LinkedInFacebookGoogle PlusTwitterYouTube Channel

May 2014

Leader's Lead!

May 7, 2014 8:00 AM
Bruce Hunter

Lessons on leadership fill the many business blogs, libraries and scholarly institutions for good reason..To be a truly great leader requires the adaptability of a chameleon.  What is effective in one circumstance may be disastrous in another. This month I encountered a particularly sensitive challenge which brought back an important lesson from my distant past and initiated some reflection on the characteristics of truly great leaders.  For some thought candy on the subject of leadership, read on!

"Leaders Lead!"

Perhaps the most memorable lesson in leadership I've had to this point in my working life came through a conversation I had with a former VP of Human Resources.  I'd just taken on a new role with significant responsibility and entry into the life of one of the executive team members at a large public company.  I was dealing with a particularly sensitive business issue and thought I'd reach out to someone who had been on the executive to get their perspective and insight.  I also wanted to understand the lay of the land relative to my new boss.  .
I entered her office and sat down in the chair across from her desk.  After I had given her the background on the issue she turned and asked, "What would you like from me?"  which frankly caught me a little off-guard. I had come for her counsel and advice which I thought was patently obvious. Here's where the lesson commenced.  
After I explained my reasons for seeking her out and asking for her thoughts on the issue and my approach to it, she replied with two words. "Leaders lead."  Whoa!  Didn't see that one coming!  In my mind, I was taking an approach that was inclusive and respectful of the experience that existed on the team.  I was also trying to suss out some of the landmines that might be in play with my new boss.   What I got was, in my view, a rebuke!  I thanked her for her thought and slunk, chastened from her office. 
After licking my wounds back in my office I reflected on the tough love.  What she did was very succinctly lay it on the line.  The message?  "You're not in Kansas anymore Bruce.  You're now playing on a different field and people expect you to lead.  Sure, reach out for thoughts, but in the end, you're the one who'll need to make the tough call."  To this day, every time I get in a situation that is particularly difficult, I remember those words and it helps immensely in breaking the mental log jam. 
With that story as precursor, I thought I'd share some additional thoughts on leadership, borrowed from a Forbes article on great Leadership quotes.  For your consideration, I've picked a few I've found of particular value.



Leadership Quotes for the Ages

"A leader is best when people barely know they exist.  When the work is done, they will say, We did it ourselves." - Lao Tzu.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish."  - Proverbs 29:18.
"A leader is a dealer in hope."  Napoleon Bonaparte.
"The function of leadership is to produce more leaders,
 not more followers." - Ralph Nader.
"A great leader attracts great people and knows how to hold them together." - Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe.
"When I give a minister an order, I leave it to him to find the means to carry it out." Napoleon.
"No person will make a great leader who wants to do it all themselves, or to get all the credit for doing it." - Andrew Carnegie.
"Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you will be criticized anyway." - Eleanor Roosevelt.
"Effective leadership is putting first things first.  Effective management is discipline, carry it out." - Stephen Covey.
"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everyone can understand." - Colin Powell.
"What you do has far more impact than what you say."  Stephen Covey.  (Bruce's version:  "Show it.  Don't say it."
"My responsibility is getting all my players to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back." -  Unknown coach.
"You don't lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership." Dwight Eisenhower.
Each of us, regardless of title, has the opportunity to influence and lead in some capacity.  As you think about those instances, from parenting to business to little league sports I hope that the foregoing will provide value in that most important role.

1 Comment

April 2014

Monarch or Money? A business owner can't have both.

Apr 30, 2014 8:00 AM
Bruce Hunter

I got a frantic call just the other day from an entrepreneur that had built a new internet start-up from nothing to something.  He’d just been given an ultimatum from the VC’s that had been brought into the firm.  Relinquish the CEO position in favor of one of their picks (and accept another position) or exit the firm.  His question to me?  “Should he fight it?”The answer of course was that there was really no fight to be had.  He’d already set the wheels in motion when he accepted the resources of the VC in the first place.  The only thing he had to decide was whether he should stay with the firm or pursue something else.  And that was totally up to him.

