Some Reflections On Good Strategy

The author, at UCD Smurfit
The author, at UCD Smurfit

What is Good Strategy?

These points come from my notes from listening to a lecture by Prof. Pat Gibbon of UCD Smurfit Business School in Dublin during the Executive Edge day in May 2014.

  • Good strategy begins with a clear diagnosis (widely accepted) of the real current condition of the business. If there is nothing painful then this is strategy driven by internal politics, not strategy driven by a determination to be the best company, team that we can be.
  • Good strategy clearly articulates the challenges (big potholes on our path).  If there are no scary challenges, then it is not good strategy.  There are dangers out there that can kill your business.  If you are not vigilant, the bugs and the weeds will take over the garden.
  • From “Walking the Talk” Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives

    Good strategy covers “Ideology” – There is an answer to “who are we?”  As people, as leaders? Michael O’Leary shows that “cheap” can win – but has to be lived by the full organisation. It is not enough to live values – to be a trusted organisation, a trusted leader, values must be both explicitly expressed and lived daily. Are these still lived? Aspirational values not being lived = loss of all trust and company becomes commodity. Image to the right comes from “Walking the Talk”: Under-promising is almost as dangerous as over-promising.

  • Good strategy articulates the set of coherent daily, weekly, monthly actions that must be inculcated, measured and made habitual? What systems – budget, motivation, talent, metrics?
  • Good strategy addresses the question: How do we concentrate our resources in areas where our opponents are weak? What are the real sources (that customers really care about) of our advantages? “Don’t attack walled cities”
  • Good strategy addresses innovation and change: How do we as an organisation cheaply explore ideas? How do we embrace “trying, failing & improving”?  Is it career suicide to lead a failed product launch?  If so, there will be no innovation.
  • Good strategy understands sales.  Neil Rackham tells us that today’s customers are polarizing around extremes of transaction oriented (“give me your price for this”) and trusted relationship (“help me think and I’ll pay you well”) – you cannot target both groups with the same approach. Transactional – push towards self service. Trusted – over-resource with senior experts; only chase projects with very high win probability (coming second is worse than not bidding).

Further Resources on Strategy

 

What else is important?  What challenges do you face when you are tasked with defining strategy?  

IESE Speaking Gurus Interview Series

This is a series of 10 interviews with the expert coaches during the IESE EMBA Intensive week 2013.  (If you are viewing via rss, video on the blog here).  The Expert Contributors are:

  • Tony Anagor ([twitter-follow screen_name=’lifestyledmc’])
  • Florian Mueck ([twitter-follow screen_name=’the7minutestar’])
  • Conor Neill (Me!) ([twitter-follow screen_name=’cuchullainn’])
  • Tobias Rodrigues ([twitter-follow screen_name=’conflictmentor’])
  • John Zimmer ([twitter-follow screen_name=’zimmerjohn’])

The Speaking Guru Interviews

Questions from You

What questions do you have for next year’s set of expert interviews?

What does Leadership mean to you?

Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School will be speaking at IESE Business School in Barcelona next Monday 13th.

“It is my desire to inspire people of all ages and social demographics to think about leadership on a broad level, contemplate what it means to them and what individual impact they can have when it comes to leading,” Nitin Nohria.

What does Leadership mean to you?

As a simple reflection, I share 2 short poems:

The Serenity Prayer

(paraphrased by me…)

Give me the strength to change the things I can change;
The patience to accept the things I cannot change
and the wisdom to tell the difference.

Author: Reinhold Niebuhr, 1943

“I Wanted To Change The World”

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

Author: Unknown Monk 1100 A.D.

Event Information

As the Harvard-IESE Committee celebrates its 50th Anniversary, IESE welcomes Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria, to speak to alumni at an exclusive session on January 13, 2014. Entitled, “Innovative Leadership: Learning from Asian Companies,” the session will be held at IESE’s Barcelona campus and organized by the Alumni Association. Registration is here.

Probably the Worst Email of All Time

This, or a version of it, arrives a few times a week:

“Dear Conor
I need to talk to you. Can I have some time?
X”

By the way, its not from my girlfriend, or my daughter. They get a yes. My mum, dad, brothers, sister – they get a yes. However, generally these emails come from people that I am not deeply connected to.

Photo Credit: daveynin via Compfight cc

What do I know from this email?

You don’t care about my time enough to set out an agenda, let me know how I can be prepared, help me with something that you know I want (its all on my blog!).

I think I can predict the success or failure of a startup based upon the quality of the “asking for a meeting” emails that the founders tend to write. This is entirely speculative and based upon zero empirical study, but a lot of emotional certainty.

What is a good email?

Do you have any examples?

What is your experience?  Are you successful in getting people to say yes to your requests via email?

