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Don’t forget the sales!

The sales function far too often treated like an impenetrable combination of personalities, voodoo, and tradition.  It’s time for that to stop.

Geoff Wilson

I have a theory when it comes to sales.  It goes something like this: Along the way in their executive development, a lot of really smart people develop a disdain for sales as a function.  In some cases, they view sales as “dirty” or “basic.”  They might view sales as risky . . . why would a smart person ever subject themselves to the risks of not making a sales quota.

As that prejudice against sales develops, this particular sort of executive tends to think of sales and the people and systems that enable sales as a sort of mystery.  It’s a realm of knowledge that is best left to the salespeople, who take those risks and drive the relationships necessary for the business to thrive.

But they also leave a lot on the table.

Some of the most complete business strategies I have seen have also completely ignored the processes and tools that accelerate sales. Why?  Because, as noted above, it’s a mystery. It’s rumored to be personality- or relationship-driven.  The thinking goes that we can control our product.  We can control our operations.  We can control our cost structures and our hiring and our marketing messages.  But we can’t “control” our salesforce.

This thought process is dangerous since there are process losses in sales just as there are in a manufacturing operation.  The difference is that in a manufacturing operation if something is left by the wayside it gets calculated as a cost.  It’s a known quantity.

In sales, if a call doesn’t get returned or a meeting is botched–and millions of dollars of sales are lost as a result–the cost never gets really quantified.  Sales process losses are far too often an unknown quantity. . . and a lot of people have incentives to keep it that way. Sales leaders who make their number don’t really have to own up to unforced errors.

On the other side, there are also plenty of elements of focus and efficiency that can be missed within a salesforce.  Poor lead qualification can lead to salespeople spending a lot of time on dead ends.  Poor account planning practices can lead to salespeople spending a lot of time selling the wrong things, or at the wrong value.

Imagine if your manufacturing plant consistently produced the wrong product.  You’d likely be mystified and perhaps furious.  Now imagine how often your salesforce might be selling to the wrong customers, with the wrong products, and at the wrong times.  Do you know?  Can you possibly know?

In most environments, you very much can know these things. But, your attention must be focused on sales as a function, as a process, and as an integral lever for strategic management success.

What do you think? 

Systems vs. goals in your search for success

Much is said about whether success is better framed as a goal or as a system…I think it’s both, but at different times.

Geoff Wilson

Have you ever had a question posed to you that made you think more than it should have?

A team member recently asked me if I was a goal-oriented person.  My response was that I was far more interested in having systems that enable success than in distilling success into specific goals.

I’d rather have a system for serving clients than the goal of serving a certain number of clients or projects.  I’d rather have a system for developing people than the goal of developing a certain number of people.

Like many, I’ve read plenty of blogs on the systems vs. goals dichotomy that was probably best laid out by Scott Adams of Dilbert fame in his book How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big:  Kind of the Story of My Life.

Here’s a 2013 blog post from Adams on the topic.

In short, the thesis is that goals are self-limiting and sometimes counterproductive, while systems often perpetuate success by building habits that are perpetual.  The diet analogy Adams uses is a good one.  Which one would you rather have:  A goal of losing 10 pounds (which is often met but rarely maintained) or a system of eating more healthily?  Most people would agree that a system of healthy eating is a much better all-around approach to success.

But it’s only half right.

As with many things that relate to economics, tradeoffs, and incentives, the reality is very different depending on the time scale and existential realities one lives within.  For instance, economic systems of different types fit best at different societal scales. Pretty much every household is a miniature communist dictatorship of some kind (a goals-based economy where the head of household allocates resources to needs from abilities). Whereas countries do much better under mixed capitalist economies (which is much more about setting systems and guidelines).

And just like this, the systems vs. goals quandary is best viewed not as a dichotomy but as a matter of context.

