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Ask The Consultants- Eliminating Problems 1

The game we are playing in my business is creating powerful performance. I keep finding myself dealing with crisis and breakthrough at the same time; it seems that some aspect of our infrastructure or culture or both limits our capacity for consistent performance. How do we make the switch to being high performing always?”

Thanks for being in communication. Let me address your first question right away: You don’t. Breakdowns happen. If you’re running a business with the standard and expectation of 100% high performance all the time, you are setting yourself up for frustration and upset. Can a team be reliable for extraordinary performance more often than not? Yes. Can you create a system that effectively predicts impending breakdowns such that you’re not repeatedly blindsided, leaving that experience of being in “crisis”? Yes.

But as far as counting on or expecting all good all the time, I’d recommend against it. In this respect (and many others), business is like life; there are going to “problems”.  So far as I can tell, the only place to be to avoid having problems is six-feet under. No more problems then! All handled. Same in business: being an entrepreneur is risky. Life is risky and business is risky. Period. The question is not one of getting rid of problems, but choosing which problems we will dedicate ourselves to. And don’t worry, there are plenty to choose from! It’s your life, your business, your choice.

If you really look, you may find the operating premise “I should always get what I want, when I want it” running in the background- not even as an actual thought necessarily, but as a place that your thoughts, emotions and behavior come from. It’s a context: the world shows up inside it, and we operate from it- without even seeing that it’s there. It seems to be there for all of us, from VERY early on in life, and still has that infantile quality to it. Just picture yourself when something doesn’t go how you want it to go. Whether it’s getting stuck at a traffic light, or a major sale falling apart at the last moment, look at the reaction: frustration, sadness, anger, maybe even a tantrum? Why? Because obviously everything should go how you want it, when you want it to!

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Ask The Consultants- Following The Plan 2

“Our route drivers are not following our vending machine fill diagram. We’ve had multiple classes, individual interactions and reviews on it and generally have made it a point of emphasis, yet we find in our site inspections that it continues to not be done (right). How do I get my people to follow the plan?”

I will start with the same question as my colleague, “Why should they?”-though with a different idea in the background: I’ll take it from the world of freedom, choice and accountability.

I operate from the premise that human beings are extraordinarily developed and/or evolved, and that when we act (or don’t act), it is because that action produces some benefit, or payoff. Even when we can’t see what that payoff is (a blind spot), or don’t want to admit what it is (deception/ self-deception), there is one. It is when our perspective shifts and we are able to honestly acknowledge the payoff that we’re getting, as well as honestly acknowledge the real cost and consequences of our action, that we have a natural opening and ability to shift our patterns of action. Being accountable for our actions is the key.

Now, in this situation, I see two levels of this occurring: The first (and most obvious) one is with your drivers. Simply put, in their view, the benefits of doing it their way clearly outweigh the consequences and costs; that is why they continue to act that way despite repeated trainings, classes, etc. It is clearly not the know-how that is missing here.  What’s missing is perspective and accountability.

The other level, maybe not so obvious but far more relevant to our conversation, is with you. What is it that you’re getting out of this situation? What if it’s your blind-spot or even self-deception that is keeping this issue in place?

Read More »Ask The Consultants- Following The Plan 2

Ask The Consultants- Following The Plan 1

“Our route drivers are not following our vending machine fill diagram. We’ve had multiple classes, individual interactions and reviews on it and generally have made it a point of emphasis, yet we find in our site inspections that it continues to not be done [right]. How do I get my people to follow the plan?”


I would like to begin the conversation by asking the simple question: “Why?”

Why was the currently ignored system created in the first place?  What is its purpose? How are the results produced by following this system different from those produced when the system is not followed?

When building an organization, mandate as a management system is usually effective for a time period correlating to the level of supervision and the consequences for not following the mandate.  We suggest that mandate as a management system is the foundation of many ineffective management programs, and thereby of many ineffective companies.

You run a successful company, so whatever you are doing is working on some level.  But, if what you intend is to achieve improved results, the first step is to bring your people into alignment with that intention.   What is it that you are looking to accomplish?  To whom does that have value?  If the value is only to you, the CEO, good luck getting people to operate according to direction for long periods of time without intense supervision.  People are, generally, creative and independent.  Try to force them into a small box and you will be spending all of your time managing and reinforcing the box.  This is not easy when your people are out on the road without you.

Read More »Ask The Consultants- Following The Plan 1

A Case Study on Leadership and Integrity

I was a manager and then executive in IBM software product development from the late ‘60’s through the early ‘90’s. The change in IBM’s organizational culture over that period was dramatic. During the ‘60’s, IBM embarked on a international, multi-product development effort that resulted in the System/360 – a product line with several new software operating systems and at least 8 different hardware systems along with a new line of peripherals. The development of these products spanned the globe and took place in more than 30 groups in approximately 15 different locations from Europe to North America to Japan. There were countless interdependencies among these groups and, as might be expected, rivalries and conflicting priorities among them. But a few, relatively small, central groups in upstate New York were successful in managing the interfaces and interdependencies between the many components of the various hardware and software systems, the schedules and the budgets.

Bob O. Evans was the overall executive in charge of development in those days. He was a man of impeccable integrity – his word was his bond, and he insisted on the same kind of behavior throughout his organizations. Failing to give your word to provide a necessary component on schedule was unacceptable. Not honoring a commitment was inexcusable. The System 360 project was sometimes referred to as a “bet-your-company” effort, and its success set the growth path for IBM for the next 25 years.

A few years later, in the early ‘70’s, when Evans was the president of the product development division, I managed the creation of the first version of the MVS operating system which was, up to that point, the largest single software project IBM had ever attempted. Twenty different groups in 12 locations were involved – a total of nearly 3,000 people at its peak. Each of the groups reported to geographic executives that often had other conflicting priorities – their own pet projects, non-software products that they were also responsible for, budget and headcount constraints, and so on. Even so, it all worked.

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Ask the Consultants- Fear and Commitment

This month’s question comes from Tim Vanini, PhD, owner and partner in multiple businesses in the area of professional and residential turf and grass development, research and project management (

“So far 2011 has proven to be a fruitful year with record profits!  Even so, fears have set in about producing the amount of residual income that my partners and I are committed to in 2012 and 2013.  How do I move past this?”

Tim, thanks for your question.

Fear can be a big part of leadership, of committing oneself (with others) to something unpredictable and even unheard of. Depending on the context we have for it (the way in which and through which the situation occurs to us), it can be embraced and empowering or counterproductive and even debilitating.

It can be easy to, in our immediate reaction to experiences like fear, uncertainty and anxiety, seek whatever way we can most quickly “survive” the threat present. In the face of the gap created by the act of committing, we act- often automatically and blindly- to fix, change, avoid or tolerate our experience of fear. Consider that, counter-intuitive as it may seem, the access to transcending the fear and creating power and freedom is not to get out of it or conquer it, but to accept it and embrace it fully.

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Building an Organization That Works, Part 2

This is the 2nd part of an ongoing series–if you haven’t, we recommend you read the first part to set the context and get full value for yourself.

We begin where we left off:

Please consider for yourself what works and doesn’t work in your organization. How is your organization structured to support effectiveness? Innovation? Identification of potential obstacles or issues? Do members of your organization experience themselves as being responsible for the results of the organization as a whole?

It is valuable to consider by what format or structure an organization can most effectively and reliably facilitate access to the collective knowledge of the members of the organization. We assert that one key element of a successful organization is a systematic approach to communication. Every one who must be included in a given conversation is included, and, in a way, that minimizes inefficiencies while maximizing collaboration.

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The World of Expectations, Part 3

(This is the 3rd part of a 3-part series, if you haven’t yet, I recommend you read the first 2 parts to set the context for yourself)

So far in this conversation together, we’ve seen the startling degree to which how we see the world, our behavior, actions and results are all shaped, filtered- really given by our expectations. A simple, if oversimplified, cut at the idea would be: who we are is a function of our expectations.

Now that we’ve explored this in-depth from the perspective of our own expectations, let’s shift the view one more time and take a look at the critical importance of the expectations of others in our performance and quality of life. From there, we’ll create direct access to actionable ways to elevate our performance.

