 after 5 years, the last 3 of which has seen 30% growth in the business year on year), my first year as a Battalion Commander in the Reserve of the NZ Army, Chairman of a growing global tech company that was a finalist in the NZ High Tech Awards and working alongside & supporting some very high performing client CEO’s and their companies.

A year in which I took took 62 flights, hired and fired some key staff and exited a number of clients, supported clients across NZ, Australia and the USA, spoke at Universities, funerals & business events and most significantly had a baby son born in June bringing a lot of joy to our growing family. I also took my annual 7 weeks off across the year to recharge the most important break being a month over Christmas.

I tracked some other data too. On average I slept 7 hours a night, walked & ran 2555km, did 156 work outs (weights, running, cycling or boxing), climbed 4380 flights of stairs……the joys of a Fitbit keeping the data.

2017 was another year of full on learning as I worked with good companies as they adapted, grew and executed in the increasingly complex business environment. I supported and coached CEO’s and executive teams from public, listed and privately held companies. Revenues ranged from $3m p.a. through the $14bn p.a. Tech companies (mining, gaming, AI/OI, motor sport), professional sport entities, Army leadership teams & Infantry Combat teams, professional services companies (legal, psychology, accounting & finance, survey, software implementation, banking), manufacturing and distribution companies, commercial and residential building companies, civil construction and sub contracting companies, insurance, retail, medical, science, large scale agribusiness…….the list goes on.

So what did I learn as a leader? Good question and here are my reflections;

  1. There is a time to walk away. I take 100% accountability for my actions and 0% for those of others. If you coach, mentor, encourage, teach, collaborate, discuss, seek buy in, plan, agree……and they still don’t change their actions you have to be the change. Its never easy but some people simply can’t, won’t and don’t change.
  2. If its messy keep going. Clarity will prevail, give it time, take time to reflect on the patterns and what you are seeing. Often when you are leading change it is really messy when you are in it. Clarity will come if you create the space to reflect.
  3. Give your time. The most valuable thing you can give someone is your time. Cast a big shadow. Ensure people value it but invest in people, care, play the long game and go the extra mile for good people. They will give back when you need a hand, advice or time.
  4. The power of networking. The most valuable asset you have are your friends and your network of people you know & trust. Hang out more, ask questions, support them, interact, go to events that interest you, learn lots. My network is absolute gold and allows me to seek information, referrals and help.
  5. Ask for Help. One of the goals I set myself early in 2017 was to ask for help more, to let others step up, to seek feedback and advice more. It has paid huge dividends in learning, reduced work load and it actually the best way to engage your team and get out of their way. It is hard to let others step up but persevere and free up your time. Top leaders create other leaders rather than followers.
  6. Look at what people do. I always look at what people do rather than what they say. As a leader and as a coach this is where the gold is. The gap between what they say and what they do. The magic happens if you can close that gap. Also you see who people really are and what they care about by looking at what they do. Be tough and hold people accountable for their actions because people want to be led well and to be given a chance to be better at what they do.
  7. Get rid of the takers. As the African proverb says “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.” Some people take and never give and they play a short game continuously. Get rid of those who simply set out to get ahead themselves. They are not team players and the world operates best with people who can play in a team. In fact these are the people who continue to ask advice and never take it.
  8. Don’t take advice from those who don’t inspire you. Inspiration tends to be about the future rather than the past or the present. Get advice from pragmatic, forward thinking, positive people. Everyone has an opinion so make sure the advice is balanced between data & real life experience. Data wins arguments and shifts both conversations & thinking.
  9. Clever people just need gentle reminding. More often than not people know the answer and they just need to be reminded of what they need to do or should do. Typically there is no substitute for hard work, tough conversations and having the grit and motivation to push forward when things are tough.
  10. The way you do things is what matters. The devil is in the detail i.e. its not what you do but how you do it. Take action, try new things, iterate, measure. Engage people, ask lots of questions, get people to reflect and take them on the journey with you. The world is full of people with great ideas but sadly very few can make shit happen. Value the leaders, the people of action, the doers, those who make mistakes trying new ways.

2018 for me is one of creating new opportunities to be involved in governance, succession and executive leadership coaching. I believe that in order to thrive in the future you have to be 20% better every year and to be passionate about what you do and why you do it. CEO’s are often isolated and they need good solid support from people who have experience and who can introduce them to a network of like minded leaders.

What did you learn in 2017?

Other posts I have written;

Reflection: The secret skill of high performance leaders

Fight to win: Business Lessons from the Army

Are your leaders male, pale and stale?

2 Mins on my approach to Executive Leadership Coaching

Leading Leaders: Thriving in Change

We believe that in order to thrive (not just survive….thrive) in the future and an ever changing business environment, Leaders (and Businesses) need to constantly adapt, change, iterate and to lead their people with certainty.

This mission involves working with Business owners, Board Chairs and CEO’s who are looking to invest in their own leadership skills, grow other leaders & develop a clear strategic execution plan which they can execute continuously. The latter “Execution” piece is the important bit.

This is about getting things done, prioritising the important things over the urgent (disrupting business as usual in a good way) and leading behavioural change. This is getting the people in the business to change and do different things & sadly our world is full of people with great ideas but not people who can bring these ideas to life practically.

This short video outlines some of the work we do with long term clients as we support them to lead in change, succession and execution.

