The Walton Group, Inc.

Advisors to senior management on matters of strategic importance.

 

We are seasoned executives who have successfully served CEO’s and corporate leadership teams in designing breakthrough strategies, dynamic organizations, and effective operating processes that accelerate profitable business growth.

On better time management...

Have you ever heard of the Ivy Lee method?

It's been around for many years, and well documented, but sadly, many today are not familiar with a principle that is perhaps more needed in our current age than any before.

What is the Ivy Lee Method? Simply put, it's a better way to make and manage a task list.

As background, Ivy Lee was a noted productivity expert in the early 1900's. Asked by Charles Schwab, CEO of Bethlehem Steel, for a method to improve productivity he offered a simple method.

At the end of each day, write down 6 things that MUST be done the next day in priority order. No more than 6. Then, when you arrive the next day, start with the first item and continue with it until it is complete. Then start item 2. And so forth. Whatever remains is added to the next days list.

That's it.

Ivy Lee simply asked that Schwab pay him whatever he felt the advice was worth. And pay he did, over $400k in today's dollars for the advice of a single meeting.

Why? Because it works.

It worked then and it works now.

Try it.

Of poor men and cheap things...

I heard an interesting thing today.

Someone said, "A poor man can never afford to own cheap things"

To be honest that sounds like exactly the opposite of what I would have thought, when we are poor we can ONLY afford cheap things.

But this quote was from someone who was an expert in managing money.

And it made me think.

Life is about value, not cost. While there are absolutes in our lives, dictated by the resources we have, if we become consumed by the need for cheap things we become blind to the idea that it is value that matters.

Value applies to US and our POSSESSIONS.

We have to be about creating value for others. The things we own MUST create value for us.

Otherwise what is our purpose? Or the purpose of our possessions.

How easy to forget.

QUESTION: What value are you creating? What is the value of the things you possess? How do you know when your view of these things is right and true?

The weird but important link between strategic planning and culture...

Peter Drucker once famously quoted that "culture eats strategy for lunch!" I could not agree more strongly. This clever comment actually points to a significant and important connection between strategy and culture that may not always be obvious.

On the surface Drucker seems to be implying that culture is more important that strategy. That gets the strategists up in arms. However, I think Drucker is alluding to the fact that misalignment between strategy and culture will end up with culture subjugating strategy.

Why is this point important?

When we plan for the future in our business, envision new opportunities, dream about future outcomes, etc... we need to be aware of our human incentive systems. Those unspoken and often unconscious elements that drive the behavior of the people in our organizations. When we make plans that are not naturally supported by the reward systems in our business we are destined to see them come into conflict.

A classic example is when compensation is used to motivate a sales team to sell a new product. If the product is new, the sales cycle is different, or there is risk involved in promoting the product to existing clients it is almost axiomatic that the sales team will fail to effectively rise up to the economic incentive. Sales leaders are baffled. After all, aren't salespeople reward motivated players?

The failure here is that the social pressure to NOT FAIL almost always trumps the value of economic rewards. We know this is true because we live in a world where people continuously and consistently fail to take necessary actions to succeed, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. We don't make cold calls even though cold calls lead to opportunity. Rather, we avoid the pain of rejection and rationalize our behavior.

This misalignment of incentives and culture will crush the best plans on paper.

Want to succeed where others fail? Figure out what really, deeply, and emotionally drives your team. And then setup your processes and plans to take advantage of that natural wiring. It isn't easy to do, but when it's done, it's magic.

I won't eat a banana from a gas station...

A few days ago I was filling up the car at a gas station on the interstate. Feeling a bit hungry I went into the store to grab a snack. Nothing was appealing to me and desiring to eat healthy I spied some bananas for sale. Perfect!

But, I couldn’t do it.

While the banana is a sealed item in it’s own skin, and is probably sourced from the same place that my local grocery gets bananas, I could not bring myself to eat a banana from a  gas station.

Why? Because the place was filthy…

Now, bear in mind, the banana was unpeeled, what was inside was as pristine as any banana and unaffected by it’s environment.

Yet, the idea was unbearable for me. I just could not separate the condition of the store from the quality of the item. It was not a rationale thought, but it was real.

The same is true for any business. The main product may be fine but people will judge you, overtly and directly as well as subtly and unconsciously, for things that should not matter but they do. Make sure you get them right.

On motivation...

