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.

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?

Friday's Latest Theory

NOTE: Anyone who has known me for long knows I have a lot of theories. A LOT. Some think my theories are half-baked. Others think half is an overstatement. Still others think the entire analogy is an insult to those who bake. Nonetheless, beginning this week Friday will henceforth be victim to one of my theories of the world and human behavior. Read at your own risk. You have been warned...

I struggle to understand the fashion industry. The strange and absurd are commonplace.

How often have you seen someone wearing something absolutely ridiculous? And you say to yourself, "Self, that looks ridiculous."

Then you see another. And another. Pretty soon whatever you saw is more commonplace than BO at a tractor pull.

Which begs a question. How do the strange, exotic, and absurd fashion trends we see even get started? I have a theory...

  • It starts with a desperately insecure person seeking a unique way to be noticed.
  • They find something odd or strange, and while not sure they like it, they give it a try.
  • Here's where it all goes wrong. In a normal ecosystem those around would fall on this faux pas like piranha on a beef stick. BUT, we live in a culture of politeness.
  • So, everyone thinks it's ridiculous, no one wants to say so, and they offer insincere compliments.
    • "Oh, that looks amazing!"
    • "It's so slimming!"
    • "Everyone is wearing squirrel these days!"
  • Soon, others hear the false praise, see the strange fashion, and decide that even though they hate the look, they must have it.
  • Boom, fashion trend born.

Do the responsible thing. Speak out. Skinny jeans and muffin tops must be stopped.

I'm just sayin...

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?

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.

What was your dream?

When you were little what did you dream of becoming? A fireman? An astronaut? A doctor? A football player? I bet it wasn't an accountant. Or a sales rep. Or even a middle manager.

Those are all worthy jobs, but where did we lose our dreams?

Do you have any dreams left? What's your dream now? What was your dream as a child?

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!

A life of adventure...

When was your last adventure? Your last real adventure?

Not just a trip. Perhaps it was taking a new risk, starting a new activity, or facing an old fear.

When we are children we are wired for adventure. Everyday is full of new opportunities and activities. Sometimes it was just climbing a tree or building a fort. Other days it was making a rope swing. What was important was that we weren't limited by what we thought we "should" do but by what we thought we "could" do.

Do you still live that way? Most people don't. We lead lives of self-protection and emptiness. We worry over mortgages and irrational fears. Don't eat red meat, be a vegetarian. Eat red meat or you'll become anemic.

Really?

Don't you ever want to just try something crazy and new? Push the envelope? Take a risk? Start a business? Write a book? Climb a mountain?

Or will another long day of work followed by dinner and a little TV still do it for you?

Having a plan...

It's just about resolutioners time. You know what resolutioners are, right? People who establish their goals based on the awkward and painful failures from the prior year. After all, no one makes a resolution to help more orphans. The people who are helping orphans just keep helping them. No one makes a resolution to love their kids more. They just keep loving their kids.

We make resolutions as a last ditch effort to get serious about the problems we generally aren't willing to take seriously. Exercise, diet, and financial responsibility being chief among them. But, let's think about that for a moment... We need to make resolutions about the 3 things we most consistently are presented with each day. Really?

I like the idea of a resolution in that it's a short version of a plan. However, I would propose that for it to really have effect you must write it as a grocery list of future accomplishment rather than a review of past regrets. For example, don't vow to lose weight this year. Instead commit to weigh a specific amount. Failing to be specific is like going to the grocery store hungry and without a list. Everything is a good idea when that happens.

Don't spend your year picking up life's Oreo's. Anyone can do that. Spend your life becoming something with intention.

This is real religion...

My 11 year old daughter came to my wife recently with tears welling up in her eyes. "Mom, I think this year you shouldn't buy me any Christmas gifts. Instead we should give the money to feed the poor or something like that."

My wife asked why she felt this way so suddenly. Her reply, "I was reading my bible and it seems to me that the way that Jesus instructed the first Christians to live doesn't look like how we live. But, I'm really struggling with this..."

"Why," my wife inquired.

"Because I want stuff!"

Me too. I'm sorry to say that I want stuff. Maybe not like when I was a child. And certainly not because I have everything that could be had. Simply because I see new and shiny things, and I want them.

I DON'T think we should aspire to asceticism or self-denial as a means of pleasing God. I DO think we should seek ways to obey God that demonstrate that He is bigger than our desire for the things of this world.

And I hope that I can sincerely feel the tug and tension that my daughter feels. To want to put the needs of others before my own.