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.

Angola
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;

As a Leader you need to “Slay Dragons”

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.

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?

unnamed
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.

IMG_3527
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.

 

How to Get Good: Focus on What You Do

IMG_0861

I have recently spent a lot of time with our clients. In particular really listening to understand what they expect from us. We officially launched the Executive Leadership Programme.  This programme is already becoming a significant part of their business. In a little over six months we have 26 CEOs and five “Emerging Leadership development teams” on the programme.

Over the last week I spent a long time with my friend and meet with John Spence. I’ve worked with him  as he delivered workshops to my senior team, a large event at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch and within a number of CEO leadership forums.

Reinforced to me: you become like those you spend time with and what you focus on.  It’s not about what great ideas you have it’s about what you execute and actually do.

The secret to success is extreme focus & being excellent what you do.

Note to self: do more of that!

If You Can’t Lead Yourself Well You Sure as Hell Can’t Lead Anyone Else Well

The 5 Levels of Leadership
First Rule of Leading = Lead Yourself Well.

The Results Group Executive Leadership Programme: Level 1 – Self Leadership

It sounds pretty obvious when we think about it doesn’t it. If we suck at leading ourselves then chances are we will suck at leading others well.  I mean if we can’t get clear about what we want to achieve in our own life (work, personal & family) and actively develop the skills and knowledge to get there then how will we be able to influence others to follow us?

This requires us to take the time needed to be clear what this means personally & the reality is we are often better at helping others sort the chaos of their lives rather than getting clarity on our own.

Leadership requires any leader to role model behaviour 24/7, whether they know that consciously or not. The people we lead watch us closely, notice gaps between what we say and what we do & are constantly evaluating whether they should trust. Trust is the currency of leadership.

photo (1)

If we are leading ourselves well then we are committed in an ongoing way to the following;

  • Knowing & Living our own Values: We know what our personal values are and what is important and our behaviour reflects them. We are clear about what is right and wrong, how we want to live, who we want to associate with and it is reflected not only at work but in all areas of our life. Our values are connected to those of the team or organisation we lead. This means we need to have defined them.
  • Being Authentic in all we do: The gap between what we say and what we actually do will be tiny (a non event). People very quickly see when these are not aligned and it erodes trust. A leader is a role model 24/7. This doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes and learn from them (in fact admitting mistakes will build trust) but on the big stuff everything must be aligned & more often than not we have to get it right. People look at what we do & the actions we take very closely. In the ever changing Business and Technology environment, collaboration and authenticity are needed to enable teams to adapt. I love the quote “we become like the 5 people we spend most of our time with.” Choose carefully and be consistent in what we do.
  • Being Self Confident: Confidence builds trust especially in times of uncertainty. If we are leading ourself well we will know our strengths and weaknesses & will continually seek self improvement, new ideas, new tools and frameworks. Confidence comes from experience, knowledge and practice. To lead yourself well & others you need to consciously learn and practice the skills you need. Leaders who are confident in their own ability (not arrogant) are noticed by and inspire others. Confidence is at the heart of inspiration.
  • Remain Grounded: Staying true to our values, being humble and connected with who we are and where we have come from is important. This embraces all aspects of our life: friends, family, interests, beliefs, sport, hobbies. In fact all that makes us who we are at this point in time. Remembering and learning from all the hundreds of mistakes along the way & letting those we lead make there own mistakes will make us a better leader. To be authentic it is important to remain true to ourself & our life story. We are all on a different journey. Know, accept and love your own! Have a great network of mentors (people who want to see you succeed) and ask them constantly for help, feedback & advice.
  • Get Better at Being Self Aware: The best leaders are very self aware. We need to understand the impact we have on others & on groups we interact with. Some of this will be positive & some will be negative. Profiling can assist, 360 feedback, regular verbal feedback from our team, family, mentors & friends will help us to be more self aware. This in turn will help with the other points above. Self assessment, regular reflection around what we have learnt & how we could do better in the future are essential elements of better self awareness. When any leader is having a bad day it is important to ensure the whole team/organisation does not have a bad day. We need to constantly develop our skills to play to strengths & to overcome or negate weaknesses.

As leaders seek to consciously get better in their work role it always starts with a commitment to better “Self Leadership.” It is actually pretty arrogant to think we can successfully lead and influence others if we can’t lead ourself well in all aspects of our life. This of course does not mean that things always go well. We all have periods of our life when things can get out of balance. There is however plenty of research around that backs up the need to commit to self leadership, ongoing learning and being clear in what we stand for as a person before we can really develop as a high performance leader.

A wise person said to me once “It is all about balance and if any one area of your life gets out of balance it will have a big impact on your ability to lead and function at a high level.”

What do you do to develop your “Self Leadership” skills each day/week/year?

Team Mates

IMG_0615

Great team mates are the key to any culture and business. No one person is a team and no one person can manage the complexity of leading in modern business. Team and culture are the outcome of good leadership, clear communication and honest robust conversations. They are the result of a conscious decision to invest in people and to work together collaboratively.

Too often this critical aspect of business is left to chance and stagnates at a certain level. The reality of business today is that really the only significant point of difference and Company can have is it team culture. Everything else can be copied, reverse engineered or improved upon. Competitors can take individuals but they cannot take nor easily replicate your team culture. If you get the team culture right then client service and great products innovation will follow.