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.

Filtering by Category: Innovation

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.

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.


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.

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.

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:



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 Todoist. Then, I delete it OR put it in the Hold for Reference folder if I will need to use it for a response.

  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!


I was recently exposed to a new approach to managing this that I am convinced has powerful merit for those in whom a true Zero Inbox model may not work. For many, finding a way to manage your Inbox as a project management system in itself can be profound in it's impact. The only condition is you must be using the Google Gmail interface and Chrome as your browser.

Drag is a tool that may be that perfect middle-ground solution. Combining the best of Kanban thinking and the Trello project model of cards and categories, it restructures your Google Inbox into a true task management system. I am using now and finding tremendous value in it. I think you should consider it as well!

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.


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?

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.

When to rock the boat...

A few days ago I saw the following quote run through the Twitter stream:

"When you rock the boat you have no time to row and when you are rowing there isn't time to rock the boat."

When I first read that my reaction was, "So true!"

But then I thought more about it.

What if my job is to rock the boat?

Granted, it's important to define what that means. Certainly if you run an accounting firm, you don't need a lot of people rocking the boat. Your roles and the expectations of your customers are pretty well defined and clearly understood. But, what if I am in sales, or marketing, or engineering, or operations, or any of a hundred other roles that are expected to create new value for the company?

Do I want those people to fly a slot, fill a role, tow the line, or sit idly in the boat rowing the same way everyday? Or do I want them to constantly seek new ways to create value, serve customers, change the marketplace, and impact customers?

I think this is often a problem of perspective. If the boat is going in the wrong direction you would do everything in your power to steer it properly. You would rock it, row it, shift cargo, or throw something overboard if that's what it took. When the people in YOUR boat are concerned about the direction they will do the same. The issue is whether you want them to really challenge where you are going or just get on board.

I think the issue with wanting folks to "not rock the boat" is saying that you want people to follow your vision, and if they won't it's their fault.

It's never their fault.

It's your fault.

If the people won't follow the leader it is ALWAYS the leaders fault. It's a lack of credibility. Or vision. Or clarity.

That doesn't mean you can't change the team when necessary. Values alignment and work competency being the principle reasons to do so. But, if you have people that are values aligned and competent in their work, you need to help them follow the vision.

That's what I dislike about the quote that I read. It really shifts the failure to follow to the follower. And that's not leadership, that's dictatorship.

What other commonly touted business platitudes do you accept without considering if they are true?

What are you guilty of assuming about the followers in your organization?

Building Your Own Space Shuttle...

I grew up in Florida watching anything that NASA could launch into the sky. We saw satellite launches, Saturn V moon missions, and especially many Space Shuttle launches. I even had the good fortune to be standing on the beach as close as you can get to the very first shuttle launch. It was an inspiring moment.

I am often amazed at our ability to create something as amazingly complex as the Space Shuttle. In fact, the number of parts in the Space Shuttle number in the millions. By comparison, our businesses would be considered quite complex if the people, processes, and functions numbered greater than a few hundred.

It begs a rather important question.

How can NASA produce something as amazing and successful as the Space Shuttle and most businesses struggle to deliver consistent, high quality, and sustainable value to customers?

While I think there are a lot of complex answers to that question I have learned 2 key things from conversations with hundreds of leaders. Without short term accountability and long term vision, nothing great will ever be accomplished.

Sounds obvious when I say it.

The counterpoint to that statement is that in every corporate discovery discussion I ask the following questions:

  1. How well does your company practice accountability for results?
  2. Does your company have a clear and compelling long term vision? How well do they communicate that vision?

For both questions, less than 10% of respondents answer positively.

Think about that. Less than 10%

What does that mean?

It means that the 2 most basic and essential elements of creating an effective organization are not being practiced with any success in most companies. We think we are doing it. And we are not.

Are you the exception to the rule? How would you know?

If you aren't building a space shuttle, what are you building?

Loyalty that isn't loyalty.

We are a dog family. Always have been. But a few years ago some cats moved into the backyard. More specifically, a mother cat had kittens in an area by our pool and my wife and kids started feeding them. I still do not own any cats, but we feed and care for 3 of them, so technically I think the cats own me. Having cats around reminded me of the story of the woman who died in her home with just her cat. Unlike the stories of loyal dogs that stayed with their masters until they died of starvation, the cat story ended with the cat feeding off the dead woman's body. I keep a wary eye on the cats in my backyard as I feel their affection for me is merely as a potential foodsource.

