Hello, I’m Veronica
The sky is not completely dark at night. Were the sky absolutely dark, one would not be able to see the silhouette of an object against the sky.
Transform Phase Delivers Success
The Transform phase of StrategyOS delivers your Vision. Many businesses struggle to implement after putting together a bold strategic plan because they lack the practices to turn planning into reality.
As Prussian field marshal von Moltke once said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In this case, the enemy presents as risks, uncertainty, and changes in the business context. The world is constantly changing, and no one can predict the future with certainty. So, it is important to have the plan from Envision, and it is even more important to be prepared to adapt that plan as needed.
StrategyOS solves this by taking an agile approach to strategy implemtation. The Transform phase of #StrategyOS ensures steady delivery by using:
- A recurring strategy refresh to stay relevant
- An execution rhythm to make regular progress
- Monitoring to say in touch and adapt
These work together to ensure the entire stack of your business model gets the ongoing attention needed to make steady progress to success. Let’s look at each step.
Hold recurring strategy refreshes at least each quarter to renew Rocks and Goals. At these workshops, teams review success and challenges since the last refresh and commit to Rocks they will deliver before the next refresh. We call the actions that best move the strategy forward Rocks.
Rocks can be milestones for longer-term Initiatives or stand alone deliverables. Each Rock should have an owner. Each team member should own 1 to 4 Rocks (fewer, highest impact is typically better). Teams also set Goals for important measures to quantify the impact Rocks and their other actions should make within the refresh cycle.
Ninety days is about as long as teams can stay focused without the need to evaluate and resync. Fast-moving teams might find that a more frequent cadence is better. A faster refresh cycle can be beneficial for early stage companies and rapidly evolving industries.
Annually, this workshop expands the agenda to pull in the Annual Planning step that includes evaluating and resyncing longer running Initiatives and Themes and establishing annual Targets for key measures. Most businesses also create an annual Budget to plan financial and resource needs for their fiscal year.
This step creates regular opportunities to ensure accountability and steady progress in delivering the elements of the business model. This happens primarily at two levels:
- Individual Ownership Level
- Focus on Rocks
- Leadership Team Meetings
- About weekly
- Joint Ownership Level
- Focus on Themes
- Council Meetings
- About monthly
Create rhythm by scheduling standing meetings that have:
- 5-10 essential members
- Set day, time, and place
- Set agenda
- Pre-work done each week
- On-time start and end
- Work between meetings to deliver action items
- An evaluation to improve execution
For all meetings, incorporate the ideas of ACT to help make them productive for all attendees and use them as a building block for great culture.
Monitoring allows for quantitative tracking to inform on progress and impact. This informs what adaptation is needed to ensure progress and for the strategy to stay relevant. Two tools are key to this step:
- Scorecard, including Rock status, and
- Issues log and resolution process
Both these tools are discussed in detail in the linked articles above. It is important to know how to both tactically use these tools during Execution Rhythm, and to create opportunities to step back and see what monitoring reveals from a longer term perspective. This big picture monitoring informs the Recurring Refresh and can lead to Adapt and Grow larger changes in the Business Model.
Putting it All Together
The iterative nature of this phase makes it difficult to capture well in a single picture. I have tried a few different approaches. In addition to the steps depicted on the StrategyOS picture, below are some attempts to detail Transform activities:
This picture shows the actions that happen over the course of a year with each brown dot representing about a quarter:
This picture shows the meetings and workshops that deliver success. It adds the options for standup meetings that creates more coordination for fast moving teams and acknowledges that ACT meetings are both incorporated into all meetings and should happen regularly between managers and their reports:
Finally, this picture borrows from the agile scrum practice to show how this approach follows those practices (though usually over a longer running iteration cycle). You can read Mike Cohn’s scrum overview article to see how it is adopted here:
Be Great at People (deepened)
Last week I attended a week long Vistage Academy. It was one of the best trainings I’ve been through in my entire career. In this week’s news letter, I’d like to reflect and share with you some of the learnings that have wide application for any business leader.
These practices expand on the Be Great at People practices covered earlier. Let’s double click on the ACT practice delving deep into how to make it useful across a business. Improve your implementation of Accountability, Coaching and Transparency with 5 powerful tools to apply to that practice.
We spent a good part of the week talking about Mindset. If you have not already, you should read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. According to her, we embrace either a fixed or growth mindset. Shifting to a growth mindset is one of the most useful things we can challenge ourselves and others to do. Research has shown that people with a growth mindset tend to be more successful in school, work, and life. They are also more likely to be happy and resilient.
A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and practice. People with a growth mindset are more likely to:
- Be motivated by mastery and growth they see in themselves and others.
- Challenge themselves to learn and take on new challenges.
- See mistakes as opportunities to learn.
- See failure as an opportunity to grow.
- Persevere in the face of setbacks.
- Be open to feedback.
- Make joy-based decisions.
A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed. People with a fixed mindset are likely to do the opposite of the above. Fear is the opposite of joy for the last bullet.
My big breakthrough this week was realizing that, although I normally tend toward a growth mindset, there are areas where I lean toward fixed. For example, I often tell myself I’m not a people person. With this fixed mindset, I shy away from some social situations with the fear-based idea that people might not like the introverted me. Looking at this with a growth mindset reframes the idea to accepting that the more I do it, the better I will get and the fear is likely unfounded. Starting with joy and a growth mindset, I can recognize that I have unique experiences and I am inquisitive and listen well to add value to most social interactions.
Matt Mochary challenges the CEO’s he coaches to shift from a fixed mindset and fear-based decisions by making a bet. He says he has never lost when he has challenged someone who was making a decision while working from these limiting mindsets to do the opposite. Once you do this a few times, you only need to be reminded of the destructive mindset you are working from to drive better decisions.
Four Fatal Fears
So, what are the fears we should be on the lookout for? The four fatal fears are:
- Fear of failure. The need to succeed. It can be paralyzing and prevent us from taking risks or trying new things. It results in playing not to lose rather than playing to win.
- Fear of being wrong. The need to be correct. It can lead us to avoid challenging ourselves intellectually or speaking up in meetings or admitting when we are wrong. It results in playing small instead of playing big.
- Fear of rejection. The need to be liked and included. It can make us afraid to put ourselves out there or challenge anyone. It results in playing to please rather than playing to serve others.
- Fear of emotional discomfort. The need for emotional comfort. It can lead us to avoid situations that make us feel uneasy, or to ask for help. It results in playing it safe instead of learning from emotional vulnerability.
This list was first made by Larry Wilson a leadership coach and it was popularized by the psychologist Maxie Maultsby. Wilson believed that these fears were fatal because they would lead to intellectual, emotional, and spiritual death if they remained unconquered.
It is OK to want to avoid your fears, but to need to avoid them is fatal. Maultsby argued that these fears are learned, not innate, and that they can be unlearned (he believed in a growth mindset.) This unlearning starts by shifting mindset as discussed above. Acknowledge when these fears are driving action so that productive assumptions, emotions, and mindsets can replace them. Treat these fears as a warning that a mindset shift is needed.
The Power of Gratitude
We spent a lot of time practicing gratitude throughout the course. I had not journaled about gratitude before, but found the assignment to do it as homework each night fulfilling. I was not previously aware of the science behind a gratitude practice. Benefits include:
- Improved mental health: It can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve overall well-being and life satisfaction and increase happiness.
- Better physical health: It can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and boost the immune system. According to a 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience less aches and pains, and report feeling healthier than other people.
- Increased resilience: It can help cope with adversity by shifting our focus to the positive aspects of our lives. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology showed that gratitude increases self-esteem.
- Stronger relationships: Expressing gratitude to others can strengthen relationships and promote positive interactions. According to a 2014 study in Emotion, thanking new acquaintances makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.
- Increased empathy and generosity: It can encourage us to be more generous and giving.
I plan to continue gratitude journaling to help me get in good mindsets and to literally re-wire my brain for the better. A 2015 study in NeuroImage by Indiana University researchers, found that a gratitude journaling group showed greater neural sensitivity in areas of the brain involved in decision-making, emotion regulation, empathy and social cognition, compared to the other groups.
To join this gratitude journaling group, follow the study instructions for the 12 week trial:
The participants were asked to take a few minutes to reflect on the positive experiences they had during the day and write them in their gratitude journals each night before bed. Specifically, they should write about “three things that went well today, and why they went well.” They were asked to be specific about the events or experiences they were grateful for. Examples provided included getting a good grade on a test, spending time with friends or family, or enjoying a nice meal. They also encouraged the participants to try to find new things to be grateful for each day, rather than repeating the same things over and over.
Transparency and Coaching require active listening to be most useful. Our group instructor beautifully described the skills used as depicted by the Chinese character Ting. The character combines symbols suggesting listening is with ears, eyes, and heart as if the speaker were a king.
Ears: Hear the topic and words and hear the voice pitch and emotion being shared.
Eyes: Pay attention to the speaker’s body language and other non-verbal clues to understand their message more fully.
Heart: Listen with empathy. Understand the from the speakers point of view. The character shows the outcome of a meaningful conversation is to have “One Heart” by the end.
King: If you imagine the speaker is royalty, you will give them you full attention, show respect and support, not make judgements, and take what they are saying seriously.
I am surprised the character no longer has two mouths in it. Because, to actively listen, you need to also ensure understanding by:
- Restating and asking clarifying questions to deepen understanding.
- Reflecting in you own words to help them hear how the message sounds.
- Summarizing the main points of what you have heard.
Google ‘active listening open ended questions for deeper understanding,’ if you want to explore more. Creating deeper understanding can even help the speaker find better solutions to issues discussed themselves. I especially like:
- Say more?
- How is this impacting you – at work? – personally?
- What does it look like in 10 years if nothing changes?
- What is the belief underlying all of this; I must ___ to be worthy?
- What is your biggest fear?
Approaching conversations with all the active listening components makes them more useful to all participants.
Feedback is a specific practice of active listening to address behavior that may be holding someone back or hindering results.
Trust is the foundation for good feedback and all resulting growth. We talked in our training about choosing to trust and then working together to earn it. Show respect and act in the best interest of all parties without judgement.
Their are many models for feedback. The one we explored is closest to the GIVE model. In it the person giving feedback will:
- Get permission. Start by asking the person if they are open to receiving feedback. This builds trust by showing that you respect their time and feelings.
- Identify the behavior. Be specific about a recent observation. Include the situation, behavior, and impact witnessed.
- Validate the person’s feelings. Invite a response. Actively listen to ensure you understand how they feel about the behavior or performance.
- Explore openness to change. Ask how to best move forward. Work together to focus on a desired outcome for next time and alternative behavior that may achieve it. When possible, agree to next steps for improvement. Thank them for being open to change.
The response to feedback should acknowledge that the giver is acting with the best interests of the receiver in mind. A simple “Thank you,” is appropriate. Stay curious, open and appreciative throughout the process.
ACT suggests that 360 degree feedback maximizes transparency and resulting growth. Managers and reports should practice giving and receiving mutual feedback.
You can practice any of these tools in 1-to-1 meetings and incorporate them in all team interactions. In addition to Transparency created with feedback, the tools make Coaching and creating Accountability more routine and useful for any team. They build the trust and interaction skills required for good culture and to maximize performance.
Please follow, share, comment, like, and reach out. Message me on LinkedIn or connect on Twitter if I can answer any questions or help address a specific need you have.
Follow your Passion, find Joy in your work, and create Freedom in all life’s priorities.
Early this year, Shopify made news by publicly ending all meetings. They killed 38 to 155 person years of meetings, depending on who’s reporting you believe. Some applaud the move. Others are concerned that it will lead to isolation and poor coordination.
I think the debate ignores the real issue. Most meetings are poorly conceived, executed and followed up on. Most people have too many meetings. But, there is a place for meetings. After all, companies should achieve more with their people working together than alone.
So, we need good meetings while avoiding any that could have been an email or slack. Here’s how to execute perfect meetings.
First, consider why you need a meeting instead of asynchronous interaction. Does the meeting have a reason to be? Do you need it as a better way to:
- Communicate: Perfect meetings allow for two-way, faster, and more effective sharing of ideas, updates, and questions. Meetings allow for a human element and good non-verbal communication that is not possible with other mediums.
- Make Decisions: Perfect meetings allow interactive brainstorming of root causes and potential solutions in a way that uncovers better solutions.
- Collaborate: Perfect meetings allow working together to share knowledge, and coordinate efforts with the goal of producing some deliverable or product.
- Plan: Perfect meetings allow teams to better agree to goals, define objectives, and develop shared strategies to achieve them.
- Evaluate: Perfect meetings share feedback on the performance of individuals or teams. Use them to assess outcomes, identify needs, and share feedback on good and needs improvement areas.
Next, follow ground rules for when and how meetings are scheduled. Shared policies keep meetings from dominating all working hours and help ensure a perfect meeting framework is possible. Consider policies for:
- Focused time when no meetings can be scheduled
- When in-person meetings are allowed or needed vs zoom
- How much notice is required
- What information must be shared when scheduling
Finally, Execute the Perfect P’s Framework to ensure live meeting time is as productive as possible. This framework requires all meetings to use the following practices:
- Purpose: Clearly define the objectives and planned outcomes and an agenda. The meeting organizer will publish these with the invite so that everyone attending knows them.
- Preparation & Pre-work: Adopt a flipped classroom approach. Any part of the meeting that is update or information focused should move to preparation. Have attendees create and distribute status updates, plans, measures, and other documentation in advance. Then focus on live clarifications, feedback, support, and problem solving during meeting time. This practice alone can easily cut meeting time in half.
- Participants: Invite only people who can make decisions or contribute knowledge or experience. Smaller focused meetings accomplish more than larger groups. Others can see the summary later. All participants should be on time and fully participate in only the meeting. If anyone is checking email or other matters, they don’t belong in the meeting.
- Process: All meetings have a facilitator who is often the organizer. They are responsible for executing a structured meeting process.
Facilitation starts by ensuring the Purpose and Preparation is completed including making sure all updates and issues are shared on time.
During the meeting, make sure attendees follow the agenda, stay on track and document decisions. Have a time keeper that alerts the team when time on the agenda has expired. Or have a safe word that anyone can use to call “time out” when off topic. Agree in advance about how to reconcile when there is a desire to continue a topic past this time. Negotiate time from other items on the agenda or document the point of discussion as an issue or action item and move on within no more than a few minutes of running over time. A focus on promptness results in higher evaluation scores, because no one feels like the meeting becomes a time sink. Keep true to the clock first, then focus on getting the most out of the time reserved.
At the end of the meeting, have participants rate the meeting. Use a score from 1-10 and get at least one good and one needs improvement idea from each attendee. This is especially important for recurring meetings to help members become more effective working together.
- Product: Document all outcomes in the meeting. If decisions are made, create a solution statement to ensure agreement. Most meetings will have action items, communication needs or next steps that should be captured and assigned an owner and due date.
Keep meeting documents in a standard place on Google drive, SharePoint or use a tool like Monday, Clickup, Trello, or Notion. More formal tools add structure and easily integrate action items with other accountability tracking.
You can record meetings by including a Zoom, Teams or Google option. Other tools like Otter, Anchor and Hypercontext will create transcript minutes without anyone in the meeting being bogged down with note taking.
- P.S. = Follow-up: Communicate and complete the outcomes of the meeting. Make meeting documentation available to all attendees and anyone else that may need to act on it. The facilitator should track completion of at least the communication needs from the meeting. The best way to ensure follow-up is to make action items a part of your everyday execution. One company I worked with created metrics in the tracking tool to gamify the completion of activities and rolled it out across their startup. Allow for asynchronous discussion after and between meetings as needed.
So, yes, end all meetings as we know them. Start over with a clean slate that ensures all meetings are perfect. They must:
- Have a reason to be
- Follow ground rules
- Execute the perfect P’s framework
Please follow, share, like, and reach out. Contact me from the about page or on LinkedIn if I can answer any questions or help address a specific need you have.
To see how these principles apply to strategy execution, read Great Leadership Team Meetings.
Follow your Passion, find Joy in your work, and create Freedom to pursue all life’s priorities.
Start with these Fundamentals
Leaders can reach their vision by adopting these 8 fundamental practices. They deliver the results to reach success.
The StrategyOS works with these fundamentals by creating a process to execute them as part of your daily work.
This super post overviews and links to detail posts on each practice.(more…)
Organize around Themes
Themes set a 2-5 year picture of how the business will look and organize strategy execution. They advance your Positioning and are powerful organizing ideas for medium and short term planning and execution. These ideas create focus when considering what should be your most important next actions. They establish priority supporting Initiatives & processes, policies, Rocks, Goals, Measures, and roles.
Themes are broader than plans or programs in that they offer guidance about what is needed without limiting possible plans of action or timeframes. They are destination statements describing with details what the business looks like at some future date from a variety of perspectives.
Since it is difficult to envision a clear future much further out than about three years, use two to five years as your timeframe to create destination statements describing your major next achievements. Make these challenging and motivational, but within the realm of possible outcomes.
Destination statements come from assessing how you can best use your business’ unique talents and capabilities to win in the business’ Context.
Academics have spent more time and effort describing ways to evaluate Context than perhaps any other part of strategy. You can use techniques like SW-T analysis, competitive positioning, 5 forces analysis, customer segmentation, value chain analysis, adjacent markets, best practices, and internal gap analysis as some of the many ways to understand Context for destination statements that lead to Theme ideas. All these can add understanding, but the are difficult to evaluate and prioritize. The truth is, you don’t need any of theses.
The best way get focus on important Context topics is to talk to customers, employees, partners. Brainstorm issues, ideas and insights about what could affect momentum in achieving the vision with your team while reflecting on these conversations.
You should break Context into its two pieces: First, Context is impacted by external factors that are trends in the business environment. These trends consider the topics and sources listed below; most notably, the current status and changes in Customer Preferences, Competition, and Evolution of the Industry.
Second is how you respond to these with your internal abilities and unique capabilities. It helps to consider a structure for these like the balanced score card model that considers financial results that are delivered by the customer value you create and internal business processes that deliver them. They are enabled by core capabilities that allow for learning and growth.
The most important ideas from Context should inform your Destination Statements. The topics for which you include destination statements can come from any idea that can most impact success in delivering your Positioning. Borrow from the right column of the first table above for topics.
Every Strategy must include two specific Themes: Your “Go to Market” and “Financial” themes.
Your Go to Market or market strategy Theme is how you will sell and win business. If you need a structure, borrow from what is described by Traction (pg 55-65.) The elements are listed below and summarized with examples in this table:
- Ideal Customer
- Proven (sales) Process
The Financial theme defines your revenue model and includes at least two associated Measures: revenue and net margin. As you learn key drivers of your financial results add them as leading measures to give early indication of success. SaaS companies for example generally emphasize financial drivers by including measures like annual recurring revenues, customer acquisition costs, retention rates, customer lifetime value, and average revenue per user. Service companies focus on utilization and average hourly rates.
Find the few key leverage points that drive your bottom line success. Elevate these measures to the Financial Theme and give them Outcomes and Measures matching your strategy time frame. Finally, you must ensure the company never runs out of funds to operate. Cash management and fund raising are essential parts of the Financial theme especially for early stage companies.
Often there are also destination statements around People Practices or from Context trends that suggest the need for a Theme. Consider whether there is some destination statement for these that should be part of what the business looks like in three years.
Brainstorming with business and thought leaders that work in the business and with customers is the way I have found most useful in generating your destination statements.
From the universe of possible destinations, group, prioritize and focus on the top 4 to 6 that can have the largest impact on success. Give them short titles that become your Themes.
Once you have priority Themes, ensure they are well understood by giving each at least one descriptive Outcome and Measure that will indicate reaching the destination. This process helps make the Theme more concrete and allows the right focus of resources needed to achieve the Theme.
Be flexible; some Themes’ Outcomes may be less tangible than specific measures in this planning horizon. But it should always be possible to determine whether the Theme was achieved or not.
Capture all your Themes on your Business Model Cheat Sheet to share regularly.
Structure the organization to ensure there are roles that support delivering each Theme.
Use Themes to organize and document processes and policies that run your business
Use Themes to organize your scorecard measures.
Use Themes to organize and track Initiatives that close the gap between today’s capabilities and the Theme described future.
Organize and track iterative Rocks to move initiatives forward each quarter that deliver the Themes
Use Themes to set direction for periodic planning refreshes.
At Council and other execution meetings uncover Issues, Ideas and Insights about whether teams feel like each Theme still has good:
- Relevance: Do we still have the right business model?
- Progress: Are we making the right progress?
- Mood: Is everyone still onboard?
The sky is not completely dark at night. Were the sky absolutely dark, one would not be able to see the silhouette of an object against the sky.
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