I am a highly motivated person. Perhaps excessively so. I LIKE other, highly motivated, people.

You can see where this is going...

I struggle when dealing with people who don't possess some level of drive and motivation in life. And this is where I get in trouble...

You see, I can cajole, coerce, direct, and beg. I might get some behavioral response, but I won't get motivation. In fact, that's almost certainly what I will NOT get. Instead, I will get resistance, resentment, or even worse, indifference.

That's the funny thing. You cannot transfer motivation. You can only tap into and provide energy to motivation that is already there.

And yet, it is the natural instinct of energetic, intense, motivated people to try transferring what they have to others.

Better?

Try getting into the heart of others to see the motivation that is most certainly buried there. Usually it is just buried under years of fear, doubt, criticism, and failure. It is almost certainly there.

Your job? Find it. Fuel it. Resurrect it.

Featured on Leadercast.com

I recently had the great pleasure of being a featured communicator on Leadercast.com. Leadercast is a national leadership forum featuring top communicators and influencers from across the globe. Select the image below to visit and see my videos. You will have to register your email address. There is no charge to register and it's worth it for the great library of content they share. Click image to visit leadercast.com.

Macro vs. Micro Optimization

Traffic systems, lights, routes, etc.. are all designed based on the idea that people will follow traffic rules. And, if we all followed those rules, I suspect traffic would rarely be a problem.

But we don't. At least not all of us. And if only a few of us break the rules the consequences for everyone else will be small. And the advantage to those few rule breakers is HUGE!

After all, if just a few decide to pursue what they want at the expense of others (in this case speeding, cutting in line, etc...) they can get a huge personal advantage.

But here is where things get interesting...

When everyone else realizes that they are being "gamed" by a few, they will begin to adopt the same behavior. At the point where enough people are all seeking self-optimization the entire system breaks down. Now we are driving too fast to match light patterns, we are crowding exits, we are cutting in line, and everyone loses!

The same thing happens in business.

I seek to optimize the way my department works.

Generally for good reasons. But not always.

I want to do the best job I can, add as much value, support my team, or perhaps avoid conflict, reduce work stress, etc...

But sometimes my best process makes someone else's job more difficult. I squander the advantage I gain for the group by breaking another part of the process. Micro-optimization!

This happens when finance imposes extra process for expense reimbursement to simplify their data entry process. When sales uses extra discounts to win business with less effort. Whenever the answer to the question is, "that's policy!"

Better is macro-optimization.

Macro-optimization is when we subordinate what we want for ourselves as individuals to gain something better for ourselves as a whole.

But to do that, we need to get really good at seeing the world from others points of view. And generally we are not very good at doing that.

Challenge: Try intentionally seeing the world through the eyes of someone you work closely with in business. Ask yourself, "What part of their job could I make easier and more effective by changing how I work?"

Then do it.

Sweet, glorious boredom!

When is the last time you were bored? I mean REALLY bored. Like, stuck for the day with nothing to occupy your interest? I'm not talking about the little moments that come when we are in a boring meeting, waiting at the doctors office, or stuck in traffic. I'm referring to the "I have an entire afternoon and nothing to do with it and no options to fill my time" kind of boredom?

Can't remember? Neither can I...

What I can remember is that when I was a kid, this was a common occurrence. Not daily, but often enough. Days spent quite literally staring at the walls, re-reading old books, desperate to find a way to connect with friends.

I hated those days!

Yet, because of those days I started playing the guitar (poorly), built a tree fort (better), and taught myself how to sail a boat. I also learned how to use my dads tools (dangerous), figured out to climb on the roof without a ladder (useless AND dangerous), perfected my tennis serve (still decent), learned to juggle a soccer ball (now long lost), and spent a lot of time just dreaming.

I never wanted to be bored, but boredom was a catalyst for a lot creative energy.

I'm no luddite and embrace technology with the best of them. But sometimes I miss the boredom moments. The friendships they created. The crazy adventures they started. And the out of the box thinking those moments led to.

I'm almost never bored now. It's no longer 3 channels of programming but 300. I have books and internet articles and blogs and email to fill my time and my mind. I'm just starting to wonder what I might do if I really got bored again?

Nice versus Opinionated

It's great to be nice. Nice to customers, prospects, and partners. We want them to like us and we want to treat them well. It's also useless.

Nice doesn't change anything. It's hard to value. It's boring and bland.

