Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stop Lights

"Traffic light" dashboard reports are now commonplace in many organisations. Whilst this has most definitely improved the way executives look at their business it has brought with it an underlying culture, which avoids a "red light" at all costs. We see them as failures and not opportunities or even successes.

Just like our frustration sitting at the red light at an intersection, we translate the same response in our organisations. We want an unencumbered ride down the road and we want all green lights showing on our report cards. We see this as success however the result means that we may be missing some valuable observations along the way. Our people are geared to pursuing green lights if even running the amber light is what it takes.
It is also the continual interchange of lights, both red and green, that allows the whole organism to flow in many different directions and operate effectively. It’s the red lights in life that allow us to get through as well as the green ones and not totally jammed in a bottleneck.

Wisdom, leadership, strength are not attributes born out of a "green light" life. Laziness obesity and ignorance are such outcomes.

Every red light should be looked upon with opportunity and potential. Our tendency to avoid red ones or become extremely agitated or angry says a lot about exposing the decisions we made prior to being held up by the red light. Like the reason we might be in such a hurry in the first place?

Waiting is something we don't do well. We respond continuously upon the pressure on a leader to "act" and it takes a greater portion of character and wisdom to "wait" or "stop" for a moment.

When for instance has the actual red light ever caused you to fail? If you can sight one that didn't involve a decision you made, or another event, and not the stop light itself I would be surprised. So let's look at red lights differently and what they provide for us as leaders.

Red lights on a report provide for us an opportunity to grow, and engage us in recognising that that part of our business might require investment or support. Just like the indicator lights on the dashboard of our car these are signs that we may have overlooked some maintenance or inadvertently forgotten to refuel. In the busyness of life we often need these indicators to pull us back into focus. Instead of seeing "red" and treating these as a pure annoyance we should be entirely grateful that they are there.

If our people feel “safe” in flagging red or amber lights we will reap the benefits of insights that may avoid a greater collision further down the road. It will cause us to become aware that we are actually at an “intersection” that requires a decision which we otherwise would have missed.

Are we annoyed with the red lights? Do we condemn those responsible as failing rather than being grateful for what they provide, or do we encourage these indicators to be activated rather than avoided?

Are we inadvertently leading our people to even race through the amber (warning) lights to avoid the red ones?

Next time you are stopped at the intersection. Take a look around.
Are you really being held up, or is this an opportunity to consider what is really going on.

It may even give you an insight into an alternative route that you have previously missed.

Are you only seeing green lights?
What are you missing?

Friday, September 20, 2013


The word "unthinkable" can usually conjure up sinister, ugly or even devastating images.

It is maybe this very reaction though, that allows us to miss or inadvertently avoid the true possibilities in life.

When we are out there continually trying to strategise the next step, idea or opportunity, how often do we include the most unthinkable in those thoughts?

If we take an example of two fields. One is dry and arid. The other is fertile and green. If we were asked to chose between the two our first reaction would be to consider it "unthinkable" to chose the dry arid pasture. Why? Because several things are at play here.

Firstly, we put limits on things. secondly we put limits on ourselves, and thirdly we allow ourselves to be limited by other peoples judgement and perceptions who only see the possibilities in what is already primed. We see the investment required on the surface as being beyond its value, we see the effort on our part as being beyond our understanding or competence, and we don't want to appear foolish.

If the dry field was twice the size of the green field would it make a difference? What if you owned the green field and were offered a swap? For many it would still be unthinkable, even though the difference in the fields was only opening a sluice gate.

This isn't always the case of course as there may be a significant reason why there is a problem with the pasture however, a dry field is only be that way because no one has invested in it, and are we only seeing it for use as a pasture?

What drives people to do "unthinkable" things then? Taking them from the "ordinary" to the "extraordinary".

For some its desperation, for others its the realisation that many things are possible because they have tried them before. and survived. Others simply see what others miss.