What happened here has been a long-time focus for Noam Wasserman of Harvard University starting with a paper entitled “Rich versus King” which was first published in August of 2006 and his most recent work, “The Founder Resource-Dependence Challenge” March 2014.  It has also been a key focus in my consulting practice with small and medium sized companies for the last few years and a fundamental take-away from my book, “The Success Cage” launched October of last year.  It’s this.  Any business owner has a fundamental question to answer for themselves and their businesses:

Do you want to maximize your wealth or control of your business?  You can’t have both.

The issue can be gut-wrenching for any business owner.  The vast majority have built their businesses from scratch into good companies which provide a decent income for the owner and those associated with the business.   To grow beyond the owner/operator-managed company requires different skills and resources than those which brought it success to this point.  Two popular sayings come to mind…

“What got you here won’t get you there.”

 “To grow you’ve got to let go.”

The brilliance of Wasserman’s work, is that he’s put some hard numbers to support these common refrains.  The first work referenced above studied 457 private ventures in technology.  Lack of industry sample diversity aside, it came to one major conclusion: 

 The more decision-making control kept by the business owner, the lower the value of the owner’s stake.

His second, more recent study drew from a much larger sample.  He used a dataset of 6,130 American start-ups and concluded that retaining full control diminished the organization’s value by an average of up to 58%.  Within the article, he also reprised some important associated observations from others studying the subject.

“After the starting difficulties have been overcome, the most likely causes of business failure are the problems encountered in the transition from a one-person, entrepreneurial style of management to a functionally organized, professional management team.”  (Hofer & Charan 1984, pg. 2)

In order to grow, the needs of the organization move from the specific knowledge needed to build a product or service offering, (in my parlance “high technical” skills) to the more generalized knowledge and processes of managing a more complex firm (“high leadership”).  The key steps along the organizational journey pose a continuous trade-off between attracting the resources (capital & people) required to grow and build company value & being able to control decision-making.

The key question for the business owner?

In the end it comes to this.  What drives you?  Is it the need for maximizing wealth or the need for control?  The two do not go hand in hand.  And without going into a lot more detail…my experience is that most side with the latter.  It’s head versus heart and usually the heart wins.


Add Comment

Why Change Initiatives Fail

Apr 9, 2014 8:00 AM
Bruce Hunter

Much of the work that I do centers on organizational and individual leadership change and the plans and actions that support it.  Change is tough! There's a reason so much has been written on the subject.  This month I'm expanding on a piece I previously put out on the subject.   For a quick reminder and thought stimulus, read on!

    Why Change Initiatives Fail.

I was poking around the files on my hard drive the other day and re-discovered a gem on change and change management.  On re-reading the content, I thought it would provide value to reproduce it for your reading pleasure.  So here it is...

Why Change Initiatives Fail:

1.  No clear picture of the future.   The old adage holds true.  If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.
2.   No alignment.  Covey said, "Those who help to create, support." Too many initiatives are dreamed up in boardrooms and foisted on an unsuspecting employee base, none of which have had the advantage of the lengthy discussions held to get to the proposed direction.  A strong change initiative builds in a process to get the buy-in and understanding of the team who will be charged to execute.  Too often this process is fast-forwarded or worse, neglected, with the predictable result being flawed execution.  You've got to go slow to go fast.
3.   No sense of urgency.  There's a great quote I heard recently that brings this learning home.  When asked how he went bankrupt, a business owner replied, "Slowly, then suddenly!"  In order to overcome inertia, there has to be a burning platform.  If there isn't, there won't be the impetus to move or stay the course once set.
4.   Change is not an integral part of the business.  The change initiative must be woven into the day to day.  It must become part of the way the business is executed to be both visible and effective. 
5.   Lack of visible short term wins.  Too many initiatives are flawed because people are swinging for the fences.  Ram Charan, a noted author and expert on change management put it well when he talked about the need for playing organizational small ball, a term often used in baseball.  Bunts and singles win more games.  The employees have to feel and see the positive effect of change.  Smaller, more frequent wins are critical to establishing positive momentum and the belief that change will happen.
6.   The change initiative is not driven or supported consistently from the top.  Enough said.
7.   It's not measured.  Again, a quick quote from Covey.  "What gets measured, gets done."