Opinionated isn't always nice. It's challenging. It decides that something is wrong with the current system. It leads to change.

Opinionated isn't rude, but it isn't easy. You cannot get around it.

When you get busy doing what you do, be opinionated. Form an opinion. Defend that opinion. Challenge the status quo.

And while you are doing all that? Be nice about it... It won't hurt.

Things vs. People

I heard a man speak last week who said something I found quite profound. He was referencing the number of hearing impaired people in the world and he commented, "blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people." Wow. That just floored me. I went on to learn that the most commonly spoken language in America is English. The second is Spanish. No surprise with either of those.

The third most common language in the United States? American Sign Language!

Deaf people are all around us. We walk by them every day, a silent population separated from us in a most profound way.

Today I ran across the most touching ad for Samsung, the electronics company. I love the way they are reaching out to a group that has become largely forgotten to many of us. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrvaSqN76h4

Well done Samsung!

What you really mean...

I don't have time. I don't have enough money.

I don't know how.

All good excuses not to do something.

But rather than just accept those statements let's understand what we really mean. What we really mean is...

I have other things I prefer to do with my time, my money, my energy. Usually those are important and legitimate things. We must care for family. Meet work obligations. Focus on our basic needs.

But not always!

We fall into the trap of believing the excuse rather than acknowledging the truth. Everyone has the same amount of time, some just spend it better.

Q: Where do you need to spend your time, energy, money, or effort differently?

How the Zero Inbox Concept Changed My Life

Email has become the most ubiquitous and regularly used single application in business today. Even with the addition of texting, social media, and everything else, when people need to get stuff done they use email.

And it sucks...

Not email itself, but the behavioral consequences of email have created a lot of unintended consequences that are changing the way we think in some pretty insidious ways.

For example, when I first started in business if I needed to talk to a co-worker to make a decision I would call them or go find them in person. If I could not find them the decision had to wait. In a way you could say it sat in my work queue. And work was truly two-way.

With the advent of email I was suddenly able to delegate that work to my co-worker via an email communication. Suddenly my queue was empty and the work was in his or her queue. Awesome for me.

Until everyone else started doing it.

Suddenly my email Inbox was full of work. And I was not the person deciding it should be there. In fact, anyone with my email address was suddenly able to delegate work to me. At any time. From anywhere.

Even if it was not my responsibility, I still had to act in good faith and respond, if for no other reason than to tell them I could not help them.

At this point I came to the realization that a live conversation allowed you to quickly communicate a lot of detail and subtext. Something that email COULD NOT DO without a lot of extra work. Confusion in these verbal exchanges was addressed immediately. Context was established naturally. It was a single event with multiple exchanges.

Now, I have multiple events, with multiple exchanges, often sending multiple emails just to deal with a single issue.

I had learned to live with anywhere from 25 - 150 emails in my Inbox at any time. And I was doing better than most of the folks I know. Consider the screen shot from a friends iPhone below:

IMG_5352

Because this was everyone's experience I didn't really consider it a problem. It was simply the new normal. The zeitgeist of the technical age.

But it does not have to be.

I recently started reading more and more about the idea of maintaining a zero inbox. Learning a discipline that would allow you to manage your email queue to zero emails on a regular basis.

At first I ignored this because I assumed that this was not something that was possible for me. Perhaps these people were not as busy as me, did not get as many emails, or were less responsive. But, over time, I began to consider trying it.

I took the basic concept and added my own set of rules that I have outlined below.

You only need a few folders in your email:

  • Inbox - Where everything comes in. Things that land here are here to be acted upon. NOT kept as a work queue. I can clear a large number of items from the Inbox in just a few minutes.
  • Sent - I regularly, a couple times a day, clear my sent items. If I need to keep something it gets dropped in the Archive.
  • Archive - This is NOT the Trash. This is a simple and searchable place for CYA. Email is instantly and quickly searchable regardless of the client or system used. Folders are useless. Kill them.
  • Hold for Reference - This is for the active work queue. Stuff here needs to be saved for a response.
  • Trash - I clear the Trash regularly. Multiple times a day. I just use a Keyboard shortcut.

The system is simple.