Whilst we shy away from the unthinkable many of them are realising themselves every day, either naturally or by others, with or without our conscious involvement?

If we look back over history or even our own life how many things can you identify which years prior to them coming about or existing you simply thought "unthinkable"? Watching TV on your wrist? You think thats normal now but not in 1960.

The GFC was unthinkable to most right up until the day it happened, and so was 9/11.

So how do we go about our planning and strategies for the future. What are the conversations we are having with our people. Are we avoiding the "unthinkable". Do we keep it to the foreseeable horizon because anything else is simply too much!

It might mean completely turning the current arrangements on their head. It could mean partnering with your enemy. It could mean stretching out in unknown territory or it could even mean closing down. What! Now that is unthinkable, isn't it? However, trying "unthinkable" things can be the release of things "extraordinary".

If you travel in most third world or even many developed countries there are those people for which it is still "unthinkable" that they could be cured, or get a job or live in a house, or drive a car. So its not just the future that might be unthinkable. Its a present condition for many, they just cant see it or haven't experienced any other way. Many communities have no perception that there could be anything different than their current condition. Maybe our unthinkable thing is doing something unthinkable for someone else.

Unless we are prepared to think the unthinkable we will never hear the warning signs of change or see the possibilities. We won't hear the ideas being generated by our people. and we won't see the over the current horizon. We will stay in the same place we have always been. In the ordinary.

Those that have developed, built, led, discovered and changed the world through history have asked the question "what if".

Why not start by trying something unthinkable. You may startle some, but you will definitely stimulate others. One of those might be yourself.

If the most "unthinkable" things of the past have already happened, then maybe the most unthinkable thing today will have already happened, been produced, or come about tomorrow. Where will you be?

Are you the change that brings about the "unthinkable" for someone else?
What is the most "unthinkable" approach?

Whats your strategy?
Is it based on principles that will encompass unthinkable change?

Are you ready to embrace it?

What will be lost if you don't?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Faking It

Often referred to by the phrase "fake it till you make it" is a philosophy that exists on the premise that starting with the end point will naturally fill in the gaps that get you there. If you keep acting it out then it will become a habit and eventuate.

The problem with this is we become creatures of habit rather than engaging with the reason "why" we do things. We miss the problem, or “root cause” and embed into our culture a "process" rather than a "passion" and may even fail to help us realise the end benefit.

The common approach for leaders to continually take a helicopter view can inadvertently cause us to lose an important element of engaging our people.

Ever flown to another city and tried to describe or even relate to the intervening countryside below? With the people, towns, culture or even weather that made up the distance in the space in between? You might like to think that you can identify with what its like down there, but you simply can’t because you bypassed all that, and jumped straight to the end destination.

We often attempt to do this with our organisations and people by developing strategies, defining values and behaviours hopefully inspiring our people to move to that place as if by "defining" certain behaviour it will happen.

We have become so used to "fast-tracking" our lives and utilising instant technology we have skipped the importance of actually "traveling" the distance. What works for point to point air travel simply can’t be applied to much of our business or simply achieved by establishing values, behaviours, a charter or a value statement.

There is a story about a child that asked his mum why she chopped off the end of the turkey before putting it in the oven. His mum replied that she thought it helped the meat cook better inside but maybe he should ask his grandmother. The child went to his grandmother and asked the question again. His grandmother responded saying that she thought it allowed the juices to flow through the meat enhancing its flavour but maybe he should ask his great grandmother. The child went on to his great grandmother and again asked the same question. His great grandmother turned to him and replied. "Dear that was because my oven was too small."

Just like the things that have influenced our personal development, aspects of our organisation must be "ground truthed" or experienced. This means getting out of the aircraft and "walking" the journey. It is by doing this we can see what is really happening, smell the air and "identify" with our people what’s really going on. 

It is our interaction with the ground that will both mature our outlook and authenticate the communication you need to have, firstly with your people and then with your customer.

Failure to do this will also smother innovation and detract our people from thinking for themselves. If we don't understand and experience the "why" we won’t identify any problem or nail the solution.

Are we trying to look the part? Have we really understood the problem? Are we applying a helicopter solution rather than deal with or understand the root source?

Is what you are espousing authentic and able to be challenged?
Are you inadvertently causing your people to fake it?

Could you be faking it?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Where there is a will

Where there is a "will" there is a way.

A saying that has been around for a long long time but often neglected for its truth.

Some of the things that we keep developing and coming back to in our organisations may be no different to those aspirational "new year resolutions" that we never really commit to personally. 

We know we need to do something so we keep coming back and working at it again. We might assign a new working party or undertake another workshop but if we look back we can see that we end up with same stuff, and ultimately the need for the same course of action. It might be green with yellow stripes this time, but it’s essentially the same as the red one underneath.

It might be a program, review or proposal that has never got past that. It could be a project that got to the 80% stage and progressed no further or values and behaviours that we aspire to, but never seem to achieve.

Quite often I hear organisational leaders espouse the desires and direction for the organisation or team with the picture of what that should look like but that's as far as it seems to go. The issue is why?

Many might suggest that this is because we don't know how to get there, however I might suggest it's because we are too afraid to go there and thus never really commit our "will" to it!

Health practitioners will tell you that the fundamental 'will' to change your diet or quit smoking is the key to success. It won't be peer pressure but a personal and deep down 'will' to change.

If we keep looking to change but don't, then it is our fear or unwillingness we need to address. That’s nonsense, I hear you saying, I am a leader I am not afraid or unwilling! No?

In many cases, whether it's in business or our personal lives we have a fear of leaving the known and moving to an unknown or exposed position. Even if our current state is flawed, at least we know how it works. We excuse ourselves by wanting it fully thought through and 100% guaranteed and perfect before we take the next step. Many times that’s just not possible and we use that as our platform to stay where we are.

We also have an image or persona which is built around our current state. We are afraid that the change would send a message to our clients or community that we were wrong somehow, wouldn't it? Afraid it will affect our credibility. Our image.

The problem here is the fact that your credibility is now already in question isn't it?

Are you seeking another program, rewrite or review failing to make the change or release it hoping that it might tell you a different story?

Could you be responding in fear? 

Where there is a will there is a way.
Where there is no will... there is no way!

Are you really willing?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Dead Horse

Riding in the saddle of our previous success may delude us into thinking that we can cure or give CPR to anything. Convinced that if we continue with the tried old methods, performance will again improve.

Many Organisations continue to flog people, processes and programs as if pushing or poking them in a different way will produce a desired outcome. When is it time to recognize that something else is in play that thwarts any attempt to "strategize" a solution.

It could be time to look at the problem from a different perspective or a different lens and not assume that we even can, or should fix it?

Maybe we are hanging on to a "loved possession" whether it be the foundation enterprise that got you going in the first place or something into which you have invested just too much. Maybe we feel we owe someone or feel a duty of care. Or maybe we just don't want to appear to have invested unwisely.

To be able to tell the difference between a good investment and something that's at end of life, is a valuable attribute. Maybe its time to recognize your riding a dead horse. Maybe you've even been riding it for some time?

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed down from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to "dismount". 

Western civilization however has developed a whole range of far more advanced strategies that are often employed, such as: 
  • Change riders.
  • Buy a stronger whip.
  • Do nothing: "This is the way we have always ridden dead horses".
  • Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses.
  • Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse's performance.
  • Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse. (Can be as useful as a saddle when it comes to protecting you're backside!!)
  • Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed.
  • Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.
  • Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is.
  • Re-classify the dead horse as "living-impaired".
  • Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses.
  • Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses.
  • Modify existing standards to include dead horses.
  • Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
Which approach have you found most useful?

Is it time to get off?
Denial or avoidance wont change the outcome.