To wit, if you really need to fit into your old tuxedo, then a goal of losing 10 lbs is worth a heck of a lot more than a system of healthy eating. And, if you want to develop a system for success, then setting incremental goals for development can actually be highly effective. Likewise, if your highly systematic business model that has delivered value for many years suddenly hits a snag, then you’d best start achieving some specific financial, customer, and operational goals, or else your business won’t survive long.

Where systems and goals get most confounded is when the goal is confused for the system.  In our strategy practice, we often see companies setting financial goals and calling them–at least implicitly–strategy.  This is very common when financial sponsors are involved in companies. The question of whether a business model should earn a given EBITDA margin is often subordinated to the fact that it simply has to.  

That’s a failure of goals dominating systems.

So, what’s the takeaway from all of this?  I think it’s that it is perfectly fine to manage life to goals in crunch times, crises, and during transformations.  Goals aren’t the problem, but as Scott Adams implies, they are also not the end. Goals, by definition, can be met.  And that’s where systems come in.  Systems should be perpetual.  They should be molded and shaped, but never “met” or “achieved.” Use goals, but don’t let them crowd out the need to develop systems.

You’ll be better for it.

What do you think? 

Are you measuring or are you moving?

Effective executives balance time spent moving vs. time spent measuring.

The case

One fine day at a backyard barbecue, a utility executive says to a cloud software executive, “I have found that a dashboard for my business helps me understand it.”

The software executive says “great, what’s happening today?”

The utility executive, a little exasperated, says “well, the dashboard is only updated monthly.”

“So, when do you look at the dashboard?” says the software guy.

“Usually in our monthly staff meeting on the 15th of the month. Our finance group prepares the dashboards, and they take about 10 days to complete.” says the utility guy.

Software guy lets out a deep breath and says “Monthly? I can lose my entire company in a month.  We look at our stats at 5 PM every day, just to know whether there’s a customer issue that we need to tackle.  It takes 5 mins and we jump on any issues.”

The utility guy says, “yeah, well, our customers can’t leave.”

Software guy goes to get another drink from the cooler.

The question

Which one are you?

Are you the utility executive, insulated from customer turmoil by a deep regulatory moat? Perhaps you are the cloud software exec, where daily action must be taken to ensure customer satisfaction.

You’re probably somewhere in between. There are few businesses that move at a daily pace like the software business described above, but there are a LOT of businesses that spend a LOT of time compiling measurements of where they were last month when in reality those measurements are already meaningless. That’s right . . . it’s history.  In most businesses, dashboards are great for identifying issues and issuing some attaboys, but they are almost always out of date.

Yes, yes, there are still industries that move at the speed of paper, but they are rare.  Your business likely moves faster than your account function, so you probably ought to ensure you match your “measuring” activities with the pace of your business.  Doing so allows your pace of operations to match the pace of change.

Famous 20th-century physicist Werner Heisenberg–not the Heisenberg of Breaking Bad fame . . . the real one–famously established the eponymous Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  The principle essentially says that there are real limits to what you can “know” at any moment about, in Heisenberg’s case, quantum systems.  One of Dr. Heisenberg’s principle’s essential assertions is that it’s impossible to know both the position and momentum of a particle precisely at the same time.  To know where a particle is precisely, you likely have to give up some certainty about where the particle is goingConversely, the more precisely you know where the particle is going, the less precisely you will know where it is.

And, while it’s clearly malpractice to apply quantum mechanics to the conference room, allow me to do so:  The more time you spend trying to understand where your business is the less certainty you are likely to have about where it is going.

In short, you can measure, or you can move . . . so your balance of those two things needs to be matched to the pace of your business. 

It’s a rare business or organization that can do both measurement and movement at the same time, effectively.  You’ve probably felt this tension every time you’ve asked your salesforce to fill out surveys or to complete a CRM template. Your salesforce (if it’s worth its salt) likely told you the cost in terms of customer interaction, closed sales, or other value-added work.  You were pushing to measure, and the salesforce was pushing to move.  Such is one of the chief (good) arguments for sales support resources (measurement) to aid your salesforce (movement).

The opposite case can come into play as well. You’ve possibly felt this tension if you’ve ever asked your Program Management Organization (PMO) what results it has delivered.  The answer, if it’s typical, will look a lot like a count of meetings, dashboards, templates, and reviews. It’s less likely that you get a summary of business results.  The mission of a PMO in the typical sense is measurement.  Moving the business is somebody else’s role.

Now, PMO dynamics aside–the art of the action-oriented PMO are for another post–you can see that there are tradeoffs to measuring and moving.

So what?

The takeaway here is threefold: First, just like Heisenberg, you have to know that measuring and moving tend to vary inversely–prepping for weeks for a board meeting (yep, I’ve seen it) fundamentally takes away from running the business.  Second, you have to know when you are measuring and when you are moving; and you have to know what elements of your business should be geared for movement (like sales) or measurement (like finance or the PMO above). And, third, you need to know the pace of your business and how much “measurement time” is okay given customer and regulatory dynamics. Our utility and software executives illustrate that at the start of this post.

If you can combine knowledge of these dynamics and alignment of business pace with how you tradeoff measuring and moving, you’ll be well ahead of the game.

Now, what do you think? 

 

 

The great strategic “wreck-oning”

The shocks to your system might not be what you think they are.  You’d better take a closer look.

Geoff Wilson

Hey, you there…the guy or gal with the life you always wanted.  How does it feel?

You are working from home.  Your computer screen has become your window into the world.  And, you have realized that it is, in fact, possible to pack more meetings into a day if you just sit still and do everything by videoconference.

But, how’s your business?  I mean, really, how is your BUSINESS?

I don’t mean how many COVID-19 cases do you have.  I don’t mean how many furloughs, shutdowns, or capacity reductions do you have.  I don’t mean how much stimulus cash you were able (or not able) to borrow.  And, I certainly don’t mean how much sales have decreased (or, if you are lucky, increased) over the past couple of months.  Those are interesting, good coffee chat items.

But they are the items in the spotlight.  And, the spotlight in this case is searing.  Everything–and I mean everything–is being cast in terms of the effects of COVID-19. Media coverage grasps at straws for something new after months of exhausting coverage and in doing so pulls ever more anecdotal evidence onto center stage.  Statistics that we never knew existed (well, ok, some of us knew what an R0 was, but only kind of) are now part of the national discourse.  And, yes, your employee base is focused on these same things.

But what about what’s happening with your business outside of the spotlight?  How are you thinking about that?  Because that’s really what you need to focus on.

Yes, your business has sustained a shock due to COVID-19.  All of ours have.  Some have been to the upside (hello to the pizza industry), and most others have been tot he downside.

But what’s the long game?  What if the current economic and social wreck becomes a massive strategic reckoning for your business in the long game?

For instance:  What if, instead of the spotlight worry about a second wave of COVID-19, the second wave is that actually your business is no longer built for the state of the economy?  What if you are a business that thrives on in-person service, or that depends on people traveling, meeting, and conversing in person?  Well, you’ve probably already seen the shocks.  But what if you are a company with a China-centric supply chain?  What if you have a salesforce built for in-person engagement and wins?  What if you have service operation that has grown too dependent on “just showing up” vs. having targeted appointments.  You may not have fully absorbed the notion that your organization is built for another time.

How do you figure out if your business model is a dinosaur…all of the sudden?

Here are a few tips:

First, get out of the spotlight and look at the true shocks.

Take a few moments to avoid the COVID-19 terrors and look at the true shocks in the system.  Some that come to mind are cheap energy, restricted travel, fearful consumers, worried workers, and governments turned massively protectionist. Then, look at the second-order effects that accompany them:  Less face to face interaction, more small group gatherings and higher use of intermediary technology, lower needs for “real life” office space, more meals at home, and higher desires for sanitation and “certification” of places–things–and even supply chains.

In other words, get out of the spotlight and look at the world as it is, and not as you hope it will be.

How will changes in the world–not just demand at the moment–affect your business model?  Uber’s business is massively disrupted by the lowering of volume due to travel bans, but the real question is whether Uber’s business model has been obliterated by the consumer’s newfound knowledge of disease transmission and the desirability of so-called “cleanliness standards.”  How does Uber coax people back into random other people’s cars in this environment?  Can it be done?  Is there a “certified sani-wiped” uber option that is right alongside Uber Comfort? Would you ever not take that option?

To extend the Uber example, what does all of that mean for the sharing economy as a whole?  In a world where every un-masked cough and sneeze is now an emotional moment of irrational terror (thanks to attention-starved media and a populace that is not so great at math), how does the consumer think about picking up that random scooter off of the ground in the city and taking a spin?  For the more concerned among us, it probably looks about as attractive as picking used chewing gum off a handrail at the moment.

And, yes, Uber may be an easy example, but your company’s widgets or services are likely to need to change.  You’ll see fewer service desk visits, so you’d better beef up your call center.  You’ll have fewer sales calls completed in person, so you’d better have alternate channels ready to pick up the slack.  Perhaps you’ll have more scrutiny on the origin (and country risk) of your product.  Hopefully, you’ll have a renewed but balanced view of the cleanliness of your facilities, products, and service people.

The only way to know is to think it through.  This isn’t a demand curve shock that just sliding demand back a bit.  This is a global-killer asteroid for some business models.

Finally, after you’ve thought it through, form a point of view on risks and opportunities, and shift now.  

You are likely resource-constrained.  Everybody always is.  But if you are leading a dinosaur business model, it will only get worse.  The time to change is now.  Re-double efforts in newly-advantaged sales channels.  Invent or enable advantaged service models.  De-risk supply chains.  Evaluate product and service mix and ensure proper resourcing. Signal readiness for the new normal by standardizing cleanliness. Respond to new needs. In short, be entrepreneurial in the face of uncertainty.

The question in front of all business leaders at the moment is this:  Can you look past the immediate effects of a global wreck and avoid a second-wave reckoning?  The shocks to your system may not be what you think they are.  You’d better take a closer look.

What do you think?

Finding meaning during crisis requires an answer, not a question

Times of crisis require a change of perspective and a call to action.

Geoff Wilson

So, here we are, weeks into a bizarre world of isolation, uncertainty, and pain.  If one thing is likely, it’s that after weeks of responsiveness, you may now start to see real signs of resignation and capitulation.  But, you may also see signs of opportunity and–dare I say it–optimism.  My sense is that both mindsets are probably “right” and “ok.”  This is no self-help blog.  I fully believe that there is plenty to fear in the environment beyond fear itself.

But.

I also think it’s important to realize that in times of crisis or trial or despair it’s our imperative to reflect and chart a course.  That course may be brand new and different, or it may be a retreat to the tried and true.  In either case…it’s a course.

One of the more influential books in my life is Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and influential thinking on how people find meaning in life regardless of experience.  His experience in the Auschwitz death camp sparked a globally influential view of how individuals find meaning in challenging and even hopeless circumstances. And, he made it simple.  In his words:

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

In other words, the search for meaning isn’t about asking “why me?”  It’s about asserting “what’s next…” In this simple little flip of the mindset is found the difference between individuals, professionals, companies, and organizations who succeed and thrive during despairing times and those who capitulate.

You are probably sitting and reading this from a position of considerable uncertainty.  I am certainly writing from one. Anybody who really thinks they know how the current environment will resolve trusts a little too much in their expertise and models.  You may have lost your job.  You may have lost your customer.  You may be about to.

The advice I can give you is to actively seek the answer to the question of what’s next.  Seek to beat back the fog of uncertainty and place a stake in the ground as to what direction you will go now.  If you need help to do that, drop me a line.

Finding meaning during crisis requires an answer, not a question.

What do you think?

Who do you turn to when the blood hits the floor?

Times like these tend to reveal who we can really trust to deliver.

Geoff Wilson

A crazy phenomenon has happened over the past couple of weeks as the world has digested the coronavirus shock. Executives, many of whom have never been in executive roles in a massive shock, have had to take stock of their teams in the most critical of ways. They have had to close ranks and think about who it is that they really trust.  Think about that.  Who are the people that you trust when it comes to executing all day, every day?  I’m betting that they aren’t necessarily the same people you interacted with the most prior to the crisis.

You know why?  Crises refine trust.

When you aren’t in crisis, you can afford to take a few flyers and let a few things go to hands you may not fully trust with them.  But, today?  You probably already have a good sense of who is “in” the circle of trust and who probably isn’t.  You probably know who can deliver the goods, and you are probably loading them up with everything they can handle.  And, you probably know who can’t, and you’ve probably made choices appropriately.

Mind you, I’m not talking about your “best” talents.  I’m talking about those who can deliver.  If your organization is like many, it’s your high-bred talents who struggle the most in challenging circumstances. They are often the ones who have had a lot of good come their way due to pedigree and profile, and who haven’t had to make a whole lot of nitty-gritty choices. The worst case is that they have achieved their position by NOT making choices. You know them:  They are the ones who probably never had to improvise for a C minus, so now they are hurting when the best and only possible grade is a C minus that requires massive improv.

The ones who CAN deliver in a crisis often look different. Your shop foreman probably isn’t at home on videoconference right now, she’s probably on the shop floor trying to figure out how to stagger shifts to avoid COVID-based shutdowns.  Your grizzled veteran HR, Finance, and IT leaders are probably on the job 24X7 right now while you might be simultaneously finding that their younger, shinier counterparts (in some cases, the grizzled vets’ bosses) aren’t up to the challenge.

It’s a good lesson to learn.

Bruce Springsteen wrote a song to go along with the 2008 motion picture The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke.  In the song, the washed-up, has-been wrestler declares that he’s a “one-trick pony,” a “one-legged dog,” and a “scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds.”  In other words, he declares that he’s not of much use for anything, except…

…the wrestler also declares this:

“…bet I can make you smile when the blood, it hits the floor
Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?”

I am going to bet that you are in the middle of finding your own one-trick ponies and one-legged dogs–rediscovering the grizzled talent in your organization. You know them as the people who are specialized enough to be really strong in a crisis.

I’m also going to bet you are finding out that–sometimes–those are the people who might have deserved a bit more attention.  You are probably  doing the same “trust triage” with your advisors, sorting out the ones who can help you go and go faster from the ones with a lot of polish and bluster but no “go.” You know them, they are the ones who are all hat and no cattle.  Judging by the sudden surge in snazzy marketing pitches on LinkedIn around the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of high polish consultants are suddenly in possession of a lot of free time.

While I firmly believe that you should always sort out your show dogs from your working dogs, now is a great time to keep your eyes open for the ones who buckle in and deliver vs. the ones who…don’t.

Because you need to know who can make you smile when the blood hits the floor

Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?

I’ll leave you with a link to the song…It’s worth a spin.

What do you think?

When it all goes to VUCA, what do you do?

Is there an operating system for strategy under absolute uncertainty?

Geoff Wilson

Well, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket. It certainly didn’t take long, did it?

Ask anyone and they will tell you that the world is somewhere between an intense over-reaction and The Walking Dead’s best impression of The End Of The World As We Know It (you know?  TEOTWAWKI). That is to say, it’s anybody’s guess where the global economy–nay, the global social fabric–may end up after COVID-19 has run its course.  Sports are canceled, schools are shut, travel is being banned in ever-tightening circles, and social institutions are being completely put on hold.

Right now, just another blog on strategy may not be sufficient for the Big-Mac-layer-cake of stress that is being thrown at the average citizen around the globe.  We are, all at once, not only dealing with commercial collapse, but also social and institutional uncertainty on a scale not often seen without physical invasion. And, if YOU, dear reader, are not feeling the stress, you can be assured the people around you do.

So, instead of writing about what you should do as a strategic executive–which is a hard thing to do when a reader might just as easily be at an airline, a retailer, or a bank–I thought I’d write on how you might organize your thinking in any challenging circumstance. The question at hand is really this:  Is there an operating system for strategy under absolute uncertainty? I think that there might be.

There is an acronym that is commonly used in military circles called “VUCA.”  It has been around since the 1980s.

A VUCA environment comprises:

Volatility – where the speed and magnitude of change is exceptional

Uncertainty – where outcomes are unpredictable and surprises are many

Complexity – where the number of changes happening at once is very high

Ambiguity – where the potential for error and over- or under-reaction is real

or, just VUCA, for short.

We all live in a VUCA world right now.  So, how do we handle it?

With my best fireside chat tone, I’m going to suggest that the first way of navigating VUCA is to realize that you cannot “handle” it.  There is no traditional “control” of circumstances in a VUCA world whether you are an executive or a common citizen.  You cannot “priority list” your way out of VUCA.  If you are used to controlling circumstances, you’d best get ready to learn to read and react. If you are used to calling the plays and issuing the orders, you’d best get ready to play defense and establish your lines of retreat.  If you have been inflexible in your pursuit of success, it may be time to consider flexibility in the shadow of collapse.

In other words, it’s time to focus on resiliency and responsiveness vs. concrete priorities and resoluteness.  VUCA demands it.

But, where do you start?  Your portfolio is a mess, your kids are out of school, your office is shut, and your customers aren’t answering the phone…how does a person regain footing?

Here’s my best advice, and it’s as simple as two steps:

The first step is to major in the majors.  Just as I’m sure there will be a lot of people who may one day regret that they drove all over town trying to hoard toilet tissue when they absolutely should have been ensuring that grandma was comfortably anti-social, I’m sure that there are a lot of minor things you are stressing about that are adding to your sense of VUCA.  You have to prune the ones that matter less.

That means postponing that training program and using today’s environment as a training program in itself.

It means canceling that “nice to have” project and doubling down on the must-haves.

It means stopping the standing meetings that you have and opening up your calendar.

It means ensuring you have enough strategic cash reserves (at home or in your business) without resorting to willy-nilly asset sales.

It means taking a moment to understand what kind of volatility is tolerable (perhaps the market being down 8 percent today really is a secondary concern), and what kind is not (how can you ensure that your customers will actually receive the goods???)

It probably means having a frank conversation with your family and your organization about what it means to live in times of extreme VUCA: about how choices we make now may look a lot different than choices we made even days ago. The circumstances demand that we major in the majors.

The second step is to accelerate your review cycles on the “majors.” Decisions on the majors that might have been revisited quarterly or monthly are now reviewed daily or hourly.  In the first step (majoring in the majors) you created some capacity by pruning the activity set.  Now, it’s time to deploy that capacity to evaluate and react faster than you would have otherwise.  Many executive teams are, today, engaging in rapid, periodic calls about their workforce when just last week they probably did so monthly.  Why?  Because the environment demands it.  The same is true of your household, your office, your customer portfolio, and many other things. This is not to say that short-term thinking dominates and that long-term things don’t get done, it is to say that long-term things are tested for relevance on a much more frequent basis.

But a word of caution:  Don’t try to evaluate everything rapidly.  Step one is critical, lest you over-stress yourself, your family, and your organization.  Be explicit about majoring in the majors.  Take some stuff off your plates, and those of your cohorts.

So, is there an operating system for strategy under absolute uncertainty?  I think so, but it’s a concept–perhaps a mindset–and not a recipe.

First, major in the majors:  Prune the activity set to create the capacity to stay ahead of what matters most.

Second, tighten up your decision cycles: Invest the capacity you have created to accelerate your review and decision cycles to match the pace of change in your environment.

This two-step process for managing uncertainty is true if you are running a household, and it’s true if you are running the largest organization in the world.

Keep your hands washed, and your prayers flowing.

What do you think?

Legacy lessons from NASCAR’s worst wreck ever

We all leave a legacy of some sort. Ryan Newman’s survival of NASCAR’s worst wreck ever highlights the contrasts of passive and active legacies.

Geoff Wilson

Do you know the legacy you are leaving with your business, team, or organization?

It’s surprising how little this topic actually gets highlighted when managers and executive teams focus on their strategic aims.  Sure there are legacies that are left via who you are–for example the ethical legacies like that of Marvin Bower at McKinsey or innovation legacies like that of Gordon Moore of Intel and Moore’s Law fame.  Those were probably not forged in a boardroom strategy session but rather through strength of personality.

But, there are also legacies left in a couple of other ways.  There are passive legacies that result accidentally, and there are active legacies that result from thoughtful focus and intervention.  This weekend offered a stark contrast of the two.

Monday’s Daytona 500 ended with a vicious wreck where driver Ryan Newman–leading the race at the time–was bumped from behind and spun violently into the wall of the final turn in the race.  His car, pictured above, went airborne, was struck broadside by another car at 190 miles per hour, landed on its roof, and then slid for a quarter mile or more in a conflagration of sparks and flames.  Here’s a post with that wreck:

Most are saying the wreck is the worst in NASCAR history.  Rescue crews took a long time to extract Newman from the car, shielded by black screens that usually signify tragic carnage on race scenes.  Speculation was rife that Newman was killed in the wreck, and prayers and concerns swept social media.

But, Tuesday morning brought news that Newman had survived.  As of this writing, details remain sketchy, but reports are that Newman is not only alive, but also is awake and conversing with doctors and family.  Doctors have said his injuries are “non-life threatening.” And, while such announcements can no doubt hide life-changing and awful injuries, they offer hope.  Furthermore, Newman’s survival illustrates an amazing pair of legacies.

The first, is the unfortunate legacy of the last race driver fatality in NASCAR’s elite division.  That would be the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  Earnhardt Sr.’s death–on the same track at almost the same spot as the Newman wreck–happened one day shy of 19 years before Newman’s wreck.  For those who are not NASCAR-literate, that wreck killed the biggest legend in a sport that is rife with legends.  It was, put simply, the equivalent of Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tom Brady, or Lionel Messi dying on the court or field.

And, it changed the sport.  NASCAR changed mandates for safety equipment and changed car and track characteristics significantly.   Many fans are acknowledging this:

At the same time, Ryan Newman is being acknowledged as having a safety legacy of his own. Newman has been an outspoken safety advocate who is responsible for the addition of the “Newman Bar” to the roll cage of the current NASCAR car design.  That addition may have saved his own life on Monday.

Which brings me to the punchline of this post.

The sad reality is that a lot of passive legacies are written in blood.  The Earnhardt legacy can certainly be characterized as such.  Without going too far in trouncing a legend, I’ll put it this way:  Earnhardt came from a tradition of selective usage and even modification of readily available safety equipment that was allowed within NASCAR at the time. But, that selective usage arguably cost him his life in a wreck that “looked” far less violent than the Newman wreck.  I quote “looked” because I know firsthand that television cannot convey the real physics of collision like this.

Active legacies, like Newman’s with the “Newman Bar,” are quite different.  They are active modifications in hopes of protecting the future. They are also often implemented without fanfare or–thankfully–tragedy.

Not seeing the connection to your legacy yet?  Consider such passive legacies as innovation funding or safety investment cuts to meet current quarter profit targets.  What do they leave for the future?  Consider such active legacies as protection of training and development programs for your team. What do they leave?

The list could be long on both sides of the ledger.  I only pose the question:  What kind of legacy are you leaving, and are you trying to leave it?

