Tag Archives: execution

Here we go again!

Chaos theory popularized the idea that an energized company felt chaotic. I remember the first time I mentored a business owner who was a devout disciple of that theory. This company had not been nurtured into a productive rhythm, so the energy of raw chaos ruled around the latest (usually good) new idea. When people experience a very bright, personable, and verbally gifted leader as chaotic and unable to maintain a steady stream of focus, confused and resentful followers always develop.

I was recently with a senior team that said about their leader, “He sets the plan and then changes it.” This example reminded me of how good intentions can have unintended consequences, particularly for CEOs and senior leaders that come from a sales or business development discipline. They have trained their mind to translate situational obstacles into closed future deals without much practical thought.

The tension between making a plan and sticking with it or changing the plan upon a new discovery are as old as time. Every leader needs to develop a capacity to embrace this challenge or senior team effectiveness and cohesiveness will be marginal. The rhythm between discipline and creativity should never be governed by the next new idea, but more importantly, by a mature leader that has mastered impulse control.

A disciplined mind is a critical leadership attribute.

Lack of impulse control results from an untrained mind where a stream of anxiety flows without notice. Conversely, a trained mind is more spacious because it has learned that ideas and thoughts flow through the mind like a never-ending stream, observed without attachment. These leaders have trained their mind to separate from thoughts so they can enjoy inner freedom and usually a good deal of peace.

Execution is more important than strategy.

Every leader can iteratively create “the ideal strategy” that almost no one can fully execute. In one sense, the perfect strategy is an obstacle to winning. Execution is more important than strategy, so take a break and let the plan work its way through the challenges of learning. Successful leaders learn that an adequate strategy executed well usually wins.

At a more practical level, a critical component of scaling and execution is contract administration. If customer contracts are consistent and easy to manage then scaling and changing is manageable. However, if out of 300 customer contracts many are customized then the process of scaling becomes nearly impossible. A CEO with a sales or business development mind won’t see this as a problem, but one with a trained mind will.

If impulse control seems like an opportunity for you to master, be encouraged! The first leader I mentioned changed quickly once he understood the benefits, then the quality and profitability of his revenue followed. Eventually he was able to transition his leadership skills to the next generation in his family business.

Your company is your Practice Field – learn, adjust and flourish. Let it shape you into your true self!

I’d love to hear your comments.  Jim@peer-place.com


Value Creation 2.0

Twenty-five years ago, my life changed when I left the Fortune 500 world to lead a small and underfunded international not-for-profit. Because we couldn’t fulfill our Central Asia mission on our small budget, we reshaped everything around clearly defined shared ideas and values. The ideas were compelling enough to empower well-intentioned people to make great contributions, I look back at this experience with amazement, and the cost of supervision in this environment nearly reached zero.

The CEOs, executives, and owners of the business advisory boards that I chair are learning to create value differently. Where there was once a degree of waste involved in their leadership rhythm and style, a quiet depth is beginning to show up. Over functioning CEOs, owners and executives are usually blind to the fact that they are great sources of confusion that can prevent employees from creating value. Just yesterday, I experienced living proof of this change with 14 CEOs and company owners advising each other.

Value Creation 2.0 pushes problem solving and appreciation down to those that are closest to the customer and elevates the joy of learning and solving problems. Why is this important? Employees are the most underused assets on our balance sheets.

In this environment, employees come together around shared ideas and values to fulfill a common purpose – to win for themselves, their company, and their customer. The leader’s role shifts to sustaining a winning environment, one where human capital flourishes. The following elements are present in this environment:

  • A written set of operationalized core values and behaviors
  • A well-defined and operationalized customer value creation design
  • A free-flowing team collaboration that’s based on reality, feedback, accountability and recognition
  • Disciplined execution combined with an appropriate amount of creativity

So why are more leaders not operating this way? Culture is defined as how we do things. The behaviors that take place every day in each part of the company are instinctive and automatic so shifting culture requires a leader to slow down and move from instinctive to intentional.

Going slower can be hard for many leaders so an advisory board helps creates the reflective space for learning, awareness, growth, and support. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, companies usually stick with what they know too long, even though the rising heat is crippling growth. The sad part is a frog can jump at any time, but they don’t because they are isolated. Objective advisors can help CEOs, executives, and owners leap in the right direction.

