I am lucky enough to guest lecture at the University of Canterbury at the School of Business and Law. Supporting Masters level and MBA students with access to real life business opportunities and thinking is something I am passionate about. In July I introduced my good friend John Spence (Find out more about Top 100 Business Thought Leader John Spence here) to UC to speak about “Leading in Constant Change”. Here is his presentation.
I hate that word “benchmarking” and all it stands for around industry or competitor norms. Sure it is head and shoulders above the term “best practice” which reeks of theory & academic know how. It is very useful to know what others do, what industry norms are & what the theory is but too often this is what leaders and their businesses settle for. Average. Mediocre. Knowing they are on track because they deliver the same or slightly better than competitors or other leading brands.
I was recently in an interview situation where I was continually asked how this or that could be better benchmarked.
“How could that be better benchmarked?” I was asked many times. In the end I had to say we are just not in the game of better benchmarking. “To be honest we are in the game of excellence and all of our clients are generally performing when they become clients & they are seeking to get even better. We measure their financial performance, their growth, their staff engagement and their client loyalty and we help them build fantastic metrics that predict outcomes & we know their industry norms but we are not a company that develops and focuses on benchmarks, we help them to achieve much more.”
I have previously written about the “Pivot” or consciously changing and executing a strategy to stay ahead of the crowd before they catch up. This is hard to do and takes very strong and focused leaders who actively disrupt the “business as usual thinking” of the business in a positive way to get different and better outcomes.
In professional sport the All Blacks are a living example of this. The culmination of ongoing succession planning, investing in the future (what could be), strong leadership, a culture of humility incremental excellence and disciplined execution on the field has allowed them not only absorb the loss of many experienced players, but to take things to a whole new level. To go beyond past performances and to deliver better outcomes in different ways and in doing so staying ahead of their competitors.
I am lucky enough to work with many high performance Chief Executives and their teams and they all have two things in common;
“Restlessness” : A hunger and passion for continually getting better and better as leaders, at execution, at trying and iterating new ways of doing things, and
“Grit”: The toughness to carry on, to push past the comfort of status quo and to lead change with certainty to lead the way.
None of them have ever been happy to settle and accept that what is being currently done will ensure success in the future. Some actively start from a position that the “status quo” is broken (even when benchmarking shows they currently significantly out perform their competitors and industry) and challenge the senior leaders to lift it another level.
This summary shows what our clients have collectively achieved over the last financial year and whilst does offer several benchmarks, the real success story is in their ability to execute their Strategic plan. To be nimble, disciplined and to stay far ahead of their opposition.
Much of my working life has been spent as an Army Officer, initially as a regular and later in the Reserves. I have found that the skills I learned and applied leading soldiers are very relevant and transferable for leading teams and driving business execution; especially in this increasingly dynamic and ever changing marketplace.
As you can imagine, the challenge of leading men and women who are working in dangerous roles in challenging environments requires a high level of trust, empathy and teamwork.
The Army places great emphasis on leadership skills and invests heavily in leadership training and development at all levels. Training courses to enhance leadership skills continue right through to those at the very highest ranks of the Army.
Here are six key things that the Army teaches their leaders in order to “fight to win”:
1. Remain calm under fire.
That’s not to say that fear is not present, in fact it is. However, to “keep calm and carry on” regardless of the situation is something you can learn. It is the golden rule for keeping your head and working through a logical process in order to respond to a hostile or changing situation. Being calm and thinking clearly are essential requirements to evaluate what is happening and to make effective decisions.
2. Any plan is better than no plan.
Without a plan you cannot inspire others to follow you. Having a plan is the starting point for successful execution. Even if the plan is not the right one, making a decision and creating a plan will save lives and generate positive activity. A good team will back itself to quickly adjust a plan so that it is effective.
3. No plan survives the start line.
The Army recognizes that in every situation there is another party that can influence the situation. Not just the enemy, but terrain, equipment, weather, civilian populations, and even animals can influence a plan. All the various scenarios that might happen should be considered and planned for so that the plan can be quickly adjusted if required. The fact a team has planned and engaged together allows it to quickly iterate the plan as needed.
4. Maintain momentum.
In any situation there needs to be swift action, and momentum needs to be maintained to ensure successful execution. Slowing or stopping any operation means it is difficult to get going again. It reminds me of the saying “When going through hell….keep going!”
5. Teamwork is a defining factor.
A group working together and supporting each other to achieve the defined goal will greatly lift the chance of success. Training together, working together, getting to know one another, and building trust all help to build teamwork. Good teams keep going when the going gets tough, and they overcome blockages in order to win.
6. Time is seldom wasted in planning or recon.
Taking the time as a leadership team to plan ahead for future operations, alternative scenarios, routes to be taken, areas of interest, and likely courses of action is seldom wasted. Planning and reconnaissance actually saves time, saves resources, and in many cases, people’s lives.
There are many situations in business where these skills can be applied. Strategic thinking, strategic planning, working together to build teamwork and trust, as well as incorporating a planning cadence that allows a business to quickly alter a plan and then change direction as required – are things a smart business leader does.
Influencing and inspiring people gets stuff done. That’s called “business execution” and by applying these six lessons from the Army you too can inspire your team to “fight to win.”
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.
A fantastic video from David Marquet challenging us to move from a Leader-Follower to a Leader-Leader style of Leadership. This is what we learnt as Army Officers and this video along with David’s book called “Turn The Ship Around” is a great insight into how it can be applied in Business Culture today. It increases the pace of Execution and it unblocks thinking by creating an environment of constant learning.
As Tom Peters says “Leaders don’t create followers, Leaders create more Leaders” and with the pace of change we face in the immediate future and the changing workforce a collaborative style is needed. Gone are the days of Leaders being the smartest on the team having to know all the answers. How do you lead in constant change? In situations you or your team have not faced before? When change is so fast that systems and processes simply don’t keep up? Issue Intent, shape thinking, engage & empower others and try new things.
Sounds simple but its not. Leading other clever people is one of the ultimate challenges we face. How much time are you spending intentionally learning how to be better professional leader?
Find out more about Executive Leadership Coaching.
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.
I along with others in my team have been lucky enough to work with and support one of New Zealand’s best known and loved companies, Cookietime Ltd. You can link (here) to read a recent case study of that journey.
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.
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.
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?