A New Model of Board Effectiveness

A New Model of Board Effectiveness

Lencioni’s “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” provides a useful framework for examining Board effectiveness and how to drive better decisions, commitment and accountability to a single, unifying goal. More importantly, it creates an environment in which interpersonal conflict, bias and self interest can be dealt with constructively, for the good of the organisation.

Transformation: The Board's Missing Agenda Item

Transformation: The Board's Missing Agenda Item

Disruptive consumer and competitive trends are not new and yet many fail to respond. I wonder then, how active this discussion is in the Boardroom?  In my view there is a clear imperative to “re-tool” our organisations for the business models of the future. It is fundamental to the sustainability of our organisations and to our duty as Directors.

Does Your Organisation Need Liberation?

Does Your Organisation Need Liberation?

The focus of late has been on digital transformation but the imperative of organisational transformation is just as real.  Trends such as corporate liberation are just the tip of the iceberg. Now is the time to experiment and invest, understanding the needs & trends of the future employee ecosystem before they are thrust upon us. 

Purpose Led Leadership

Purpose Led Leadership

Why is it that we invest so much of our leadership capability at work but leave it at the office at the end of the day?  Why do we not bring the best of ourselves back into our home and our community? Are they not more enduring and more important than any role we play at the office? And what of personal leadership? Why do we not apply these same capabilities to ourselves and our own journey through life? Do we not need to have our own house in order to be at our best?

Why you Need to Plan for Luck

For all of our skill at planning and driving success, Lady Luck wields the power to put the wind in your sails or dash your hopes against the rocks.

In business school, we don’t talk about luck but the reality is, it’s inevitable.  Surprisingly, Collins and Hansen have come up with an approach to harnesses it.

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
— William Shakespeare

How do you plan for luck?

It sounds like an oxymoron – how can you plan for luck? But in “Great by Choice”, Collins & Hansen’s 9 year research project, they’ve found that what drove great performance was not being in the right place at the right time, but what you did with those events that counted.  They found that your ability to generate a return on luck is one of the key factors that distinguishes the great from the average.

The concept is this:  everyone has their share of luck over time, good and bad. Most people accept these events as outside their control and roll with the punches. They might acknowledge it, but rarely do anything specific in response to it. 

The opportunity is not to take a passive role when luck arrives but rather to recognise the situation and ask “how can I amplify or make the most of this?” – even if it’s bad luck

Driving ROL (return on luck)

Reflecting on this concept, I decided to try it out on myself and asked “what luck events are present in my life right now”?  I came up with the following:

•            Good Luck:  I landed a role working with a prestigious consulting firm.

•            Bad Luck:  My landlord told us they were selling the property we loved and that we had to move.

I then asked “how could I capitalise on these events to really make the most of them?” I came up with the following:

•            New role = opportunity for new networks, knowledge and income

•            Having to move house = opportunity to purchase a new home - an opportunity to invest & add to our portfolio.

I hear you say “well of course, that’s not revolutionary” but it’s the next step that delivers the return. 

Like most people, I could have said “phew, that was lucky” and then mentally moved on.  Instead, I took it a step further and asked “what do I need to do to capitalise on this luck?”  So I put the following in place to maximise my ROL:

  1. I contacted the bank and started looking for a property which met both our housing needs AND represented a good future investment.
  2. I studiously connected with and looked for opportunities to add value to my new network of clients & partners, nurturing this long term asset.  I’ve scheduled time in my diary to invest 30min in this each day.
  3. I’ve put aside a weekly time slot to reflect on the things I’ve learnt and incorporate them into my own body of knowledge (another long term asset).  In these sessions I expand and refine my models and IP.

Before learning about “return on luck”, I probably would have taken these luck events at face value and been happy to accept the cards dealt to me.  Now, I have a plan in place to make the most of them, giving life and fortune a little boost in the right direction.

Develop a Strategy for ROL

Here’s a Return on Luck exercise for you to try:  List the luck events going on for you right now (good and bad).  Ask yourself the following (you might have to distance yourself from them a little to get an independent perspective):

  1. How could I make the most of these?
  2. What opportunities do they present?”
  3. What would it take to turn a bad luck event into a positive outcome?
  4. Plan a set of actions you can take to make the most of these opportunities
  5. Hold yourself accountable for execution.  Put time aside in the diary.  Add them to your priority list – whatever works for you.

The biggest lesson here is that luck happens to everyone, in both business and our personal lives.  It’s not the absence or presence of luck that counts, it doesn't even matter whether it’s good luck or bad.  The decisions you make and what you do as a result will determine your fate.

Image Credit:  mentalfloss.com

10 Point Recipe for Success

Leading in a volatile environment we think being fast, bold and innovative is what drives success.  This week I’ve been reading "Great by Choice" (Jim Collins & Morton Hansen) and interestingly, the evidence suggests otherwise. 

Instead of innovation & agility, the research shows that a consistent and methodical application of a proven recipe is what drives success – not fast paced innovation & entrepreneurship.