The Questions to Answer when building your change initiative:

  • Who is our core customer?  Do we know them and their needs better than anyone else?
  • What do they see as our differentiated value proposition?
  • What capabilities are core to deliver our proposition?
  • What are the 1 - 3 wildly important things we need to achieve?
  • What are the internal metrics we must improve?
  • How effective are we in hiring, promoting and developing our people to deliver our proposition?

Lastly, ask yourself:

  • Does everyone have a clear understanding of what the end result looks like?
  • Does everyone understand what actions they have to take to achieve their piece of the end result?
  • Does everyone understand what they are accountable for?
  • Does everyone understand what we are measuring to create ongoing progress?

I hope you found the foregoing to be of value as you reflect on your plans for the coming year.  I know it caused me to step back and think about what I needed to tune up.


Add Comment

March 2014

Dealing with the Narcissus Syndrome

Mar 5, 2014 1:53 PM
Bruce Hunter

They are infuriating, obstinate and self-absorbed.  How do you deal with someone who obviously thinks they are the smartest people in the room…especially if they hold a power position!

First, the Syndrome.

According to Greek myth, Narcissus was the most handsome of men, the son (many said) of a god.  Most who gazed upon him fell head over heels in love.  Narcissus knew of his beauty and rejected all of the nymphs trying to court his favour.  One day, a frustrated maiden prayed that he might know what it was to love and not have his affections returned.  The goddess Artemis, who had been very fond of another scorned maiden, saw her chance and cursed Narcissus.

While drinking from a crystal clear pool, he caught sight of his reflection and became entranced with himself.  He remained at the edge of the water, transfixed by his own beauty.  Seasons passed and eventually Narcissus died there, a victim of his belief in his own beauty.

We’ve all met a few folks (or companies) who suffer from the Narcissus Syndrome! 

A while back, I came upon a nice summary of Narcissus symptoms (actually he was speaking about lawyers but it’s still applicable) by Juriscape CEO Harrsion Barnes.

They are generally preoccupied with fantasies of limitless brilliance, power and success.

They have an exaggerated sense of self-importance that is far from their actual level of achievement.

They lack empathy and are unwilling or unable to identify with the needs or feelings of others.

They are envious of those around them with strength they don’t have, and they believe that others are envious of them.

They require constant admiration and approval.

The worst part about the foregoing attributes is that those exhibiting these types of behaviours are blind to their impact on others and surprised when it catches up with them as it most often does. Over time they find themselves alone.  Does “Research in Motion” ring a bell?

The Narcissus Syndrome affects large and small company alike.  Entrepreneurial ventures are particularly susceptible because they rely so heavily on the perceptions of the owner/founder.  That individual wields two big sticks:  the experience acquired while building the company and the ability effectively squash dissenting opinion.  Too often, the company’s actions are directed toward the preconceived notions of the founder with disastrous results. 

“It is the nature of these people and organizations to deny the reality of the other’s (the advisor or external environment) world, wrote the University of Virginia’s Richard Ruth.  “There is an active move to try and destroy the facts supporting an alternate view in service of a soothing return to a narcissistic self-sufficiency.”  And therein lies danger!

Here are some thoughts on how to deal with the Narcissus Syndrome.

1. Stick with facts preferably generated by a trusted third party.. Whether speaking to new information about the corporate environment or an individual, outside –in information is the most powerful.  The objectivity offered by a trusted 3rd party will also increase believability.

2.  Be appropriately direct. Sometimes tact works.  Sometimes, you’ve got to use a two-by-four to get attention.  The more firmly entrenched the belief, the more difficult it will be to dis-lodge.

3.  Don’t go it alone.  There is power in “we”.  I often counsel leadership teams to step up as a group rather than try to tackle a leader one on one.  While this approach in the negative, could be viewed as a mutiny, it is more likely to cause reflection on the part of the leader.  And, of course it also is a smart self-preservation approach.  It’s a lot easier to shoot the messenger if it’s only one person.

4.   Take the Narcissist out of their comfort zone.

Subject experts are a great way to introduce new ideas or infuse knowledge into the mix and start the wheels of change moving.  The use of case studies which illuminate similar challenges has the advantage of being both authoritative and non-confrontational.

   5.   Use an individual with a close personal relationship or an outside trusted source to deliver the information. Using someone who has no skin in the game from a personal standpoint and who holds a position of respect or trust can often be very effective. 