  1. Email is curated quickly
  2. IF IT CONSTITUTES A TASK I create one in my task management system. I use ANGL Works (www.anglworks.com). Then, I delete it OR put it in the Hold for Reference folder if I will need to use it for a response. In the interests of full disclosure I have an ownership interest in ANGL. I think it is the best, but any task manager can work.
  3. If it is just informational it goes in the Archive.
  4. If I cannot be harmed by losing it, I delete it. This is the hardest action to take. Learn to get good at it. In 6 months I have not had a single instance where I needed an email for reference and could not find it. I delete at least 80% of all emails received.
  5. If I complete a task that uses an email in my Hold for Reference folder I delete the email upon completion.

That's all there is to it.

Now the amazing part. My workload has decreased. Not a little bit, but by a significant amount. I touch the majority of my emails ONLY ONCE. I have little mental stress when I open email because it is almost always empty or has just a few emails waiting to be worked.

I challenge you to try it. I have shared with multiple executives that are coaching clients, and they all say the same thing. They feel free. They feel liberated. They find that the mental load of work goes down. The begin to work on the things that create value and NOT the busy work that others delegate to them. They spend less time on mail and miss fewer things.

Give it a try and let me know what YOU think!

Doing vs. Being

You have a bias for action. That doesn't make you flawed, it makes you human. But, it is for this reason that you will naturally value accomplishment over character, result over method, and reward over sacrifice. It's not you, it's the world you live in.

No one consciously makes that choice. In fact, if asked most people would state that they value character over any result.

We just don't see it demonstrated very much...

It's not a lack of desire, it's a lack of focus. Learning to BE involves a conscious choice to focus on the nature of our character and let that lead to results.

When you focus on BEING first, doing happens naturally. When you focus on DOING you end up BEING something by accident and not intent.

As you think about the new year starting, who do you want to pursue BEING this year?

Undone is useless...

Almost 20 years ago I had an idea. A good idea, at least I thought. Probably not as good an idea in reality.

But, I was convinced.

In Seattle on business I got tired of being rained on. More specifically, I got tired of getting wet from the umbrella getting in an out of the car. And then I had an inspiration.

If you could just open the umbrella from the opposite direction, the wet part would close into the middle. Simple.

I drew plans. Contacted some engineers for design help. Looked into manufacturing. Sized the market opportunity.

AND DID NOTHING...

I got busy. Or bored. Or distracted.

Then, a few weeks ago I saw the picture above.

Someone did the one thing that I could not seem to do, finish.

Undone is useless.

What do you need to do today so you don't miss the opportunity to create?

The Self Awareness Problem

How do you rate yourself at self-awareness? Not, "what score do you give yourself". I'm asking, what mechanism or approach do you use to evaluate your own capacity for self-awareness?

When I ask people to score themselves in regard to their own self-awareness on a scale of 1-10 I almost always get a 7 or an 8.

Yet, when I use detailed assessments to provide an outside view to clients there is almost always a powerful "aha" moment. The "I had no idea I was like that" moment.

Clearly we are not as good at this as we think.

Look at it this way, who do you trust implicitly and completely? My bet is it's someone you know extremely well. Well enough that you are aware of their unique strengths and faults. And they are aware of yours.

Perhaps real self-awareness only comes from others.

Ironic, isn't it?

Q: Who has permission to speak completely truth in your life? What are they telling you?

Really winning...

I love college football. And like most people, I like to see my team win. These days it's increasingly hard to like the way that people win. Winning teams are constantly coming under criticism for turning a blind eye to moral failures by their players and illegal payments by alumni. Criminal acts by star athletes have been in the news constantly.

But I recently learned about one team that seems to be winning the right way.

At Clemson University there is a young man enrolled by the name of David. I first became aware of David when he worked at a local grocery store in my neighborhood. He was hardworking, attentive, and possessed an infectious enthusiasm that made him instantly likable.

Last year David graduated from high school and unlike many who share David's condition, Down's Syndrome, enrolled in college at Clemson University. Clemson has a program for students like David where he will earn his degree and while doing so he serves as a trainer and helper for the Clemson Tiger football team. (The picture is David cheering his team.)

I'm sure there are easier ways to find trainers and helpers for the team. I'm sure there are less complicated ways to run a college program.

I don't think Clemson University cares about the easy way. I think they care about the right way.

Maybe that is what is missing in our world.

A little more caring about the right thing.

Doing the hard thing.

Making a difference.

Not because you have to, but because that is who you are.

Clemson was not expected to have a great team this year. Yet, they are currently ranked #8 in the country and undefeated at 5-0.

Somehow I don't think that's an accident.