The only way to remain great is to keep on applying the fundamental principles that made you great.
— Jim Collins

A dose of SMaC

Collins & Hansen encourage us to define and implement a SMaC recipe - a specific, methodical and consistent set of ingredients, practices or principles.  They don't have to be bold, they don't have to be sexy.  In fact, when doing this exercise myself, I found that my 10 point recipe was actually quite 'pedestrian'. There were no super human efforts required, no super powers or clairvoyance.  Just a set of activities which come quite naturally (to me at least).  It gave me a greater sense of certainty and a simple framework for how I plan to move ahead.

What's your recipe for success?

My challenge to you this week is to spend 15min on defining your own SMaC recipe.  Think about what has driven your success to date and list the 10 things you attribute that to. 

  • Are you still doing them now? 
  • Have you embedded them into your organisation? 
  • Do your team and partners know and understand the recipe?
  • Do you have a rhythm for their implementation on a day to day basis?

As someone who loves entrepreneurship and innovation, repeating the same things day in day out can seem a little mundane...but then again it's sometimes nice to have a little more predictability in my day too.  The challenge is to hold myself accountable and keep chipping away at the small things that make a big difference.

To Make More Money, Find a Way to Serve More People

There’s a pervasive thought that’s crept into our business psyche over the years and it’s all about ‘the deal’.  We’ve become obsessed with thinking up ways to make money, earn a passive income, clip the ticket… but tell me, where is the discussion about creating value?  Why isn’t this on the management agenda or taught in our business schools?

Instead of focusing on how to increase prices, engineer the market or create the next useless app, let’s instead talk about the problems we can fix and the people we can serve.

Earn your success based on service to others, not at the expense of others.
— H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Be a Go-Giver instead of a Go Getter

I remember having this exact conversation with a fellow manager.  She asked “imagine what we could accomplish if we focused all of this intellectual horsepower towards something important?”  It’s a thought provoking idea…

One of my favourite books is “The Go Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann.  In this book, the central premise is that if you want to earn more money, find a way to serve more people.  And let’s face it, there are a lot of problems out there to fix and a lot of people we could serve.

Changing the Management Agenda

But how do we change the conversation?  Here are a few ideas which I think would get the ball rolling:

  1. Focus on the problem instead of the product: Understanding the true problem you’re solving is surprisingly difficult. The tendency is to define it too narrowly and in only rational terms.  The reality is that most problems you’re solving are a symptom of a bigger and deeper problem.  Solve this and you’ll deliver more value and have the opportunity to exchange more value.
  2. Be clear about who you’re solving it for:  We don’t like to say “no” to business.  The temptation is to say “we service all markets”.  But it’s important to know who has the problem you’re addressing.  Once you know who they are, a lot of other things become clearer too.  You know where to find these people, how to reach them and how to speak to them in a clearer and more compelling way.
  3. Build a strategy to serve, not sell:  Business strategies are always about how to make more money.  Try flipping the conversation and instead come up with a strategy designed to reach and serve more people.  Ask yourself “if we serve and solve this problem for 50 people today, how can we help the next 500?”
  4. Change the management conversation: Are you spending all your time analysing the P&L or do your management meetings focus on value creation and delivery?  Develop metrics that allow you to track the value you’re delivering and the people you’re serving, as well as the money you’re making.

Here’s an example of how I define these things for myself:

The problems I solve are about direction:  I help people define where to go, how to get there and what to do first.  

A lot of people have these problems in life and in business but I’m not a life coach.  The people I serve are entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders, but even that’s too broad. More specifically, these problems arise when people are just starting something new, changing course or have hit a plateau.  The people I serve then, are those saying to themselves “I need a plan, but I can’t see a way forward right now”. 

At a deeper level, the problem isn’t just about defining a path forward.  It’s solving a more fundamental and personal set of concerns:

  • “This needs to work, there’s a lot riding on this.”
  • “It’s my job, my responsibility – I have to fix this.”
  • “It’s all on my shoulders – everyone is looking to me for an answer.”

I find in these situations, creating hope for the future, a plan to get there and concrete actions to get started, is not only good for the business but relieves a lot of anxiety for the person responsible.  So at one level, I help people with business plans but at a deeper level, I’m helping people regain confidence in themselves and their ability as leaders and entrepreneurs.

Chase the objective, not the outcome

It can be a difficult shift to get your head around.  Particularly if like most, you’ve been brought up on the ‘Gordon Gekko’ school of business.  But we need to stop idolising these soulless models of business and so called “captains of industry”.  This is not to say that profit isn’t important – it is, but it should be the outcome, not the objective.

If you’re delivering genuine value then customers will find you, love you and share you with their friends.  You’ll create a community rather than a customer base and profit will be the natural result of the exchange.

I’m not sure why we exist on this earth, but I’m pretty sure it’s not about making a buck for its own sake.  The world existed a long time before the stock market and I believe that life is about more than creating an uptick on a stock chart.

A Business Plan Isn’t About the Document

Most organisations I’ve worked in and worked with, begrudge business planning.  Not because they don’t know how, but because it didn’t add a lot of value last time they did it.

But why doesn’t it add value?  The problem lies in the lack of direction it contains and how it’s used once it’s created.