When leaders start connecting with a peer-based advisory board – one that’s founded upon the core values of growing – they climb out of the boiling pot and the transformation that follows is exciting! Would you like to see this happen? It’s simply amazing!  I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peerplace.com



Breaking Out

Taking a leap into the unknown is terrifying for most of us, and even more so for a CEO. When my Vistage CEO member boldly declared to his group that he wanted to reboot his personal growth and intended to take the leap, he was saying, “There is a threshold beyond what I’m comfortable with, that I need to enter.” What could possibly compel a very successful company owner and entrepreneur to do this?

As I look back at my own life, leaps of faith mark the stepping stones that have delivered me to this exact moment, in all of its glory and failures. As each of us become more self-aware we acknowledge that no matter what we achieve, deep within us a desire to become more always finds its way to the surface. It’s always been there, rising up within us manifested in varying emotional forms, playing out in our daily life and even in our dreams.

One thing these desires have in common is a feeling that staying at the current state of capacity would be a loss. To picture how this tension feels you can try stretching a rubber band. One end is anchored to safety, security or power and control while the other end of the rubber band strongly desires forward movement. This tension exists inside each of us.

Over time, the pursuit of certainty and the tug of wonder can reconcile – with a leap into a new frontier. At that moment of leaping, three potent energies are always present: someone is denying the action, someone is affirming and someone is reconciling. If we remain open and choose the right relationships, we can reconcile this creative tension with integrity.

Deep within us, we know that forward movement is why we exist yet we question whom we can trust in our deliberations or the undefined desire and tension that compels us. This is why most leaders keep trying to go it alone. Kierkegaard nailed it when he said, “A new world is opened up to our existence, a world whose ways are untrodden, its promises untried, and its hopes still uncertain.”

To some, leading a company, a region or a department can feel like a prison while to others it is a place of wonder. Through my own experience with both, I suggest that they each serve a valuable purpose; in fact, they simply represent movement in the same direction. A feeling of being blocked or limited exists alongside the capacity to wonder but without a place for these to be reconciled desires will stagnate in isolation.

I recently met with the owner of a company who wondered about becoming a member of my Vistage CEO group. He mentioned that he would find it hard to trust that others would keep his conversations private. While his curiosity about the group was an expression of “wonder”, his cautions were an expression of “denying”.

A few weeks later, he shared that he needed to talk with others about important concerns and that he didn’t have such a place. His desire for certainty (not trusting others to hold things confidential) and the tug of wonder (a place to explore deep questions and desires) produced a persistent tension in him that remained unreconciled.

When you experience these same tensions and you want help to reconcile them, let me know. As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



2014: Ready?

Have you ever tried walking a tight rope? Maybe not, but balancing strategic planning with strong execution can feel that way. Integrating a senior team’s unique ability and constraints with their desire for an optimistic future may be plausible, but it can also feel duplicitous.

The ritual of starting the New Year with a clean sheet is called strategic planning and while every company has some kind of thought process, most remain frustrated and for good reason. I have received many requests from company owners to facilitate their strategy conversation, but most of these conversations don’t map with my Core Values. This experience often seems like a circus built around a purpose I just can’t support.

For me, the test of the strategy conversation is execution. I find that most company presidents and owners feel frustrated by the mediocre level of execution they see in their rear view mirror and for good reason. By now, I’ve tipped my hand so I’ll just put it this way. If execution is not the test then the entire planning process erodes the integrity of the firm and this sits squarely on the shoulders of the owners and CEO who sponsor this endeavor.

Getting good execution on a strategic plan when the history has been mediocre requires a thoughtful level of personal reflection and typically, most owners, CEOs and planning facilitators are awkward in this process. This process of personal reflection is the critical “third force” that reconciles the past, present and future and I know what it takes to get it done. When I get to work with leaders that want to be more thoughtful, I’m all in.

So now for the real test. While strategic planning often takes place at the 50,000 foot level, execution succeeds or fails through the activities and behaviors that each leader drives every day, first for themselves and then for others.

I believe that all strategy planning needs to begin with a realistic assessment of the team’s history of execution at a personal level. Asking questions like, “When was the last time we developed a strategic plan?” and “What was executed upon well and what wasn’t?”

These are the only questions that quickly demo the peripheral issues and pave the way for traction. Here’s why – each company forms patterns from an accumulation of behaviors based on their values and they unconsciously repeat these patterns. Everyone knows that company culture comes from the top-down. So when a leadership team addresses their history of execution it becomes imperative for the owner/CEO to self reflect as part of the group process.

