Tag Archives: Competitive Advantage

Take the Risk out of Change

The “new normal” declared that change is accelerating at an accelerating rate, yet “conventional wisdom” says people don’t really change. Since people find it hard to change, wouldn’t the rate of change be slow?

Our politicians, (the ones we elect to change things in Washington) in spite of their promises, are very slow to bring change. The incumbent likes the status quo and every freshman senator wants to be an incumbent.

What about the Church, Synagogue or Mosque – I’ll bet it hardly ever changes. If change happens quickly, these institutions tend to fracture or even disintegrate.

How about the food you eat? The type, the time, the place and quantity – do you change these much? Probably not, although I wish I would.

Many examples prove we are creatures of habit. For the incumbent, sitting on the inside edge of the power structure is better than risking that spot. Most incumbents can safely rattle off a list of changes that need to be made though.

When I asked Art, the CEO of a company he owns, how he copes with change he said, “Change can be intimidating. For every action, there is a reaction, but you can’t stay stagnant. Hiring a key player caused me to have lots of sleepless nights – letting go of control is hard.”

So how does change happen? In one sense, change emanates from outside the current power structure and is usually initiated by someone who wants a piece of the pie. Gain is the motivator.

In another sense, change comes on the wave of crisis. My commute on the ferry, reminds me of how quickly after 9/11 the Coast Guard gunboats began escorting the ferries across Puget Sound. Crisis made change happen quickly.

In a privately owned company, with less than a dominate market share, change can be forced by fear of loss. Significant change is difficult for people. A company often tolerates what it has and gives up what it wants because of the risk. So how do you minimize risk? These steps work:

Become a great sponsor: Take the time to collaborate with someone and describe the targeted change, including specifications, requirements, milestones and the name of the person that will own this.

Test for accuracy: Has the owner detailed the resources, people and the risks necessary to make this change?

Formalize change: Make sure to document all changes to the scope, resources or timing with formal signature approval.

Visually display the milestone status: Use Green for the milestones on target, Yellow for threatened ones, and Red for off target.

Process and manage issues: An issue is an opportunity or problem we encounter on the way to achieving a milestone. These need to be resolved judiciously, quickly and communicated weekly to the team with a visual update.

Casual change is fun to launch with words in meetings but they usually fail to achieve the intended future state. Formalizing change through planning, status updates, issue processing and communication will help everyone move into the future and make the next change much easier.

Beyond these thoughts, what have you learned about leading change? I’d love to hear your comments.  Jim@peer-place.com


Plain Sight

Smart, talented, and ethical – each of the 11 members in this company’s value creation group® (VCG) possesses a strong track record. So why is this business currently underperforming? In addition to the whipsaw changes occurring within their industry, there are other systemic causes.

In response to my last blog post, John, a geologist, commented, “Every drive I take in the mountains or in Eastern Washington turns into a Geology lecture. My family may see a pretty barn on a hill and I see that the hill is bedrock high that became a suitably drained building site.” Like John, we each see things through our history until someone or something helps us see through a new lens.

While we all enjoy the company of an optimist, over a pessimist, this disposition of looking at the favorable side of events and expecting the best outcome is a costly business posture. I knew that deep down this group was prepared to face facts, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

The problem with reality is that it often causes optimism to flee. I’ve seen groups who aren’t comfortable spending time with each other in reality and they unknowingly use optimism to avoid the truth. Even when the facts are discouraging, hope, anchored in faith, is strong enough to remain present. That’s exactly what we were establishing in this group, the capacity to do good work while facing reality, and slowly developing a trust that could recover from interpersonal setbacks.

As this VCG settled down and relaxed with each other, I noticed a fresh capacity in their ability to listen. The edginess of tight deadlines and unfulfilled expectations was replaced by curiosity and patience. In under an hour, they transformed their space from a hectic, “I don’t want to be here”, time suck meeting, into a mutually constructed personal learning laboratory.

Suddenly, a comment surfaced about the lack of shared priorities and a tendency to look for quick fixes without doing enough research, and this elevated their attention. When everyone paused and nodded in agreement, I knew we needed to make hay while the sun was shining. For the next two hours, their level of collaboration was palpable.

During our wrap-up, I asked them why they were experiencing this and the newest group members said, “This is first space I’ve ever known where we could relax and focus without performance pressure.”

Attention is a condition of readiness that includes focus and receptivity. When each one of us is attentive and present in the group we can birth collaboration – and value creation always follows. Conversely, the pressure of hurriedness, tight deadlines and individual deliverables can kill collaboration. But when a magnetic topic materializes, everything can change!

It is a facilitator’s job to notice this shift and sponsor the group’s movement into deeper exploration. That member’s comment was the magnet and a hidden truth was now in plain sight.

This group longed for a noble set of priorities to collaborate around, something powerful enough to draw them together. The source of all teamwork is a common future and these talented people were ready. Are you? I’d love to know your thoughts. Jim@peer-place.com


Sustainable Competitive Advantage

After more than three decades of leading and helping leaders, I’ve concluded that the only sustainable competitive advantage a business has is its leadership team. Everything else gets commoditized by the market.

Unfortunately, most owners don’t see that. They tend to focus on their product or service, and don’t realize that it’s their leadership team that gives them their competitive advantage. Without this knowledge, owners can’t maximize this advantage or execute on it. But, what if they did have this insight? How would their businesses change?

I just returned from interviewing the general manager of a very interesting manufacturing company whose revenue had doubled in the past five years. As I reflected upon my meeting with him, I was struck by the quality of his personal characteristics. My initial impression of him was that he was incredibly thoughtful, patient, knowledgeable, and deep. Yet, as he talked about his business, something was missing.

When I asked him what about his company was really good, he quickly said, “Quality of product, and our people feel secure. They trust the ethics and character of who we are.”

However, what he didn’t say spoke volumes. When I asked him why he didn’t mention his leadership team, he became both thoughtful and curious. He opened his mind and his heart, and a wonderful conversation ignited.

When I asked how his business would change if his entire leadership team was outstanding, he thought for a moment and said, “everything would change.”

When a team embraces a vision for being great, they launch into uncharted waters. Every team member is both hopeful and doubtful. They have experienced other initiatives that, for a variety of reasons, have started and failed and were forgotten. In the back of their minds, they believe that this latest proposal also not be followed through on. In the world of leadership psychology, we would say “their current mental model isn’t serving them.”

Additionally, most owners launch initiatives and then wrongly believe that progress occurs in a linear progression: We start at point A and end at point Z with a discrete, predictable number of steps, each leading higher. This mental model is inaccurate, and approaching initiatives that way can be downright unproductive.

Rather, all great things go move forward in fits and starts – you know, three steps forward and two steps back.

The road to success is often more like a spiral than a straight line. Over time, the peaks are higher, and the valleys less low. This is how progress is really achieved. Owners who learn to endure through both peaks and valleys are those who who build lasting businesses — and legacies.

At the end of the day, companies that propel forward with great leadership are sustainable, and those that don’t are temporary. That’s just how it is. Hopefully, my new friend will maximize the potential of his management team and lead them to new levels of success.

Jim Moats – PeerPlace, Inc.

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