The value of a map comes from the direction you take from it
— Matthew Dunstan

Instead of a document, we need a roadmap.  Something that guides the evolution of the business, gives us concrete milestones and acts as a filter for every day decisions and actions.

To cross an ocean, you need waypoints

When we crossed the Atlantic, we didn’t just point the boat east and start sailing.  We planned a route with a number of major waypoints along the way. Even when circumstances would force us off course, the overall plan still held true.  Our goal was clear.  Our route, chosen for all the right reasons, was still valid. Our waypoints still gave us a short term focus, helping us break the endeavour down into manageable pieces.

The best business plan is one you can draw

I believe business plans need this same approach.  A destination, a broad plan describing how you’re going to get there and a series of waypoints to guide you day to day.  You can document this in a number of ways, but my favourite is to show it in a Gantt chart or flow chart format.  It allows you to capture the direction, strategy and sequence on a single page that is easy to communicate and review.

[we’re running a Business Planning Masterclass in July to help leaders and entrepreneurs craft better business plans]

Best use of a business plan

Of course crafting the plan is just the start.  Nothing happens without execution and this is the second challenge for business plans and those responsible for them.  

Instead of regarding it as a job done, the business plan should drive the agenda of your management meetings.  To illustrate, here’s a sample of a standing management meeting agenda I use with clients.  We start every management meeting with these 3 items:

  1. Touch base with the overall plan

    • Where we’re headed & why we care (vision, mission, goals)

    • Our plan to get there (strategy, roadmap, & immediate milestones)

  2. Progress against the immediate milestone

    • Report on action items from each stakeholder

  3. New opportunities or threats to the business.

    • Validate against the plan

The shiny-ball filter

Starting the meeting ‘with the end in mind’ (Covey), is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and most importantly, align the actions and initiatives of the team to your plan for the business.  It helps keep the focus at a strategic level and acts as a useful filter against which you can review actions, ideas and opportunities:

  • If they contribute to or accelerate the plan, they’re in.
  • If they relate to a milestone further down the track, they’re parked.
  • If they’re not aligned to the plan, they’re out.

[Further reading: Entrepreneur’s Shiny Ball Syndrome]

With a clear direction and roadmap a business plan can act as a valuable tool guiding the day to day operations of the business.  So dust it off, reduce it to a flow chart and get it onto the management meeting agenda. 

Strategic oversight and consistent implementation will focus your resources and drive your business faster than anything else.

[Rising Tide Ventures will be holding a series of Business Planning Masterclasses during July.  You can find out more or register here]

Square Your Shoulders, Take a Breath

We all go through periods when each day is a tough one.  At times like this, it’s easy to question our resolve, give up on our dreams and retreat to what is safe and known.

It’s at these times you need to take a breath, square your shoulders and just put one foot in front of the other.

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
— Harriet Beecher Stowe

As entrepreneurs and leaders we all face times like this.  Times when it would be easier to opt for a simpler life – any many do every day.  The business exit rate in Australia stands at 48% - there are a lot of broken dreams wrecked on the reef of entrepreneurship. 

I’ve known many times like this myself.  Times in my career when I’ve been up against the wall.  Times at sea, when it was tough, exhausting and heart breaking. Times as an entrepreneur when I didn’t know how I was going to pay the rent next month. 

But to accomplish extraordinary things you have to, by definition, be capable of extra ordinary (beyond ordinary) efforts.  It takes resilience, fortitude and commitment.

Touching the Void

A great example of this is the story of New Zealand mountaineer Joe Simpson who fell 150 feet into a crevasse and broke his leg.  Badly injured, lost without food or water and unable to climb out, it would have been easy to give up. Instead, he lowered himself deeper into the crevasse, found another way out and then spent 3 days dragging his broken body 5 miles until he reached base camp.

Thankfully, few of the challenges we face are so extreme but the lesson still holds.  When you find yourself in a tough place, the only way out is to pick yourself up and put one foot in front of the other until you come out the other side.

Finding a way forward

When in places like this, here are a couple of things I’ve found that help:

  • Expect (and accept) the setbacks.  Knowing this is a normal state – that success requires renewal and growth, helps me keep things in perspective.
  • Visualise.  I take a deep breath, see my shoulders lifting and squaring up.  My back and torso lift and strengthen.  Mentally, I lean forward into the problem and then resolve to just put one foot in front of the other.
  • Know your purpose.  Knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing each day, why I’m getting out of bed, helps me see the bigger the picture.  It gives me energy and strengthens my resolve.
  • Faith that it will all work out.  I’ve been through a lot of adversity…and yet I’m still here and life is good.  Experience tells me that these times are temporary (and often necessary).  I know with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll be a better person when I reach the other side.

You Only Have 3 Options

At the end of the day, you only ever have three choices:

  1. Give up
  2. Stay in the dark places
  3. Walk yourself out

I’m not willing to stay in the dark. I’m not prepared to give up.  That only leaves one option.  To keep putting one foot in front of the other.  The sooner I start, the more consistently I do it, the sooner I come out on the other side.