Here’s the rub; until a leader decides to become aware of how his or her behavior sponsors mediocre execution, no amount of planning can make a difference. On the other hand, when a leader is all in under these conditions, their creditability can soar.

Aligning values and behaviors is the way to improve execution and the strategy planning conversation can create the venue to launch this process. Is 2014 the year to upgrade your company’s execution?  I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



Value Creation 2.0

Twenty years ago my life flipped when I left the Fortune 100 world to lead a small and underfunded, international not-for-profit. Because our worldwide mission couldn’t be fulfilled on our small budget, we reshaped everything around clearly defined exciting shared ideas. This ultimately attracted a great group of average people from a variety of backgrounds and nations who achieved some extraordinary results over a seven year period.

I learned that having shared ideas empowers well-intentioned people to make great contributions. I also learned that the cost of supervision can reach nearly zero in this environment. With this discovery and with white-knuckled reluctance, I began to leave behind what I now see as the most seductive and misunderstood tool business school ever taught me, the organizational chart.

As I’ve coached CEOs and teams toward value creation (sometimes with amazing financial results, if I may brag), I’ve noticed that this model eliminates much of the waste of leadership while accelerating the creation of value.

Be cautious though, this can be difficult to embrace. Shifting leadership like this requires us to leave behind the traditional view of “employees” and embrace the concept of “human capital”. Let’s face it, everyone agrees that employees are the most underused asset on our balance sheet, but very little is done to change this. This model pushes risk, problem-solving and appreciation down to those that are closest to the customer, instead of keeping it at the highest leadership level. Yet it also increases the joy employee’s experience, which fuels productivity.

In this environment, teams ultimately have one purpose — to win for their group and customer. The role of leadership then becomes to create a winning environment, one where human capital flourishes.  This environment must include:

  • A well-defined and dynamic customer value creation strategy
  • A free-flowing collaboration based on reality, feedback and influence
  • The appropriate mix of discipline and creativity

In my view there are two types of companies, those that take assets and combine them with employee ideas and those that manage assets for others. The first type can thrive in this new economy when walls between customers, employees and vendors virtually disappear and communication and resource allocation happen organically in support of improved customer value creation. Learning accelerates and creative ideas are generated as employees continually expand connections to people outside their traditional company domain and it’s these ideas, when successfully combined with assets, that fuel growth.

For those who are born skeptics, research shows that more connectivity is better — but only certain types. Increasing connectivity begins to interfere with innovation if the network is totally connected with static participants. In this environment convention begins to rule.

At the low levels of connectivity found in our previous model and with the Stage I and II companies on our continuum below, teams are isolated and the rate of innovation and connection is slow. Organic connections expose a team to new sources of creative material, but a word about innovation is important. Just about every historical innovation emerged from a collaborative web. But the myths that we tell ourselves tend to glorify one leader at the expense of the group so it’s no wonder most companies still practice command and control with one leader at the center (see my previous blog). The shocking truth – collaborative webs are more important than creative people – but that’s not the view that most companies are founded on, so individualism continues even though all the research points to the group as the money maker.

Seventy-five percent of the privately owned mid-market companies I’ve observed are slow innovators and growth is slow too. Locked in their historical business model by choosing to view customers through the lens of “how can I sell more of my products or services” they hope to survive until the economy bounces back. Good luck!

Value Creation 2.0 companies tend to reorganize organically at the micro-level in response to customers. In this ethos employee groups overlap with employee and non-employees to achieve purposes that are important to them. Again, thanks to Dave Logan, this week we have another great diagram (see my previous blog).


As the group becomes more important than the individual, customer value creation accelerates, with profits increasing by 100 to 600 percent. My diagram below illustrates the evolution from one level of company to the next.

 Customer Value Creation

So why aren’t leaders making this shift?  My view is that the core value of control — and the need to avoid failure — are too strong. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, companies at Stage I and II stick with what they know, even though the rising heat is crippling morale and profits. The sad part is that like the frog that can jump at any time, they don’t because they are isolated from objective peers who can help them make the leap.

What is amazing though – when leaders start connecting with a peer-based group — one that’s founded upon the core values of learn, challenge and grow — they leap out of the boiling pot and the company transformation that follows is exciting, and I’ve got 15 CEO’s in a collaborative group that are living proof.

So how connected are your employees?  Where are the new ideas coming from?  How effective are you at combining new ideas with assets especially the human kind?  Honest answers always create value. 

What are your thoughts?  jim@peer-place.com