The last thought on the subject.  Each one of us has probably succumbed to the Narcissus Syndrome at some point.  The antidote?  Listen!!!

Add Comment

February 2014

Is Your Future Bigger Than Your Past?

Feb 12, 2014 7:23 AM
Bruce Hunter

“Yeah just sitting back trying to recapture

A little of the glory of, well time slipping away

And leaves you with nothing mister but

Boring stories of glory days.”


Bruce Springstein.



A significant birthday hit me in the face last month.  As I sat and pondered the shortening runway before me, I was reminded of the question in the title of this piece posed to me by a fellow business acquaintance and friend not long ago.  It’s a great question with application both personal and professional.  And it serves as a great kick in the ass every time I become complacent on either side.

One of the most unforgettable characters I’ve met in my life was a chance encounter with a guy named Norm whom I bumped into one day while walking my dog.  Norm was 90 years of age and was also out for his daily constitutional.  We struck up a conversation and ended up sitting on a park bench as we exchanged some details of our lives.  What impressed me most through our conversation was his vitality.  The stories he told of his past were enthralling.  He’d built a number of businesses, worked tirelessly as an educator and travelled the world.  But that wasn’t the most impressive thing.  What stopped me in my tracks were his plans for the weekend.  He was going skydiving for the first time!  At 90!  Now, every time I start to feel complacent I think of how Norm handled his daily activity and life.

On the business side of the equation, my most unforgettable character is Google.

Having built the world’s leading search engine and company might have been enough for most.  For Google it wasn’t. Just look at some of the initiatives that have been spawned over the past few years and then look at some of the initiatives they are considering for the future.

Out of Google search through organic and M&A has come:  Google Earth, Youtube, Doubleclick, Google Energy, Google translate, Google News Service, Android, Chrome, Google Goggles, Google Wallet and most recently the launch of Calico on Sept. 19 2013.  This company has been formed to deal with the challenges of aging and associated diseases.  It’s an impressive and non-exhaustive list.

Looking forward, the key trends and ideas they are looking at are:  Home automation (connecting everything from small appliances to large); Robotics; Driverless Cars; Elevators to Space; Clean Energy; New Drugs; Climate Change Insurance; Smart Thermostats; Cancer Treatments and lastly initiatives in Predicting the Future.

Not only is this list mind-blowingly impressive, who wouldn’t want to be associated with or become part of a company that exciting!  And the prospects for continued growth are equally impressive. 

I conclude with two questions for you both personally and professionally.

1.  Is your future bigger than your past?

2.  If it isn’t, what are you going to do to make it bigger?

Add Comment

January 2014

Leadership & Planning Lessons from the U.S. Marine Corps

Jan 8, 2014 2:57 PM
Bruce Hunter

Who knows why I was trolling a white paper written over 15 years ago for aspiring leaders in the U.S. Marine Corps.  As I read, I happened across a brilliant summary of the criteria required to both commit to and conduct a successful war.  The connection between mobilizing the public for war and mobilizing a company and its employees to embark on a new venture or direction became clearer.  I invite you to think about the comparison and how you might employ the following adaptation from the original article  to improve the connection between your company’s goals and the mobilization of your employees. 

The  Criteria Required to Conduct a Successful War:

1. Just Cause.  The initiative must be seen to protect and preserve value in one of several ways.

2.  Defence of self or others from attack.

3.  Retaking of something taken wrongly or by force.

4.  Punishment of concrete wrongs by an opposing power.

5.  Right Authority.The leader authorizing the action must be seen as a valid representative of the political entity.

6.   Right Intention.  Conducting an action must be seen as just and not a selfish air masked as a just cause.

7.   Proportionality of Ends.  The overall good achieved by the action must be perceived to be greater than the harm it may produce.

8.   Reasonable Hope of Success.

9.  A Peaceful Aim.The end goal must be a new order in which peace is restored.

10.  Last resort.  The action is being considered because there is no logical alternative or the alternative is significantly less desirable.

As interesting, the article went on to identify several landmines for any planning effort.  Here again, there are parallels to be drawn to your business initatives.

The Pitfalls:

  • The strategic panacea.Offering universal solutions (e.g. attempting to solve world hunger).
  • Emphasizing process over product.  Believing that going through the process is the answer.
  • Seeking the single, decisive act.  Looking for only the home run ball.
  • The fate accompli.  Believing that the outcome is assured.
  • Attempting to simplify or downplay the issues. 
  • Succumbing to paralysis of inaction.Something must come of the planning sessions.
  • Rushing to a conclusion.  Not examining the full facts or implications.

As with most lists, the above-mentioned are not exhaustive.  I hope you found them of value as you think about your next business initiative or planning session. 

Add Comment

December 2013

Occam's Razor

Dec 2, 2013 7:18 AM
Bruce Hunter

William of Ockham (1287 – 1347) created the principle of Occam’s razor only to have it remain unheralded until 1852 in the works of Sir William Hamilton.  What is Occam’s Razor and why should we care?  While I’m taking some liberty in its description and application, it is the forerunner of the principle we know as the “KISS principle.”  Keep It Simple Stupid. 

In science, Occam’s razor is used as a rule of thumb to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models.  It encourages scientists to drive toward the simplest possible explanation for existing data.  It further submits that the simplest explanation is likely the most informative.  KISS.  Or, in my parlance, the ONE THING.  Focus…one of the most powerful contributors to improved personal and business performance. 

A quick real-world story of the power of focus and keeping it simple.

 In the world of finance, there are many firms that provide financial advice to those who wish to buy or sell a company. The challenge is to break through the clutter, which frankly, is most likely the challenge we all face.  How to credibly stand out from the crowd.  The firm in question was dealing with the same challenge.  They had developed a good reputation, well respected in the field of Mergers and Acquisitions, but were having trouble gaining traction and growth.  Sound familiar?  After struggling for several years trying various tactics to accelerate their growth, they hit on the winning formula.  They narrowed their selling proposition and hit it out of the park.  Here’s what they did…

First, they came to the realization that saying more was saying less.  They took a hard look at their web site and marketing collateral and realized that when compared with the market, they had a white-washed message.  Everyone was saying the same thing!  High expertise, team orientation, customer focus and orientation etc.  They needed to narrow, rather than broaden their focus.  The next thing they did was look at the market and concluded that with the greying of the baby-boomers over the next years there was likely to be a glut of businesses for sale.  Because of that, many would not be able to be sold.  The result for these owners was likely to be either selling to employees or have the business wind down.  The opportunity that presented itself and on which our M&A firm landed, was to reposition their company as being the Management Buyout Specialists.  They rebuilt their communication to reflect that focus and expertise. The business exploded with new growth and clients!  In narrowing their focus they simplified the value proposition and created differentiation in their customer’s minds.  What’s even better is that the benefit extended to all their work, not just Management buyouts.  By establishing expertise in a narrow field, that expertise created a positive halo across a number of practice areas.  Thank you Occam’s Razor!

Gary Keller, writing with Jay Papasan released a new book this year entitled “The One Thing” within which had a number of questions related, not surprisingly, to the “One Thing”.  I found them to be helpful in considering a number of personal and business challenges.  Here’s a selection of “One thing” Questions.

For Your Business…

What’s the one thing I can do to help us stand out from our competitors?

What’s the one thing I can do to improve our customer experience?

What’s the one thing I can do to make us more profitable?

What’s the one thing we could change that is holding us back?

What’s the one thing I could do to help the team succeed?

For You…

What’s the one thing I can do to achieve my exercise goals?

What’s the one thing I can do to achieve my diet goals?

What’s the one thing I can do to improve my skill at…?

What’s the one thing I can do to improve my relationship with my family?

The format of these questions allowed me to generate my own list which has proven to be very helpful in a number of areas.  The power of focus on the “one thing” helped me to cut through the clutter and get traction in a number of areas.  I hope it provides a similar benefit for you.


Add Comment

November 2013

Here's What I expect.