Knowingly Bad

You can’t begin to improve at something until you are “knowingly bad”.

If you are not aware of the lack of something, you haven’t got “taste” yet.  If you think you are the best blogger in the world, two things could be true:

  1. You really are the best blogger in the world
  2. You are blind to the real criteria for what makes a great blogger

Taste is the beginning of Knowingly Bad

You got Taste? Photo Credit: RobertCross1 

The development of taste is the beginning of “knowingly bad”.

Taste is the ability to tell what is good.  Taste is what you develop as you progress that actually grows your disappointment with your results.  As you go through development, your talent grows slowly, but if you are going to be good, your taste grows rapidly.

As taste grows, the disappointment grows.

Ira Glass says “For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.”

Don’t Quit at Disappointment

When you have posted your 8th blog post and you feel it is going downhill, your posts are getting worse, your progress feels like it is backwards…  do not be afraid.  This is the beginning of “Taste”.

I know 2 types of anxiety-free public speaker.  Type 1 has never developed “Taste” and so has no capacity to concern himself that he could do poorly.  He is blind.  He makes no connection between the audience’s use of email on their phones and the bad-ness of his speech.

Type 2, if you are interested?  Type 2 cares so much about the message that the speech is not about him or herself.  The message is so important that his own performance doesn’t even enter the equation.  The message is so important that he has given the speech 100 times, over coffee, in airport lounges.

If I want taste in writing, I have to read a lot. I have to know why one author is better than another, and specifically what that author does that I am not yet able to do.

If you are writing and and not satisfied with the paragraph you are producing: Great! You have taste.

If you are speaking and are not satisfied with your quality of impact on the audience: Great! You have taste.

If you are leading a team and are not satisfied that you are a good enough leader: Great! You have taste.

If you are a parent, and are not completely satisfied that you are doing it well: Great! You have taste.

The Role of Teachers

Great teachers focus on developing taste as well as developing talent – because with taste, you can grow beyond the teacher.  If they don’t help you with taste, you depend on them.  I spend more and more time these days helping the participants in my seminars give structured feedback on themselves than I used to.  If I tell them what to improve, that’s ok… but if I help them develop that ability in themselves, they are getting “Taste”.

Leaders Go First. The First Steps on Learning Leadership.

Leadership: You Have to Go First.

I love this little Dilbert storyline from Scott Adams:

Employee: “I find it rather demotivating that you never praise me for a job well done.”
Boss: “You’ve never done a job well.”
Employee: “That’s because I’m demotivated.”
Boss: “You have to go first.”
Employee: “Wouldn’t that make me the Leader?”

The 1-minute Leader

Ken Blanchard’s popular and accesible book The One Minute Manager suggests that a leader does 3 things, in the following order:

  1. 1-Minute Praising: Hunt for something the person does well, and publicly praise them – immediate and specific positive praising on actions.  Praise the Person.
  2. 1-Minute Goal-Setting: Agree on goals (no more than 5) with staff. Make sure each goal is clearly written on a separate piece of paper and kept visible daily. Keep Goals limited and focussed.
  3. 1-Minute Reprimand: If the person has the skills to do something right, and it is not done right – in private let them know “I know you are a great person, but this behaviour/result is not up to your talent. Reprimand the Behaviour.

The 4 Most Important Traits of Leaders

Jim Kouzes has spent over 30 years asking millions of people “what do you admire in the leaders that inspire you?”.  He has compiled the information over many years into his bestselling book: The Leadership Challenge.

The top 4 traits that followers seek in leaders are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Competence
  3. Inspiring
  4. Forward Looking

Work harder on honesty

Honesty is 3 times more important than the rest of the top 4 traits combined.  There is no point in working on competence, inspiration or forward looking if people don’t now perceive you as honest, as trustworthy (Read: What is Trust?).  People hate it when a leader doesn’t play it straight with them.  People hate it when a leader doesn’t have the courage to speak the honest truth about their performance, about the state of the organization, about what is going on in the team.

Credibility is the Base

The traits honesty, competence and inspiring are really about perception more than any absolute.  It is not enough to just be honest, you need to be perceived as honesty by the group.  It is not enough to be competent, you need to be perceived as competent by the group.  It is not enough to spray out messages that you think are inspiring, you really need to be perceived as inspiring by others.

Forward Looking is the Leadership Differentiator

Credibility gives you the permission, but that alone does not make the leader.  You need to build an ability to create a shared vision of the future, a forward looking but real-feeling sense of direction for the group.  How can you do this?

There are 3 aspects to being able to share a forward looking vision.