Pastor Craig Groeschel once asked, "Does your heart break over the things that break God's heart?"

That's a great question...

Seasons...

Solomon said it best In Ecclesiastes 3... 1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I wish I could always choose my seasons. I love when the summer gives way to the fall, there is a crispness to the air, the leaves change, and the light has a magical quality...

In the rest of my life I am not always so excited about seasons. There are seasons of rest but there are also seasons of struggle, anguish, fear, and failure. When I am in the Spring of my efforts and all is energy and new growth it is an exciting time. During the summer when I am figuratively making hay I feel a peace. But in the Fall and Winter I stumble and struggle.

In nature I celebrate how the passing of Winter makes the Spring so much sweeter. I need to learn to embrace the Winters of my career, relationships, and life with that same joyful anticipation. To embrace the season and realize it is appointed by God for my benefit and His glory. To value the intimacy of slowing down, drawing close to others, a quiet night by the fire. To let things be simple for a while.

After all, Spring is coming!

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.

Faith and Diving Boards

Many years ago on a family vacation we found ourselves at a pool with a high diving board. The old 3-meter kind you rarely see anymore. My middle daughter, Brittany, was entranced. Only 8 years old at the time, she was determined to jump from the high dive.

There was only one problem. She was terrified.

Captivated and terrified. Motivated and paralyzed.

So on the board she stood, shaking in her nervousness. But she would not come down.

"Dad," she asked. "Will it be okay?"

"Yes," I assured her. "You will be fine."

And still she stood.

2 minutes passed.

5 minutes.

So I asked her, "Do you trust me? Do you know that I would never let you do anything that would hurt you?"

She looked me in the eye, stopped shaking, and jumped! And then, she climbed up again and again, all afternoon.

I'm a lot like that. I am compelled to do something, be something, or try something. And I hesitate, afraid of failure or risk or embarrassment. And I ask God, "Will it be okay?" And He asks me, "Do you trust me?"

What my daughter made me realize is that she didn't fully trust me when she jumped. She wanted to believe she could trust me. Jumping was the way to fully know. In other words, her faith and trust were not confirmed until she jumped. After she jumped, when she had walked in her faith in her father, her faith was perfected.

And so, years later, I stand and wonder if I can trust God with what He has called me to. And I ask Him to make my faith perfect before I jump. But it doesn't work that way. My faith is made perfect when I jump.

Are you waiting for God to perfect your faith? Make you complete? Maybe it's time to jump.

The 3 Reasons Business People Lie

I have been blessed to work with hundreds of senior executives over the last 10 years. Each one, in their own way, has surprised and challenged me. Yet there are some things that I have found to be universal. For example, not once has an executive ever confessed to me that they are really, inherently dishonest. In fact, without exception, they have all spoken of a desire to be high integrity, high character leaders. Men of their word. Truth tellers.

And most of them have lied. About something. Something important. Myself included.

Which makes me wonder, why would these otherwise capable and competent people lie. Not about little things, but about important commitments, failures, mistakes. Stuff that counts.

Fortunately I work in a full time laboratory of leadership and have plenty of candidates for research. Those efforts have yielded the following conclusions regarding business lies.

Reason #1 - Unrealistic Optimism

Earlier this year I ran across an interesting statistic regarding depression. The study noted that people suffering from clinical depression consistently rated their own abilities with a high level of accuracy. Fair enough. What follows that thinking is of greater interest to me. The secondary consequence of this statistic is that emotionally healthy people consistently over-rate their own abilities. This includes over-rating expected outcomes from business efforts as well.

With that as a starting premise it's no surprise that business commitments are quite often made with lofty expectations. Expectations that are rarely fully realized. And it is these expectations that set up the second part of the problem.

Reason #2 - Linear Thinking

Most people think in a linear way. Statistics vary, but in general over 90% of business leaders process information in a linear fashion. This is a practical, realistic, and systematic way of thinking. But, it has it's traps. As an example, linear thinking most often means that current conclusions are drawn directly from preceding events. That being true, it's very difficult for linear thinkers to naturally reset their assessment of decisions and causality to a larger and more holistic set of elements.

This only becomes an issue when you marry that information processing approach with the previously referenced over-optimism. Imagine a critical business commitment made based on unrealistic optimism. When that optimism fails to bear itself out in real results it is almost endemic that leaders re-think (and rationalize) their prior decisions. In practice, this looks like waffling or outright dishonesty to an outside observer.