Nov 2, 2013 6:04 PM
Bruce Hunter

Something wonderful happened in a meeting I was attending the other day.  An employee pushed back!  The business leader was in the midst of dressing down certain members of a team regarding a recent client meeting when my new hero piped up.  “You may have a point”, she said, “but this cuts two ways. I want you to know that you’re not blameless. You cut the legs out from under me in front of the client.  It’s going to take me a long time to repair the relationship I’ve built up over the last year.”  Well said!  It took guts to lay that on the table.  It is also a testament to the trust she had in the relationship between herself and the business leader.  Long before, they’d established the expectations for each of them in their roles as boss and subordinate.   And it’s that process and a real life example that I’d like to share now.

Setting clear expectations is perhaps the most important part of business leadership.  If it’s done at all, it’s often a one-way dialogue.  The most fruitful dialogue of course cuts two ways.  Here’s the process I’ve been using with success for a number of years.  It was developed by Ian Bell of Traction Consulting.

The business leader creates a list of his/her expectations of their team.  That list is then reviewed with the team and modifications made if appropriate following the discussion.
The business team spends time developing their expectations of the business leader.  That document, in turn is reviewed in a group setting, with the business leader.  Again, modifications are made, if appropriate.
 With these expectations as a core, individual meetings are held between the business leader and the team members to discuss their individual expectations within that umbrella document.

The result is transformative.  Because everything that needs to be said, gets said and documented.  There’s no misunderstanding on either side.  The best results are usually obtained with an objective third party facilitating the process to ensure that both sides are heard and emotions are held in check through the discussion.  The first time through can sponsor some interesting discussions!

Here’s the promised example.  It’s a document that is currently in use and may act to prime the pump should you elect to try it on for size with your organization.

  For Direct Reports:


Role model our company values.
Own your jobs:  don’t delegate up or allow me to take it from you.
Be honest by always telling me what you think, not what you think I want to hear.
Deliver and be accountable for your commitments.
Never make me chase you down for things you’ve promised me.
Always bring a solution to a problem and be prepared to provide a recommendation.
Have the courage to challenge and disagree respectfully.
Call me on mistakes in private.  Back me up with Staff in public.
Help me focus on doing the work that only the leader can and must do.
Use me as a resource, coach, counsellor and consultant but never a crutch.
Give me bad news as quickly as good…or quicker!
Value my time as I will yours.
You will lose your job if:

I lose confidence in your ability to own and do your job.
You ever lie to me, our Staff, or a Stakeholder.
Fail to do what you knew was right.
Compromise our company values or act without honour.

You will thrive in your position when:

You own your job.
You uplift and add to our culture.
Balance your life and your job.
You are yourself – which is the person I need you to be.


For our business leader:


Walk the Talk.
Be as open and honest with us as you want us to be with you.
Be there for us when you say you will.  (Staff, customer meetings etc.)
Back us up in front of our people. Critique in private.
Be open and clear about what you expect from us and if we fall short of your expectations, have a timely discussion.  Don’t harbour grudges.
Don’t back away from or avoid the difficult conversations.
Treat us like adults.
Listen to us and gain the facts before pronouncing sentence or offering solutions.
Don’t undermine us by going directly to our staff without our knowledge.
Be reasonable about timelines, needs and priorities.  We have other things on our plate too!
Respect the fact that we don’t work the way you do.  Minimize “drive-by-shootings; hallway hand-offs; hijackings etc.)
Provide us with the information and support we need to do our best work.
Encourage us to have fun by having fun yourself.
Allow us to take risks, fail and learn from our mistakes as long as it doesn’t place undue risk or cost on the business.




Add Comment

June 2013

Got A Problem? Try Zooming Out!

Jun 24, 2013 5:54 PM
Bruce Hunter

I guess there really isn’t much new under the sun. I was reading Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book entitled “Decisive” when I came across a technique they ascribed to Kevin Dunbar who set out to understand how scientists think and solve problems. After several years of research studying the methods that scientists use to attack various problems, he noted that they universally used analogies to drive research forward. Many often weren’t aware that they were using the technique. What was surprising to me that I also had been using the technique for years in dealing with problem solving in business situations. Chip and Dan Heath described the process as laddering but I liken it to zooming out from a Google World Map. Here’s an example from the book of how it works…

Imagine that you’re a junior high school principal who believes strongly that kids should be outside engaged in some form of physical activity during the lunch hour period. You’ve got a problem however. The lunch line is slow, reducing the amount of time the kids have to spend outside. Speeding up the line would help. The problem therefore is how to speed up the line.