  1. WIIFM: I show others how their long term interests can be realised
  2. Connect: I appeal to others to share an exciting dream
  3. Storytelling: I describe a compelling image of what our future could be like

The key here is not the ability to see the future, it is the ability to communicate it meaningfully and tangibly to the people around you.  The crystal ball is not as valuable as the ability to communicate persuasively.   (My free online course “Speak as A Leader” can help http://bit.ly/practicespeak )

Getting Started on Vision

How can you get started on the path to a better visionary leader?  If you do nothing more than go around you asking people these 4 questions you will become clear on what you can do to contribute.

4 questions for people around you:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What can be done?
  4. What else is on your mind?

If you do nothing more than ask these 4 questions repeatedly and reflect the answers back to the group, you will be leading.

Further Reading:

Accepting Feedback

At the end of every course I teach at IESE Business School, all participants give extensive feedback on their experience of the course, the facilities… and on my role as a teacher.

When the summarized feedback reaches me a couple of weeks later, I open the pdf in a state of nervous tension.  I am preparing myself emotionally for the news contained in the report.  If the report is positive, I start to relax and enjoy the feeling of professional competence.

Photo Credit: Ben Heine

However, the last few quotes on the report are always the “areas for improvement”.  I get tense again, and start already to justify myself before I even start reading.

I love positive feedback.  I hate “developmental” feedback.  I pretend sometimes to appreciate it, but I resist it fiercely inside my mind.

I am pretty sure that I am not alone.

I rationally know that it is the developmental feedback that can most help me improve, but I find it very hard in the moment to accept it and work with it.  I feel it as a personal attack, not as an objective opinion of a friendly student who wholeheartedly wishes to see the institution of IESE Business School improve with their advice.

What do you do to “accept” developmental feedback?  Are there any things that have changed your willingness to be open to and even seek out developmental feedback?

 

IESE Business School: The Truly Global School

I have recently finished teaching modules on the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) and on the Develop Your Communication Skills (DYC) Short Focussed Program here at IESE in Barcelona. The global diversity of participants really struck me. IESE has become a truly global experience – both in the MBA program, and in the variety of Executive Education courses on offer.

This video gives a glimpse of the people, the classrooms, the campuses and a sense of life at IESE Business School.

The Truly Global School

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-dsulm8Im4]

Here at IESE we are truly global. Our aim is to provide a global education whose international character isn’t just measured in numbers of passports but in the way we teach how to manage globalization and diversity.

IESE Advanced Visionary (Ethos) Communication Module

The Visionary Leader

In times of crisis, we prefer Visionary Leaders. Hope is a strong motivator to current action when the situation is difficult.

In the years leading up to 2008, the USA was stuck in two protracted wars, and an economic crisis sparked by the subprime lending collapse. In this context of uncertainty, the big factor that helped to sweep Barrack Obama into the Presidency was that he was seen as an inspiring and visionary leader. His message gave hope for a better future to come.

The Ethos-Based Speech model uses the force of the leader’s personal and professional credibility combined with hope to move an audience to take action. It is a vital tool for effective leaders when facing times of uncertainty and crisis.

Likewise, Ronald Reagan came to power in a time of uncertainty.  He was a powerful visionary speaker.  His speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster was a very clear Ethos-Based speech structure and delivery.

Example Ethos-Based Speech: Ronald Reagan’s Challenger address

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEjXjfxoNXM]

The Ethos-Based Speech

The Ethos-Based Speech follows this simple structure:

Past

Starts with a moment in time “4 years ago” or “When we founded this company” or “70 years ago”. Past describes a situation where things were “good”. Past sets a common context. Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster begins with a story about what happened 400 years ago – the founding of the USA. This creates a common context and connection for his audience.

Present

Describes today’s reality. Often this is a negative in contrast with the Past. There are challenges. Not everything is rosy. However, the audience needs to see that the leader lives in their world, sees what they see. This clear seeing of today’s real situation establishes credibility. Ronald Reagan’s Challenger speech tells of what he and his wife Nancy saw on TV that morning, how they felt and what it meant. He then speaks to the children, then to the teachers, then to the families of the dead astronauts. He is direct and clear about the real situation and the feelings.

Future

Imagines a better situation in future. “5 years from now, I see a company that is strong…” Outlines what the hard work we need to day will achieve. Connects todays difficulty with a purpose.

I made a short video last week to explain some of the advanced modules we run in IESE for Persuasive Communication skills.

This video explains the IESE Visionary Communication Module

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EmsEWiMTnE]

Original Post

IESE Webinar [Video]: Develop Your Communication Skills

The Webinar:

This is the recording of the IESE Develop Your Communication Skills webinar we ran on 13th April 2013.  It is here on the IESE Business School YouTube channel.

Storify Summary of the Webinar via Twitter Hashtag: #iesewebinar

Resources cited in the Webinar: