Performance Matters

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Focus on Performance
I’m going old-school with today’s message – it’s going to be direct, and to the point…focus on performance. One of my pet peeves is the voluminous amount of management speak and self-help propaganda currently in circulation designed to codify a lack of performance. I’m an individual that believes in clear and direct communication, so I’ll spare you the rhetoric and just do what I do best…cut to the chase. Put simply, the formula for success, what truly differentiates you, is that you either PERFORM or your don’t.

The text that follows is not going to nurture you, nor will it serve as a disingenuous pat on the back…I’m not going to tell you what a nice person you are, but I am going to ask you to lose the excuses, rationalizations, justifications, platitudes, theories, and spin and just get the job done. This message is about zeroing-in on the main difference between the impact players and the wannabes…its called delivering a certainty of execution. Don’t give me excuses…give me results.

See if this rings true…have you ever noticed that it seems to be those soothsayers who can wax eloquent in the planning stages, that always just seem to fall flat on their face when it comes to the implementation? Again, in an effort to keep it simple, don’t tell me; show me! A great strategy that cannot be executed is not a great strategy at all…it is a failed strategy. Let me put it this way…It’s pretty darn hard to look smart if you cannot deliver the goods. 

Think of any successful leader and you’ll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today’s business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations…if you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute. 

The best advice I can give you is to immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Contrasted with an earlier statement above, it’s hard to appear as anything other than smart when you are a master of execution and performance. Few things speak to a leader’s ability like consistently putting points on the scoreboard…

Now What?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Contingency Planning
When things don’t go as expected, what do you do? The best leaders always have a back-up plan, so my question to you is: what’s your Plan B? My experience with most executives & entrepreneurs is that they are totally committed to and focused on success. As a result, many of them tend to have a major blind-spot (translation: weakness) when it comes to the anticipation of set-backs.  While this is understandable, it is nonetheless naive, and it constitutes a major flaw in the business logic of most strategic plans. This is so much the case that the most often overlooked aspect of strategic planning is adequately addressing contingencies as part of the planning process. In the text that follows, I’ll take a closer look at the value of contingency planning…

The reality surrounding the success of any implementation is found by understanding that no matter how smart you are, things rarely go as planned. Those that plan in advance for changes in circumstances can adroitly address issues when they occur, while those who must deal with “unforeseen” circumstances don’t tend to fare as well. Smart leaders view obstacles as a constant rather than a variable, and incorporate that thinking into their planning.  Any well crafted strategy anticipates obstacles and factors in multiple “what if” scenarios.  Leaders that wait until a problem occurs to deal with it place themselves and their organization at a huge strategic disadvantage.

The two most common outcomes created by a lack of contingency planning are: 1.) watching things grind to a halt as you scramble to evaluate options, and; 2.) having fewer options to assess based upon the new found time constraint. Speed is your friend and should be leveraged to your advantage. Speed is aided by anticipation and slowed by a lack thereof. Smart leaders will do everything in their power to keep a decreae in velocity from becoming a self imposed adversary due to a lack of contingency planning.

It is important to remember that contingency planning is a key to avoiding costly mistakes. In most cases your wins won’t put you out of business, but your losses most certainly can. The three most critical items to focus on when conducting your planning are:

  1. Insure that personal accountability is present on any major benchmark, milestone or deliverable.  
  2. Make sure that someone has identified the 5 worst things that could happen with any initiative, what steps can be taken to prevent their occurrence, and what measures will be taken to overcome them if they happen?
  3. Make sure that advance warning signs for potential failures are identified and understood so that you have plenty of runway in front of you to implement your contingency plans.

My final suggestion is that you take the time to review all mission critical plans to insure that the proper contingency plans have been put into place.  