The Principle would likely start considering the problem at a granular level. Let’s imagine that there are two lunch lines and one moves much faster than the other. He’d likely examine the many variables from that faster line with the hope that he could identify at least one that he could apply to the slower line to improve its speed.

The process of “zooming out” calls for searching for solutions in ever broadening circles of influence. With our example of the lunch line, once he’d reviewed the closest situation, he could broaden his search to other lunch lines at other schools. If that didn’t yield sufficient fodder for improvement, or he wanted to expand his frame of reference, he could move to a broader perspective. Perhaps the study of other types of lines. Movie theatres, grocery or retail shopping experiences could be examples from which he drew inspiration. Broadening from there, he could search “experts” in the field of people movement. Disney, sports stadiums or amusement parks.

Problem solving becomes more abstract the higher one “zooms out”. If we broaden the problem description to that of flow, it offers further opportunity and scope. Now we are able to use an analogy of experts in managing the flow of a resource through a fixed space…plumbers, electricians by way of example. And on it goes.

Try zooming out on your most challenging business problem.

The biggest breakthroughs I’ve made with business challenges that seem insurmountable have come through this process of ever-broadening problem definition. We’re too close to the situation and can’t see the forest for the trees. Try it on one of your most challenging issues.

Add Comment

April 2013

Huh? Getting Clear about your Company's Destination

Apr 29, 2013 7:48 AM
Bruce Hunter

“It is our job to competently maintain high quality intellectual capital, while continuing to continually facilitate progressive meta- services!”

“Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based infrastructure.”

You probably reacted to these statements the same way that the employee population of these two respective companies did. Whoa! I’m willing to bet that we’ve all been exposed to this type of baffle-gab. And yet, at least one person (and most likely several) thought these statements were abundantly clear.

Reading the Globe and Mail the other day, I found an interview which suggested an interesting experiment. Take your company’s Vision, Mission, Statement of Values and if you’ve got one, a Statement of Purpose and cover up the titles. Can you or your employees identify which is which? Most can’t which of course just underscores how well the communication will perform once it hits your corporate stage.

Great communication is short, simple, pragmatic and connects to the heart, not the head. It’s for that reason that I speak of a “Destination” rather than a vision. Here’s a short story to underscore the power of a Destination statement.
Ian, (name changed) had recently bought into a company and became its CEO, soon to be owner. Believing in the power of collaboration, he brought together the employees so that he could share his vision and mission for the company and get their input. Following his presentation, conversation commenced with several individuals taking part. Five minutes into the discussion a hand went up from the back of the room.

“Yes?” queried Ian. An individual who worked on the manufacturing line, stood up and addressed Ian and the rest of the employees.

“I don’t know about your Vision and Mission…but I’ve got one myself!” he exclaimed. “As I look around at this place and the state it’s in, I have a Vision myself. And that’s to help get this business big enough so we can move out!” And with that, he sat down.

To Ian’s credit, he listened. “Does anyone else feel the same?” One by one, the hands went up. “Here is an opportunity!” thought Ian. I’ll fast forward the story. Ian replaced the vision and took the statement, “Big enough to move.” as a replacement. Once that was determined, he had the rest of the team work on exactly what that meant, what needed to be done to achieve that goal and lastly, how they would measure whether they were making progress. Brilliant!

1. The Destination was succinct, motivating and abundantly clear to every employee.
2. It spoke to the heart, not the head.
3. It laid out the specific actions and measured their progress.

In their seminal work on effective communication, “Made to Stick”, Chip and Dan Heath reinforce the importance of clarity and simplicity using a concept taken from the U.S. army called “Commander’s Intent”.

“CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired intent of the operation. No plan survives contact with the enemy. And in business, no plan survives contact with the customer. It’s hard to make ideas stick in noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environments. It’s got to be simple…the core of the idea. The tough part is weeding out ideas that may be really important, but just aren’t the most important. That’s the challenge of creating a really powerful destination statement. Finding the most important idea.

Herb Kelleher (the longest-serving CEO of Southwest Airlines) once told someone, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can. That’s his Commander’s Intent or Destination Statement.”

What’s yours?

Add Comment
« 1 2 3 4 5 »

RSS feed


Top of page