What do you think?

Are your people uninspired? Maybe it’s time to hang the DJ.

Your strategy is supposed to inspire.  Have you forgotten?

Geoff Wilson

What’s the purpose of your strategic plan?

The possibilities are endless.  Some might say that the sole purpose is to “enhance shareholder value.”  I’d argue that this old trope is no longer the gold standard.  Some adhere to the stakeholder model…which might be closer.  Regardless of the “concept,” a given business strategy has to appeal to a lot of people.

Strategy, inasmuch as it deals with things that are less certain and immediate, is an argument.  It’s an argument formed from assumptions that are (or should be) formed from knowable facts and less knowable (but educated) estimates.

But, something tends to happen on the way to building business strategies that derails one of the most important imperatives.  We lose the power of inspiration. Usually, we lose it when the hardcore management nerds get ahold of the strategic planning and implementation “ecosystem” and start overswhelming the organization with jargon, tools, and really smart pablum.

A strategy is an argument, for sure.  But it’s an argument that is–in the main–supposed to inspire action against specific aims.  And, when you lose inspiration, you lose action.

How do you know if you are building an uninspiring strategy?  Well, if it’s uninspiring to investors and the board they usually let you know.  Where it gets tricky is when it’s uninspiring for employees, customers, partners, or other stakeholders.  A lot of times, they will vote with their feet; and you don’t want that. The best way to test is usually to ask.  I know, I know…too easy. But, it’s true.

So what’s a well-rounded leader like yourself to do if you find less than stellar inspiration in the ranks?  Well, it depends on who the uninspiring one is. I’m reminded of the lyrics from The Smiths’ still fantastic song “Panic.”

It goes something like this:

Hang the blessed DJ

Because the music that they constantly play 

It says nothing to me about my life

Hang the blessed DJ

Do you see it?  Are you the DJ?  Do you know who is? Did you hire the DJ?  Did you allow the DJ (in the form of very smart but totally uninspiring consultants, perhaps) to hijack the strategy and make it a “value creation strategy” vs a truly inspiring enterprise strategy?

If you are authoring uninspired strategy, or hiring those who are, then consider starting over.  If your strategy isn’t touching people where they live…through things that are relevant to their lives and livelihoods, then you are probably going to get hung at some point anyway, so why not just do it yourself?

Build strategy to inspire. And if you haven’t done that?  Hang the DJ.

What do you think?

It’s what you give that matters

How much do you focus on what you give vs. what you think you do?

Geoff Wilson

“It’s not what you got, it’s what you give / it ain’t the life you choose, it’s the life you live.”

– What You Give, Tesla (the rock band)

Have you ever met an executive that focuses a LOT on the skills and capabilities she has amassed, but who forgets to measure the actual impact of them?

I have.

In the strategy world, we talk about capabilities, value propositions, and sources of competitive advantage.  Those are all super, super important.

The problem is, they don’t always translate to outcomes for those who matter most:  The customers who derive pleasant value from products, services, and experiences; and the employees and other stakeholders who play a part in delivering them.

In other words, only looking at your balance sheet and what it contains–both tangibly and intangibly–is a recipe for disappointment in the longer run.  And, it’s all about the longer run, so make no mistake.

Tesla (the rock band, not the inventor or the auto manufacturer) had a less appreciated song that I’ve quoted from above.  It essentially says, that life is about outcomes, not ownership or expectations.  Your customers know this.  Your employees know this.

Don’t you doubt it.

So as you think about your strategy–as you decide to position yourself for the future–be sure to focus on what you give and the life you live…not the things you have or the choices you think you are making.  Focusing on outcomes vs. assets can lead you to very different conclusions about how to position your business and yourself.

In other words, be sure to focus on outcomes and not intent. Intent is far less memorable to your customers and other stakeholders than outcomes.

You can take that to the bank.

What do you think?  Is it possible to focus on outcomes vs. assets?