Life by Checklist

We live in a checklist world.

Three Easy Steps to Lose Weight.
The 5 Things You Must Do to Improve Your Marriage!
The Steps to Dealing with a Difficult Boss

 

On the surface this makes sense. After all, we are busy people and providing us with concise and clear direction we can practice and experience effective behavior and wise thinking to get better results.

There is only one small problem. Where am I supposed to keep all of those checklists?

It's great when I come across something at a time where I really need it. I can take action and see a result. Ideally, as a consequence it will lead to a permanent shift in my behavior. Except when it doesn't...

There are other times when interesting information comes our way and doesn't intersect with a pressing need. We read it, value it, and promptly forget it.

Permanent and sustainable change happens when we have reason to rethink what we fundamentally believe about something in our lives. When that happens, the natural result is a shift in behavior that doesn't NEED a checklist. It becomes an innate response.

So...

What is one significant change in your beliefs that has had a powerful impact on your behavior?

What areas of your life are you attempting to live by checklist, and getting frustrated by the effort?

Cattle Drive Management

Have you ever watched footage of a good old fashioned cattle drive? It's a pretty simple process on the surface.

Step 1 - Get a horse.
Step 2 - Get some cattle.
Step 3 - Run around the cattle with the horse until they start going in the direction you wish.
Step 4 - When some of the cattle start moving in the wrong direction ride out and chase them back in.

 

I know a lot of businesses that run like a cattle drive. It doesn't work so well. In the business context it looks something like this:

Step 1 - Become a leader.
Step 2 - Attract some followers.
Step 3 - Run around and make noise until people start moving.
Step 4 - Yell at the people who aren't going in the right direction.

 

Let's make it simple:

  • Just because you have the horse (read: leadership role) doesn't make you the leader. The cattle don't have to listen and neither do your followers.
  • Just because you have cattle doesn't mean they are going to follow. Cattle are not that smart. People are. People will seek the option that best preserves their own interests.
  • Getting people moving can happen without ever establishing a clear destination. The cattle don't need one. People do. The hardest and most important thing you do as a leader is cast, clarify, and steward the future vision of the organization.
  • If people are not following your direction and getting off the wagon trail it is ALWAYS one of two things. They either don't know the vision OR they don't agree with the vision. ALWAYS.

I have worked with an incredible number of organizations that were either dysfunctional or exceptional. When they work, the vision is clear and embraced. When they don't work, the vision is muddy or has been rejected.

You can always try lassoing the uncooperative and force compliance. It's works well with cattle. Not so well with leaders.

Ice cream and revenue growth

If you ate ice cream every night you would suffer the consequences. Weight gain being principle among them. Ergo, if you want to lose weight, skipping the ice cream is a good idea.

If you eat the ice cream and are unable to lose weight you would know who to blame.

It's simple cause and effect.

If your are trying to grow your top line revenue the same principle applies. Most organizations, either directly or implicitly, try to apply more of the same effort to get more revenue.

That might work.

A little.

Companies that achieve breakthrough growth know getting a result you haven't gotten in the past will require doing things you have never done.

Stop putting more effort into the things that aren't producing the results you desire. Find the thing you aren't doing that will change the game.

It's usually a whole lot harder than what you are doing today. That's why it's so valuable. And why it produces a different result.

Q: What do you continue to do that fails to produce results you desire? Why?

Keeping a long and short view

It's hard to hold two opposing thoughts in your head at one time. In fact, most research suggests it is impossible. We cannot like and dislike something. We cannot be pleased and unhappy. And, evidently, we cannot think about the short term and the long term at the same time. I know, that last point was unfair.

Unless you are the rare exception as a leader, you probably struggle to keep both the short term and long term fixated in your conscious for long. One tool that I have used for years with senior leaders is to simply remember the following principle:

Short terms results thrive on accountability.

Long term results thrive on vision.

You must start with vision. I don't mean change the world vision, just a clear articulation of where you intend to the arrive in the long term.

Say it.

Repeat it.

Mean it.

Support it.

Then, figure out the little baby steps that get you there. Assign every step to someone. Hold them accountable.

Sounds pretty vanilla, doesn't it?

The magic isn't in the method, it's in the execution.

For discussion:

Q: Do you regularly talk about your long term vision?

Q: What methods do you use to practice accountability with your team?

Copyright 2015 The Walton Group, Inc.

(404) 405-2825