In business and in life, action calls for coordination. Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, a manager of 20 or the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, your very ability to produce- your opportunity to perform- is dependent on the performance of other people, organizations and entities. Just to be clear, this is the case even when you “work alone”. We make promises, take certain actions, and avoid certain actions based on the expectation that the people and entities with which we participate will perform a certain way.

For example:

Read More »The World of Expectations, Part 3

Building an Organization That Works, Part 1

A historical model of organizational structure that has its roots in monarchies and the military is a simple hierarchy. In this system, all authority rests with the “boss” or leader of the organization. Authority to hire, fire, direct, create, and manage may be delegated to various extents and still, it is fully held at the top of the organizational structure. This has historically worked fairly well in environments where the way to accomplish what there is to accomplish is already known and clearly visible. It can allow for effective management of what the boss and/or bosses know how to do. There are indeed places where this may be the most effective structure for an organization. It is however taken for granted in many organizations that this is the correct way to do things, which in some environments and situations may leave a great deal to be desired.

There are numerous challenges to this hierarchical structure:

Read More »Building an Organization That Works, Part 1

The World of Expectations, Part 2

(This is the second part of a three-part series; if you haven’t already, I recommend that you read the first part to set the context for yourself)

Welcome back. In this part of our exploration of the world of expectations, we will take a look at how our overall performance and experience are shaped and constrained by what we expect, and then look to see what will allow us to restore and elevate our effectiveness and results. And again, this is not The Truth or something to be believed, but something to consider. For when we see something from a new perspective, we give ourselves new opportunities for action, new ways to be and a whole new experience.

In last month’s newsletter we looked at ourselves and started to get an idea of the degree to which how we see the world, and in fact how we are (think, feel, act) in the world, is colored and influenced by our expectations. Let’s revisit this once more from the view of neurobiology. Consider this: If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibers going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory.

In fact, Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.

Are you starting to get this?

We don’t “see” with our eyes. We “see” with our brain. What we “see” is almost totally constructed from what we have seen and what we expect to see. We think and act as if we’re “perceiving” something “out there”, and reacting accordingly, right? It’s just not the case. Our expectations don’t just influence our “response to what’s happening”, they create the “happening” that we’re “responding to”. The same goes for the other senses, and, by extension, listening (as distinct from just hearing). The way that a situation (and “the world”) occurs for us, and therefore the way we act “in response” to that occurring situation, is wholly a function of the future we expect, which is limited to some variation of what we’ve “experienced” in the past.

What does this actually look like? Well, in sales it could look like this:

Read More »The World of Expectations, Part 2

The Natural Brand

I’d like to talk about Branding. Not to discuss how to get your brand known, create brand recognition, nor how branding is supported through marketing or advertising. This instead, is the description of the “Natural Brand”.

Business success – lasting, enjoyable, and profitable success – comes from a business or organization knowing who it is, what it is committed to, and what it does best. Business leaders could be tremendously well served by examining this, both personally and organizationally. Ask: What are you passionate about, and what are you great at?

“Branding” has value. But lasting value comes from identifying one’s own “natural brand”. Identify the things you are most passionate about and greatest at, and keep your focus on doing those things. Know yourself and “to thine own self be true.” Let the brand come forth from who you are, and you will likely live up to the expectations you create. Natural Brand is an expression of values. Real Values.

Many companies have a great “Statement of Values”. For example, Enron had the following engraved in stone in their main lobby: “Integrity • Communication • Respect • Excellence.”

But, I am not referring to value statements; I am referring to real values. If you want to see the values of a business, look at their practices, e.g. how they approach their clients, their challenges, their decision making processes, etc. Real values are always realized; in existence, in the present tense.

I highly recommend that people who are interested in long term success read the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. In it, the discussion of knowing who you are and what you are committed to is discussed with examples of some very successful organizations, world leaders in their time. And if any of you ever want to speak about how to apply these principals to make your business more successful, I would be happy to discuss it with you.

It is my belief that people who love what they do, and do it well, can be well compensated for their work. Further, I suggest that being well compensated for doing what one loves to do and does well is simple to create.

Read More »The Natural Brand