The problem is simple. Too many employees are not fully developed. In fact, too many employees develop very little after they are hired.
And this is a problem.
So, how does a company do a better job at developing employees? Here is a line from the 2002 book that kind of launched the “Execution” discussion of the last decade, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.
Teach your people – but remember, 80% of learning happens outside of the formal learning situations.
If 80% of learning happens outside of the formal learning situations, does this mean that the formal training, the formal sessions, are a waste of time? Yes – and no.
The formal training sessions are essential to jump-start the conversation, to give the “basics,” to “teach” the principles that need to be worked on. In other words, if the 80% of learning is outside the formal learning situations, you still need the formal session to start the process effectively. It is only a start – but it is an essential start.
But, after the session, the real learning begins. As the employee “works on” this new development area, a manager has to provide feedback, coaching, constructive criticism. It has to be someone’s job to help each employee take the next step.
So, in other words, without the training session, it is a much harder task to demonstrate just what needs to be worked on. But just to “say/present/teach,” even in a well-designed and well-led training session “this is what you need to work on,” without effective follow-up feedback and coaching, then, yes, training sessions can be a waste of time and resources.
In other words, it takes work; ongoing work, a lot of work, and teamwork between employee and managers, to develop the skills and capabilities of employees.
At Creative Communication Network, we have recently experimented with a new “Individual Action Plan,” that each participant completes at the end of each training session. Then, it is up to that employee to share that plan with his/her manager, and together they can tackle the ongoing feedback and coaching needs.
The training sessions alone are good, valuable. But, not enough! We are fully convinced that it is the “next steps” that make all the difference.
“If you don’t want to go to Plan B, have a good Plan A.”
Alex, on Nikita
“I love it when a plan comes together.”
Colonel Jon “Hannibal” Smith, The A-Team
Here’s Chapter Eight of Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child by Ron Hunter Jr. & Michael E. Waddell:
Little Green Army Men — Strategy: Success is in the Setup
Success is in the setup…
Have you planned your day? Do you know what you are going to do today. With each hour of the day? With each quarter hour of each hour?
What about your week? Do you know what you are going to do with your week? Each day of the week? Each hour of each day? Each…
Do you what what you are going to do with your month?
Are you beginning to get the picture? You will get more done the better you plan. Oh, the plan might have to be adjusted. But, to quote again this great wisdom from Dwight Eisenhower:
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
There is a reason that the old wisdom endures. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail…” is a piece of that old wisdom. And it is still, and will always, be, true.
Setup – plan. Then work your plan.
Call this strategy, then execution.
So, how good a planner are you?
When I present one of my book synopsis presentations, I like to read some of the key quotes from the book and then ask folks to “turn to the person next to you and tell them which quote most resonated with you.” It always sparks some lively and useful conversations.
Here’s the next step – the takeaway for you whenever you read a book. Ask yourself:
“what have I read that resonates with me – with my situation, at work, especially at this time?”
Now, ask yourself this question:
“So, what am I going to do about this?”
When you get the answer to this question, then you can begin implementing what you have learned from reading your book.
In other words, understand – get clear! – and then, do!
In other words, the world belongs to those who understand, and then execute!
For those who never execute – it’s all just wishful thinking…
Just some thoughts on a snow day…
Ok, I’m trapped inside… and getting just a little crazy…
So… I’m “thinking” about stuff.
And here is one of my thoughts. There are times when circumstances overtake and overrun and trump all other considerations.
Take the First Friday Book Synopsis. We have gotten better at marketing this event. We are nearly in our fourteenth year, and this event is stronger than ever, and the circle of participants, both regular and occasional, just keeps growing. It is wonderful, and the people who make up our community make us successful. (Thank you). And, I think we provide valuable content – our event really is useful and valuable in quite a few ways (networking, book synopsis content, great food!)
But all the marketing, all the loyalty, all the value in the world, just withered (make that “froze”) in the face of ice patches, freezing temperatures, and a blanket of snow. Circumstances shut us done – at least, for this month.
And we are just one very small operation, with one event. (although, like all of you, there are ripple effects impacting our clients, and our work with them). Imagine the angst in the decision-making rooms of the Airlines, and all of the outdoor Super Bowl week organizers, and… Now, we’re talking about real money, and far-reaching ripple effects.
And, especially in this Super Bowl week, think of all the “small folks” hurt – people who took their savings or borrowed the money to print souvenirs, t-shirts, Super Bowl collectibles. Circumstances trumped all of the best business planning…
And, then, think of a really big circumstance – the uprising in Egypt. As I write this, Egypt is experiencing utter chaos. Think of all the business income lost in the midst of this unrest and uncertainty and actual danger.
So, you know the formula: strategic thinking + strategic planning + flawless execution lead to success. But…but…
So… I write this to remind us all of a simple truth. We can plan, work, demonstrate a serious work-ethic, but there are times when circumstances overtake all that we do.