Reason #3 - Short Memories

The last part of the problem is actually the simplest but the most insidious. Leaders suffer from information overload. And it's not getting any better. With so many facts, demands, and stresses on business people it is impractical to expect anyone to fully remember every commitment and decision. Bundle that problem with the prior two reasons and you have a perfect storm of missed expectations, revisionist history, and forgotten promises.

No, these aren't the outright lies we ascribe to the stereotypical "sleazy" Enron type of business personality. These are a worse kind of lie. They are the rationalized, justified, failed commitments that happen everyday.

So, how do you keep yourself honest?

You can't un-bake the cookie...

My 11 year old goes by the nickname "The Little Chef". She loves to cook and is quite good at it. As she made some of her famous Monster Cookies one evening she became concerned that they might burn. I reminded her that I always preferred my cookies a little on the soft and chewy side so if we took them out early there was little risk. And, I added, we can always stick them back in the oven if necessary. She thought about that and wisely responded, "Yep, you can't un-bake the cookie."

Aren't there a lot of cookies in our life we would like to un-bake? Comments we have made that hurt others? Money we have spent? Choices from our past? While grace and forgiveness can restore our relationships after our mistakes, the reality is that often we must live with consequences of those decisions. Burnt cookies.

I'm relieved because of those that have forgiven my stupid past decisions and behaviors. I'm incredibly grateful for opportunities that have allowed me to thrive even after bad choices. But, I have eaten a lot of burnt cookies too...

The idea makes me a little more careful. A little more aware. And a little more responsible. I am grateful I have grace and mercy to fall back on, but I will resolve, every day, to make sure I don't burn the cookies that count with the relationships that matter most.

Diamonds

A few weeks ago my wife and I were on our daily walk. We put in a hard 5 mile walk and it gives us a great time to connect, talk through big issues in our lives, and sweat out the bad stuff. It's the best part of my day. On this particular day were crossing a small bridge near our home and noticed a woman with a concerned look on her face standing at the road's edge. She was searching for something but was unable to look to closely due to the passing cars.

We asked if she had lost something and she explained. A friend was on a bike ride earlier that afternoon and had a terrible crash. The bridge had been grooved to make it safer during winter icing and was rough and gravel covered. She had fallen hard and was in pretty bad shape. On top of her physical injuries the diamond from her engagement ring had been knocked from it's setting. Her friend had come to find it

It was clearly an impossible task...

As we moved to join her my wife threw up a prayer, "Lord, can you help us find this loose diamond." It was definitely a moment for prayer. Thirty yards of rough road and gravel did not bode well for finding a diamond. And yet... Walking about ten yards down the road I bent over and immediately spied the stone. It wasn't easy to see as it was face down and, as is often the case, not polished on the back. Yet there it lay, in the first place I looked.

God still worries about the little things in our lives. Perhaps he sees us a bit like that diamond, face down against the roughness of this world. And yet, he always knows where to find us to bring us home.

Our new friend hugged us with tears in her eyes, anxious to share the amazing news with her injured friend.

We walked a little lighter that day.

On mentors and mentoring…

One of the best elements of my job and calling is that I am able to spend lots of quality time with highly successful leaders in both business and ministry. In that capacity, I am continuously amazed by the number of accomplished leaders who have lamented the fact that in their careers they never found a person who would serve as a mentor for them, either personally or professionally. In fact, it is the rare leader who speaks of a respected and trusted person who demonstrated a willingness to invest in their success with NO EXPECTATION OF RETURN. Someone who wanted them to succeed for their own sake.

I have often had those same feelings. In the few instances where I believed I had found a suitable mentor I was unable to persuade them to serve in that capacity for me. (Admittedly, that may have just been something about me!) Most often they would respond to me with one of two comments. Either they did not believe they had capacity to take on what felt like a new responsibility OR (and more commonly) they believed they had little or no value to add. As I shared those feelings with my wife one day she replied, “Well, what are you doing about the men who are younger than you who might want you to serve in that role for them?”

Ouch… She was spot on in her analysis of course and I made a commitment to do so.

The time I have since spent investing in the personal and professional development of other men has been the richest and most rewarding role I have played outside of my role as a father and husband. In that regard I have discovered two key things:

  1. I have little or no expertise or wisdom to offer as a mentor AND THAT DOESN’T MATTER
  2. Other people really want to know that someone believes in them and their success

Want one of the best jobs you will ever have? Qualifications required are:

  • A little humility
  • A willingness to encourage
  • A desire to give back
  • A little bit of courage

It doesn’t need to be formal. Just find someone and begin to invest in helping them to be the best man or woman they can be. You won’t regret it…

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