The difference between cat and dog versions of loyalty actually has significant implications as we think about our businesses. Too often, we mistake the fact that our customers haven't chosen another alternative with true loyalty. How do we know they aren't simply staying with us out of laziness or lack of other options? Case in point, I don't feel any loyalty to my electrical provider, my gas company, or my cable company. If another provider showed up tomorrow with an equivalent product for less money I would change in a minute.

By comparison, I pay a significant premium when I purchase computers to use Apple MacBook's. They have created in me a loyalty and attachment that goes beyond the difference in cost.

It would appear that sometimes I am cat loyal and sometimes I am dog loyal.

I want my customers to be dog loyal. I want them to choose me even when there are other options. But I only do that when I provide value that no one else is providing. Let me say that again, value that NO ONE ELSE is providing.

The same value for less money is a suckers game. As soon as someone provides a cheaper option those customers will be gloating over the dead carcass of your company. Cat loyalty.

Q: How do you create loyalty with your customers? What companies have inspired true loyalty in you?

The TSA Brand

My day Tuesday started with an early morning flight from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale. Notwithstanding my joy at being in 85 deg. weather with blue skies, I was afforded one more, very special, experience with the Atlanta airport and the TSA. Special: (adjective) designed or organized for a particular person, purpose, or occasion

Adhering to the notion that a brand is an articulation of who you are in "reality" versus who you aspire to be, I started thinking about the "brand" the TSA might have hypothetically been seeking to communicate when they were created. I am guessing the conversation went something like this:

TSA Administrator - "Thanks for coming today. Due to recent threats against American aviation we need to rethink our protocols. You know, send a strong message.

Consultant - "So the objective is to send a strong message?"

TSA Administrator - "Well, sure. That's part of it. We also want to provide good security."

Consultant - "So which is it?"

TSA Administrator - "Which is what?"

Consultant - "Your objective?"

TSA Administrator - "You are now on our no fly list."

Consultant - "Why?"

TSA Administrator - "For questioning us."

So if you were guessing what the TSA brand really represents, what do you think it is? There is a prize to be awarded for the best response! Geniune, TSA approved luggage locks.

Rube Goldberg and Management

There is an old adage that reads, "Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." It's a cute and clever way of expressing a really important point. If you don't like the results you are getting you need to change the design. Most of the leaders and executives I work with get this intuitively but spend an inordinate amount of their time doing what I call "additive management".

Additive management is the process where we create increasingly complex layers of policy, bureaucracy, and process to attenuate or diminish the undesired outcomes from our previous policies and processes. This leads, over time, to a Rube Goldberg type of corporate complexity. Institutional knowledge becomes pre-eminent over capability and expertise. After all, the more complex the system, the more it rewards those who understand it best.

We have all seen this in action in our companies, or government, and even our culture. The new rules grow from the old rules more than they grow from the original purpose or mission. A common example is when changes are made to sales compensation plans to drive results around specific products or customer sets. This is complex to manage, hard to get right, and often produces unintended consequences.

You can fight back! It is possible to resist the natural inertia to simply layer more "rules" on the system. You have to get back to the beginning. Create intentional focus on ground up design decisions to produce the results you want.

You will find yourself with less to manage, less things that can fail, and improved results. Guaranteed!

The Myth of Whitespace

I just need to get some things under control, and then I will [fill in the blank]. We've all said it. We've all meant it.

We need more whitespace in our lives. More room for thinking, creativity, rest, and dreaming. Sometimes we need whitespace to get our relationships right, our health right, or our spiritual condition right.

There's just one problem. No one ever seems to find whitespace. It's a myth.

What you can find is that if you fill your busy time with the right things, schedule what you want your whitespace to be about, you will find what you really need.

Stop chasing the whitespace and start doing what's important.

On negotiation…

Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever negotiate.  It’s a statement, that in effect, you were trying to get more but will settle for less.

Instead, change the terms.  Reduce the offering, increase the deliverable, or if necessary, restart the sales process so you can communicate your value.

It’s simple.  Your integrity is more important than your margin.  If you can’t justify the value, don’t start dropping the price.  Unless you sell a commodity you will lose, every time…

Copyright 2015 The Walton Group, Inc.

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