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: Leadership

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.

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.

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.

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

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 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!

A FEW NEW THOUGHTS:

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!

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?

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?

Managing motives instead of behavior.

It's an incredibly common scenario for me. I am talking with a senior leader in an organization about a conflict, problem employee, or frustration with someone and they say something like, "You know why they did [this or that], they were trying to [fill in the blank]." The only reply that I can offer to that statement is, "You don't know WHY they did anything. You only know why YOU would have done the same thing."

That's the problem. We are subject to the filters for our own behaviors when evaluating the behavior of others.

You wouldn't challenge the idea that you shared in a meeting because YOU LOVE THE IDEA. Therefore, if someone else challenges it they must be trying to satisfy an ego need, play a political game, score points with the boss, or position for something they want.

Now, I am not saying those aren't possibilities.

However, what if they were like you?

What if they really cared about the best interests of the company, the ministry, or the team? What if they were more committed to the success of the outcome than protecting themselves personally. AND, what if your idea was a stinker?

What if they were trying to save you from yourself? What if they believed in you and just wanted to contribute to improving your efforts? What if they really had a better way? Isn't that something you want as well?

When we manage from the position of evaluating motives, we almost always lose. When we manage from the position of evaluating behavior, we are free to see the best possibilities in others.

Q: Have you ever been guilty of assuming poor intended motives on the part of another person and been wrong? What happened?

Q: Have you ever been the victim of someone else making a bad assumption about your motives?

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 anatomy of want..

We live in an age of consumption. We watch TV, surf the internet, drive in our cars, and we are bombarded with opportunities to consume. It makes me wonder if anyone really creates anything anymore.

Recently, I have begun to wonder who all these people are that are buying all of these things. After all, every street is filled with shops, boutiques, retailers, and coffee shops. I'm not shopping there. My wife isn't. But someone, most definitely, is.

Who needs these things? Where do they put them? How do they pay for it all?

Something is keeping those businesses in business. And I suppose, if we really don't need all of these things, what's keeping them in business is our insatiable "want" for what we do not currently possess. Another gadget, or dress, or pair of shoes, or golf club. I don't know if you feel the pull at times, but I certainly do.

It leads me to a question that occurred to me several years ago. "If I could have anything I wanted, anytime I wanted it, would I still want what I want when I can't?"

In other words, how much of my desire for things is driven simply but the sense of absence I feel in not having them. Not their utility and benefit to me. If we all understood this better perhaps we would be better stewards of the resources we have.

Q: What do you want, just because you cannot have it?

Copyright 2015 The Walton Group, Inc.

(404) 405-2825