Sidebar: This post was inspired by a conversation I had last month Mark Oakes (@MarkOOakes) about the historical origin of the term” Plan B.” As told by Mark, the story goes like this: Baron Von Bismark was tasked with unifying the axis powers in WW1. He had his aids work for months preparing the perfect unification plan. Upon completion they wanted to immediately put it into action. Bismark said “NO…prepare a second plan in the event the first doesn’t work.” It became knows as ‘Plan B’ (B)ismark Plan = Plan ‘B’

Ideas vs. Innovation

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Ideas Don't Equal Innovation
I had a long conversation today with a client discussing creativity, ideas, innovation, branding and the like. As a result of our conversation, I decided to dust-off an old post, give it a few updates, and pass along my thoughts, which can be best summarized as “Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation.“ It is my hope to help dispel the myth that ideas are inherently good things. Let me state right from the outset that I place little value on ideas. Not only do raw ideas have little intrinsic value, but they are often very costly. While I stipulate to the fact that ideas can sometimes lead to great things, I also submit that it is more frequently the case that ideas lead to disappointment, and even outright disaster. Those of you familiar with my work are probably wondering if it is really me authoring this text…if you’re baffled at how a champion of innovation can simultaneously be an idea-basher, I urge you to read on, and I promise the congruity will become apparent.

I want to start by actually defining what an idea is, and is not. Ideas in and of themselves do not constitute a philosophy, principle, or strategy. An idea is not synonymous with a competitive advantage, an idea is not necessarily a sign of creativity, an idea does not constitute innovation, and as much as some people wish it was so, an idea is certainly not a business. To the chagrin of many reading this post, ideas in and of themselves are nothing more than unrefined, random thoughts. Ideas on their own accord are really quite useless. The truth can often times be harsh and difficult to hear, but it is nonetheless the truth.

Ideas are a dime a dozen…take a moment and reflect on all the ideas you’ve spawned over the years, or the many ideas that have been birthed by your friends, family, and professional associates and you’ll quickly see that most of them never got lift-off. The problem is that most ideas never get implemented, and moreover even the best ideas when improperly implemented can cause great harm. You see, while creativity is a clearly a valuable asset, unbridled creativity where random, disparate ideas abound outside of a sound decisioning and execution framework will create distraction and chaos much more often than they will lead to innovation.

In fact, it is most often the organizations that demonstrate a “heard mentality” when rushing to adopt the latest ideas that are the farthest thing away from being innovative. The net result of being a late stage trend follower is that you will likely experience little more than yet another in a long line of great adventures that ended in frustration due to the time wasted and the investment squandered.  The reality is that many businesses are quick to recognize great ideas, but they often have no plan for how to successfully integrate them into their business model.

My advice to you is not to let your business get caught up in embracing random ideas At least not without some initial analysis being conducted to determine the likelihood of success. Failed initiatives are costly at several levels. Aside from being costly, a flawed execution can cast doubt on management credibility, have a negative impact on morale, taint the brand, adversely affect external relationships, and cause a variety of other problems for your business.

Every sound business initiative begins with a solid strategic plan. However while most anyone can cobble together a high level strategic plan, very few can author a strategy that can be successfully implemented. In order for your enterprise to turn an idea into a monetizing and/or value creating event you should develop a strategic plan that attempts to measure the idea against the following 15 elements:

1. The idea should be generated within a solid framework for decisioning. It should be developed as a solution to a problem or to exploit an opportunity. The idea should be in alignment with the overall vision and mission of the enterprise.

2. If the idea doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field.

3. Any new idea should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.

4. Put the idea through a risk/reward and cost/benefit analysis.

5. Whether the new idea is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must easy to use. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple.

6. Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research.

7. Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk, that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives surrounding new ideas should include detailed risk management provisions.

8. Adopting a new idea should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling. Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections.

9. Any new ideas should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan and in the light of day.

10. Any new ideas being adopted must lead to measurable objectives. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.

11. It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.

12. Ideas need to be incorporated into strategic initiatives and not constitute disparate systems. They should be incorporated into integrated solutions that eliminate redundancies, and build in tactical leverage points.

13. Ideas should contain a road-map for versioning and evolution that is in alignment with other strategic initiatives and the overall corporate mission.

14. A successful idea cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through tactical implementation.

15. Senior leadership must champion any new idea being adopted. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new idea, it will likely die on the cutting-room floor.

The bottom line is that new ideas are beautiful things when they become solutions or lead to opportunities. Properly implemented, capitalizing on process driven creativity can keep business from stagnating and cause growth and evolution. Just follow the 15 rules above and avoid being the misguided change agent for solely for the sake of change.

A Culture of “No”

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leaders need to take great care to avoid creating a culture of no. There seems to be a popular movement afoot that believes the word “no” is the super antidote to the far inferior word “yes.” There are many well known axioms espousing the benefits of learning to use the word no with greater frequency. In fact, there are some very bright people that believe you cannot become a good leader without developing a mastery for using the word no as evidenced by the following quote from Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.” I couldn’t disagree more…In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on what I refer to as the fallacy of no.

Let me ask you a few simple questions: How do you feel when you’re told no? Does it leave you feeling positive about yourself? Does it make you feel like your contributions and opinions are valued? While inherently obvious, it should not go unnoticed that the use of the word no is 100% negative. The word no ends discussions, stifles creativity, kills innovation, impedes learning, and gates initiative. Put simply, the word no advances nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing and incentivizes nothing. No is not all it’s cracked-up to be…

Let me put it to you another way…If as a leader you find yourself always saying no, what does that tell you about your leadership ability? It means your vision is not understood, your team is not aligned and your talent is not performing up to par. It means you’re not teaching, mentoring, communicating, or leading.  The perception that strong leaders say no and weak leaders say yes is simply flawed thinking. A constant stream of “no’s” is not a positive sign, it’s a warning sign that needs to be heeded.

The most common reasons people tend to cite in support of using no is it helps to keep them from wasting time, that is somehow manages risk, and that it helps them focus by not biting off more than they can chew. These agendas are better accomplished with clear communication, effective collaboration, and prudent resourcing – not by saying no. Great leaders help people get to a yes – in other words, they teach them how not to receive a no. Rather than just kill something with a quick no, a good leader uses every  adverse scenario as a development opportunity to help people advance their critical thinking and decisioning skills. 

While I understand that there are times when using no may be your only option, those times should be the exception and not the rule. Bottom line…Yes is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of intelligent leadership. Next time you’re tempted to say no, do yourself a big favor and find a way to work around the obstacle and toward a yes.

The Fallacy of the Linchpin Theory

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

After reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, I was reminded of the volume of  information circulating of late espousing the benefits of making yourself indispensable to your employer. While this mantra has clearly gained some traction, if not actually becoming quite popular, popular thinking does not necessarily equate to sound thinking. Let me be as clear as I can – nobody, and I mean nobody is indispensable. I don’t care who you are, what role you play, or what your title is…if you perceive yourself to be indispensable, you are setting yourself up for a very rude awakening.  Furthermore, anyone who by design sets out to orchestrate a situation to make themselves indispensable is not operating in good faith. In today’s post I’m going to share my thoughts as to why the myth of becoming indispensable is very dangerous thinking to say the least…  

A well managed company does not allow itself to become dependent upon the performance of any single individual. Those individuals who attempt to hoard knowledge, relationships, or resources to attain job security should not to be valued or viewed as indispensable, but should be admonished as ineffective and deemed a liability. Corporate talent that cannot be shared, duplicated, distributed, or leveraged is not nearly as valuable as talent that can.

So, where has all this recent self-indulgent, misguided thinking come from? I believe much of it stems from the self-help types that proliferate the concept of self-promotion for self-benefit over the concept of service above self. As I mentioned earlier, more distressing is that this concept was recently validated in Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin.  

Let me begin by stating that I’m a Seth Godin fan. While I agree with him more often than not, I will from time-to-time find myself shaking my head wondering what in the heck could Seth possibly be thinking? In his recent book Linchpin, Seth Godin puts forth some great concepts that we should all aspire to. I wholeheartedly agree that each of us should become the best we can be, that our work should become developed and refined to the point where it is viewed as art, and we are seen as the artist behind the masterpiece. So much of what you’ll read in between the covers of Linchpin is as close to inspirational brilliance as you’ll find in a business book, which is why it pains me to have to point out the critical flaw in Linchpin that regrettably overshadows the highlights – namely the concept of the linchpin itself. 

Seth describes a linchpin as somebody in an organization who is indispensable – who simply cannot be replaced because their role is just far too unique and valuable. Making things worse, he then goes on to say how important it is for all of us to become indispensable, for not to be indispensable is tantamount to economic and career suicide. Encouraging somebody to make the most of their talents and abilities is quite laudable – encouraging them to become indispensable is validating a new level of self worship that I find quite troubling.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who sets out to make themselves indispensable would be the one committing career suicide for two reasons: 1.) anyone who is ”perceived” as indispensable in their current role completely eliminates any possibility of promotion, and; 2.) Any good leadership team who finds themselves dependant upon a linchpin will immediately move to mitigate the risk of finding themselves in such an untenable position.

It is an organization’s ability to collect and convert data into information, turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into an operating advantage that allows an enterprise to effectively address current needs as well as to strategically drive innovation and forward planning. This cannot happen if one person positions themselves as a linchpin. Put more simply, a corporation’s employees must be able to acquire knowledge (learning), transfer knowledge (out of the head and into an information system), apply knowledge (from the information system into an actionable event), manage knowledge (execute with focus, timing and precision), and secure knowledge (keep it from evaporating or even worse from walking out the door to a competitor). Let’s see if we can bring this issue a bit closer to home for some of you…Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever had a disruption in business continuity because someone who possessed a wealth of experience and/or information retired, quit or was terminated?
  • Have you ever lost a deal or had a major operational problem because somewhere in your organization you found yourself dependent upon a single person’s expertise and they dropped the ball?
  • Have you ever found yourself in the unenviable position of desiring to terminate an employee only to be held hostage by the fear of losing the knowledge that they possess?

While I could go on ad-nauseum with day-to-day operating examples of how a linchpin can adversely affect a business, I think I’ve probably dredged-up enough painful memories for now. As a CEO or entrepreneur, the fact that you would allow an employee to become indispensable to begin with means that at a minimum you have a lack of transparency and continuity in your organization, and more probably that you lack depth of talent and are weak in process and knowledge management.

How would you answer this question…Is your company talent poor and linchpin dependent, or talent rich or linchpin independent? From my perspective there is a monumental difference between real tier-one talent and a primadonna who thinks of themselves as indispensable. Employees who represent true tier-one talent see themselves as part of the team seeking to make those around them more successful. Contrast this with those primadonnas who are interested solely in their own success without regard to those around them. Any company that bestows a primadonna with recognition as somehow being indispensable, is a company about ready to experience a completely avoidable disaster. 

If you want to eliminate unnecessary dependencies, don’t allow any individual to create ultimate domain over anything that is considered key or mission critical. Instead create a culture that values transparency, knowledge management, mentoring, coaching, and process. By doing these things you will add both depth and breadth to your organization and increase the overall level of talent across the enterprise. Bottom line…encourage people to be a valuable part of the team, to maximize their contribution to others and the overall enterprise, but under no circumstances allow someone be become the proverbial cog in the wheel.

The Vaule of Candor

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

While candor is often trivialized or viewed as less than tasteful, it nonetheless rates very highly in my book. I want people to know where I stand, and vice-versa. I’m not suggesting that we don’t use tact in our communications, but people have become far too sensitive for my tastes. So my question is this: Have you been told that you have a bit of an edge? If so, you have likely found that it serves you very well. Let me be clear that when I refer to an edge I’m not talking about rough edges, or confusing an edgy presence with rude or arrogant behavior. What I am refering to is having a direct, no B.S. approach that allows you to get right to the heart of an issue in the shortest time-frame possible. 

On several occasions I’ve received that “I can’t believe you just said that” look from clients. In fact, one interaction in particular does a good job of conveying the value of having an edge…I had a client look directly at me and say: “If I spoke to my clients like that they would fire me right on the spot…How do you get away with that?” My question back to him was: “Why don’t you fire me?” His response: “because you tell me what I need to hear as opposed to what you think I want to hear, and I value that.” My reply: “That’s how I get away with it.”

Most people value candor, and if they don’t, I’ve found that they tend to live in an ego-centric, altered state of denial that will result in many unnecessary hardships. I coined the following phrase to address these delusional types: “Those who seek shelter in the wisdom of sound counsel must also be willing to take refuge there…Those unwilling to do the latter, really don’t value the former.” 

I’ve never been accused of being politically correct, or a shrinking violet. In fact, my edge is a large part of my competitive value proposition. I don’t sugar coat, gloss-over, or spin…rather I tell you what you need to hear, which is always the truth, regardless of whether or not it is easy to swallow. My clients tell me that having someone to hold them accountable, challenge their business logic, force them out of comfort zones, and tell them the truth is a rarity in the marketplace (remember that scarcity = value).

As a validation for what I’ve communicated above, among the most common requests received by coaching referral services are inquiries looking for “strong” coaches. The simple truth of the matter is that I’ve rarely encountered a successful professional advisor, entrepreneur, executive, or any leader for that matter who doesn’t have a bit of an edge. 

Here’s another question: How sharp is your edge? We’ve all come across those people in our lives who don’t just possess an edge, but they have taken their edge to a completely different level having honed it to a razor’s edge…These people not only possess the qualities espoused above, but they have also learned how to appropriately leverage their edge by using it for the right purpose at the right time. Whether they use their edge as a subtle carving tool used for shaping and refining, a surgical blade used to implement change, as a lightning rod for shock-and-awe purposes, or a defensive instrument of protection, they know when to use it, and when to keep it in check. So, I ask again…Do you have and edge, and if so, how sharp is your edge?

The Truth about PR

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Truth About PRMuch to the chagrin of traditional PR firms, the practice of public relations is changing faster than most firms can keep pace with. If the image to the left even remotely resembles how you feel when you interact with your PR firm, then it’s time to rethink things…Traditional firms who define their practice by writing press releases and conducting media pitches are seeing clients jump ship faster than politicians can sling mud. PR firms that “get it” have surpassed advertising agencies moving into the forefront of brand building, digital marketing, social media marketing, reputation management, and influence peddling. In this week’s column I share my thoughts on the changing landscape of public relations…

In today’s ultra competitive global economy, the battle to win the hearts and minds of very broad and diverse constituencies has never been more critical or challenging. Savvy corporate clients are no longer settling for old school PR, and have mandated that both the strategy and tactics of PR evolve to meet the fluidity of market demands. Public relations is no longer about agency interns and thirty-something staffers pitching a story idea, or attempting to book a speaking engagement. Rather PR done right has everything to do with a new generation of influence agents who leverage relationships to open doors and markets, create buzz across mediums and geographies, who carefully protect and manage reputations, and who build dominant personal and corporate brands.  

A good PR initiative in today’s world transcends media relations…It enables the achievement of client business objectives through whatever ethical means are required to get the job done while increasing brand equity in the process. If your PR firm cannot break through political barriers via lobbying efforts, help facilitate joint ventures and strategic partnerships, manage personal or corporate reputations online, and build a dominant brand then you have the wrong agency on retainer.

I’m always amazed at the substantial budgets companies expend with PR firms who not only fail to deliver, but who actually tarnish their client’s brand. The market is fraught with recent examples of sophomoric efforts on the part of name brand PR firms who have flubbed blogging and social media initiatives, mismanaged publicity stunts, crossed ethical boundaries, and otherwise have placed their clients in untenable situations. The bottom line is that when it comes to protecting and advancing your brand through the creation and execution of sound business opportunities, don’t just buy into a pitch from an old-line agency that has not proven that they have transitioned their practice to the realities of the current business climate. 

In the final analysis when it comes to selecting a PR firm don’t buy a pitch, be sold on a brand, or even the brands that an agency has represented in the past. Rather look at the recent growth of the agency while considering who you want as a strategic business partner, who understands your business objectives, and who can deliver the results…


October 2016
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