And, yes, I love the snow, and the snow day… it is beautiful!
I had the privilege of speaking to the Gazelles this week in Orlando. I presented two synopses: The Checklist Manifesto and Multipliers. The day was rich with insight, from presentations and conversations.
At this event, Verne Harnish, the founder of the Gazelles organization, the author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, and overall business thinker par excellence, just shares his latest thinking. They call his session “Visitation with Verne.” I have pages of notes and ponderings from his presentation.
He started with a simple challenge: “we need more rigor.” Good challenge!
Here are a couple of key thoughts from his visitation:
#1: You’ve got to out-read and out-learn your competitors. Like all great insights, this is so obvious; yet we don’t see it, pay attention to it, do it. After all the emphasis through the years on the learning organization; after all the insight we gain from this simple fact: good leaders keep reading important books; we still don’t put reading and learning in their needed place in our priorities. Verne reminded us that there is always someone out there trying to keep ahead of you. You’ve simply got to out-read, out-learn your competitors.
Here’s an interesting way to think about it: before you can be effective at “brainstorming,” you have to be very effective at “brain-filling.”
#2: Forget “Strategic Planning” – shift to “Strategic Thinking, Execution Planning.” Vocabulary matters. Vocabulary shapes behavior. What you call/name something shapes what it becomes. And Verne, the man behind the brilliant and exceptionally practical and usable “One-Page Strategic Plan,” (download it free from the Gazelles website, here. Click the “strategy” tab), thinks that it is time for a vocabulary shift.
In reality, there is no such thing as strategic planning. There is only “strategic thinking,” and then comes “execution planning.” This shift reminds us that “strategic planning” is in reality a two-step process. Without the right strategy, execution can not win the day. With the right strategy, a failure at execution loses the day.
There was much more from Verne. But these two strike me as especially critical to our on-going pursuit of success.
You can purchase my synopsis of The Checklist Manifesto, Multipliers, and many other titles, with audio + handout, from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. For example, this one.
In all of his previous books (notably Execution co-authored with Larry Bossidy and then Know-How), Ram Charan focuses his attention on how to achieve and then sustain superior organizational performance. Another earlier work, What the CEO Wants You to Know, is an excellent companion for What the Customer Wants You to Know because it helps those in sales – as well as those who supervise them — to understand the customer’s business more broadly. In fact, the inspiration for the Customer book came from the CEO book. Charan explains in it why traditional sales approaches are unable to satisfy what customers want salespeople to know: How their business works and how they can make it work better. “The heart of the new approach to selling is an intense focus on the prosperity of your customers.” Value Creation Selling (VCS) is the foundation of what Charan recommends.
He notes that VCS is “sweepingly different from how most companies sell today in these five ways: “First, you as a seller and your organization devote large amounts of time and energy – much more than you do today – to learning about your customers’ businesses in great detail…Second, you use capabilities and tools that you’ve never used before to understand how your customers do business and how you can help them improve that business…Third, you’re going to make it your business to know not only your customers but also your customers’ customers…Fourth, you have to recognize that the execution of this new approach will require much longer cycle times to produce an order and generate revenue…Finally, top management in your company will have to reengineer its recognition and reward system to make sure that the organization as a whole is fostering the behaviors that will make the new sales approach effective.”
In this volume, Charan examines these and other issues in great detail and with meticulous care. Having briefly identified the “what,” he then devotes most of his attention to HOW. For example:
• How to fix “the broken sales process”
• How to become a customer’s trusted partner
• How to formulate the “Value Account Plan”
• How to create a Value Creation Sales Force
• How to make the sale
• How to sustain the VCS process
• How to take VCS to the next level
Earlier I referred to Charan’s somewhat more narrow focus as he explains why traditional sales approaches are unable to satisfy what customers want salespeople to know. That’s true but it should be noted that Charan views the VCS process – if properly formulated and then effectively implemented – should directly or at least directly involve everyone within the given enterprise. In fact, because the VCS process is information-driven, he strongly recommends that external sources also be utilized to obtain the information needed about each customer and its business. Those sources include online and electronic business media as well as vendors and research analysts within the given marketplace. Thorough as always, Charan even suggests what kinds of questions should be asked to determine specific information needs and objectives.
Organic growth is at the top of every company’s agenda. Many growth strategies do not get the right mileage because the sales function remains in the previous age. This book proposes value creation selling as a way to differentiate any business from its competitors. It enables the sales forces to break out from what Charan considers “commoditization hell.” Here’s a key point: When a customer sees that the selling company is creating value on a consistent basis better than anyone else’s offering, the sales force has a better chance to sustain more profitable pricing.
After I read this book and then began to organize my thoughts about it before composing this review, it occurred to me that everything Charan recommends is also relevant to business development initiatives because prospects as well as current customers favor those who have obviously made a great effort to know how their business works and how they can make it work better. Granted, current customers are generally more inclined to share information than are prospective customers. Nonetheless, in my opinion, those in sales who do their homework gain a decisive competitive advantage because of their “intense focus on the [prospect's] prosperity.”
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Brad Power for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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In my consulting and research I’ve seen many companies launch process improvement programs such as Total Quality Management, Business Reengineering, Lean, and Six Sigma. Many got significant benefits, including lower costs, faster time-to-market, and better customer experiences. But after one round of improvement, they gave up and let their organization get flabby again. Organizations, like people, need to stay fit and make improvement a habit to be competitive. So why don’t they? Why is sustained process improvement so rare?
Consider the story of Allied Signal. Under Larry Bossidy, Allied Signal was a “poster child” of process improvement success following the “Six Sigma” approach — enjoying consistent growth in earnings and cash flow from 1991 to 1999, highlighted by 31 consecutive quarters of earnings-per-share growth of 13% or more, and tripled operating margins to almost 15 percent. Bossidy wrote a best-selling book, called Execution, about his approach. Yet when Allied Signal merged with Honeywell in 1999 and Bossidy departed in 2000 and was replaced by Mike Bonsignore, they dropped their Six Sigma attention while focusing on a GE-Honeywell deal. According to market analyst Cliff Ransom, “It took about 18 months for a Six Sigma culture to essentially disappear when the wrong successor to Larry Bossidy took the reins.”
Or consider the story of Wiremold, a famous example of a “lean transformation,” profiled in the book Lean Thinking [click here]. From 1990 when new management and Japanese consultants arrived to 1999, Wiremold’s stock rose 32% per year, the first shipment fill rate rose from 60% to 92%, sales per full time employee rose from $92,000 to $241,000, inventory turnover rose from 3.4 to 15.8, and new product development cycle time declined from 2-3 years to 3-12 months. Then in 2000, Wiremold was acquired by Legrand, a French manufacturer of electrical equipment. Legrand was firmly committed to batch production and standard cost accounting, and the lean transformation unwound [click here] in a few years.
As the Allied Signal and Wiremold stories demonstrate, there are significant potential business benefits from adopting a process improvement program, yet despite these apparent benefits, they weren’t enough to build process improvement into Allied Signal’s or Wiremold’s DNA. What are the factors that get in the way of continuous improvement?
In my research, including analysis of more than twenty companies which have launched major process programs, I’ve identified five factors that have gotten in the way of sustained attention to process improvement:
• Competing demands for attention (as with Honeywell’s potential deal with GE)
• Competing mindsets and behaviors (such as work harder vs. work smarter)
• Strategic irrelevance (other more important levers for competitive success)
• Traditional management processes (Legrand’s cost accounting)
• The pain of disruption
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Brad Power (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a consultant and researcher in process innovation. His current research is on sustaining attention to process management — making improvement and adaptation a habit (even fun?). He is currently conducting research with the Lean Enterprise Institute [click here].
We live in a “if he/she said it, I won’t even listen” era. That can be a mistake. People with whom you usually disagree may have something worthwhile to say. So, before you pass judgment on who said this, listen to what she said. (In other words, some will be fans; others will be tempted to reject her out of hand. Please, just consider the argument).
Last night, Rachel Maddow reported from Louisisana, and showed us from up-close the effects of the gulf oil spill. And, more importantly, she showed us the failures of the containment and clean-up technologies. Her report was filled with video images of the region. She was accompanied by scientists/professors who clearly knew the problems discussed.
Throughout the segment, Maddow stressed that the oil industry has not done enough to improve safety technologies in the past 40 years, and that even the limited clean-up technology was not being properly used.
“The oil industry generally…hasn’t come up with any new clean-up technology since before I was born,” she said. “The technology is so lame…But even that lame technology that we have, we’re not doing it right…we could be doing a much better job.”
I cannot get her report out of my head, and concluded that this entire situation provides a snapshot of business success and failure in one very big, tragic story.
If you have read this blog at all; if you read business books at all; you know that there are two absolute essentials for business success: #1 is innovation, #2 is execution.
#1 – Innovation: Know the next thing to do, and do it better than it was done before, and better than anyone else is doing it now; and keep getting better at it, or someone will pass you by as they get better at it than you are.
#2 – Execution: Whatever you do, do it as well as it can be done. Do not mess it up. Execute!
The gulf oil disaster is a failure in both of these business success principles.
By the way, I’m only focusing in this post about the aftermath. It is also true that the execution in the actual drilling, and especially in proper and careful set up for the use of the blowout preventer, and other “fail-safe” steps, was a classic execution failure.
But this is what Rachel Maddow had to say, and her argument is pretty much a slam-dunk.
First, the containment and clean-up technology is not being done well – what we have here is a failure to execute. She showed video of oil containment boom dislodged, boom washed ashore, boom clearly untended. The boom, which can be successful, cannot be successful without proper execution in deployment and use. And in much of the case (way too much of the case, as her report documented) boom is simply not being placed and maintained properly. Thus, oil has reached the shore in far too many places, even in places where boom has been placed to protect the shore – because of poor execution.
And when the oil reaches the actual shore, then you’ve got real, serious long-term trouble.
Second, and this is most telling – we have made practically no advances, no innovations, in containment and clean-up technologies for decades. Her reasoning is compelling. (By the way, Ms. Maddow is Stanford and Oxford Educated (Ph.D.), a Rhodes Scholar – she’s got a hefty mind and a very persuasive, case-building communication style). She said that the oil companies, and the universities (with endowed teaching positions and funded research programs) have continually researched ways to innovate in the areas of finding oil sources and drilling for that oil. It is the dollars invested in this research, this innovation, that enables us to now drill down nearly one mile to the ocean floor, and another 3-4 miles below the floor of the ocean, for oil. Innovation has made this possible.
But the oil companies, the universities, have spent practically no money on research and development to innovate in the area of containment and clean-up. In other words, we are using 21st century technology for oil finding and oil drilling, and mid-20th century technology in containment and clean-up.
This is a massive failure of innovation – and this failure is now a very expensive failure.
Her report serves as a business success and failure lesson. Success requires innovation and execution. Failure in either leads to much bigger, very serious failure. This is a reminder for all of us, regardless of our business.
You can watch the “Busted Booms Fail Louisiana Coast” segment here:
View additional Maddow segments from Louisiana here:
I had a wonderful time with a group of Gazelles coaches this past week. And as I talked with, listened to, and thought about their approach to their jobs, a few things came into sharper focus. A key text to this group of business thinkers is the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. (I have blogged about this book a few times). At the heart of the book (actually, at the heart of Rockefeller’s success) is the practice of regular meetings. And, as I read the Atul Gawande book The Checklist Manifesto, I thought some more about that practice of holding those regular meetings. And then I heard one of the coaches refer to these regular meetings as “huddles.” That’s what grabbed me, and helped me really, fully get the concept.
Not every football team wins a championship. But no team wins, or can even stay on the playing field, without following some practices that closely resemble the habits from Rockefeller (confirmed by Gawande). So let’s take a look.
In a football game, every player has a specific assignment for each play. He has to fulfill a specific job assignment: he has to run to a certain place on the field, or block a specific player. Each player has a specific assignment on each play in each game.
The player has spent hours learning how to actually carry out these assignments. He has to study the play book until he knows it like a good preacher knows the Bible, and then drill, time and time and time again, getting each step down right – developing a discipline so reliable that it is called “muscle memory.”
At the start of each play, the team has a brief meeting – a “huddle,” to call the play that each player already knows, fully. The designated play triggers the actual moves to make to carry out the predetermined assignment.
At the end of the game (usually the next day), there is a team meeting, where there is a checklist (a “do-confirm” checklist, to use Gawande’s terminology). With the unforgiving proof of the video evidence, each player goes through the incredibly precise evaluation of: ”this was your assignment. You did it well. Good job!” – or, “This was your assignment. You did not do it well — you blew your assignment. Let’s figure out why, and fix it for next game.”
Constant – constant meetings. Team meetings, position meetings, coaches evaluations, and then in-game huddles, one before each play. (OK — for you football experts, sometimes the team goes with the “no-huddle” approach. But the leader/the quarterback still calls out the play — it’s a meeting outcome without the actual huddle.) To win a football game, it takes an amazing number of meetings, and then, of course, the final key — execution. In fact, every football post-game interview includes one of only two explanations. They boil down to this: ”we had our assignments, but we failed to execute,” or, “we had our assignments, and we executed, and won.”
Assignments are clear; meetings deliver, and confirm, and re-confirm these assignments; and then post-game analysis is conducted to pass judgement on execution. And then plans are made and assignments are distributed for the next game. More meetings — lots more meetings — are held, because without such constant communication, feedback, evaluation, there is no success.
Here are the lessons, the habits, for success:
#1 — the leaders come up with a specific game plan. (in business, let’s call this a strategic plan).
#2 – every player gets his assignment for each play that will be used to carry out the plan.
#3 — there are numerous, constant meetings, to remind each player of the assignments for each play to carry out the plan.
#4 — each player has to execute.
#5 — the leaders have to change/adjust the strategic plan for the next challenge/game.
So, here it is: ”Here’s our game plan. Huddle up — let’s go over our assignments – let’s get it done; let’s execute.”
Pretty simple. Not easy — but simple.
Are you huddling up?