Category Archives: Organizational Change

7 Scaling Secrets – #1 – Where Are We Going? (The North Star and the North Pole)

For thousands of years, the stars in the night sky have been used to help humans (and even birds and seals) know where they are going. One star in particular, the North Star (a.k.a. Polaris), was critical for determining direction before the invention and broad use of the GPS.

In the night sky, Polaris is extremely close to where the Earth’s northern axis points.  So close, in fact, that while other stars rotate around the sky, Polaris stays in roughly the same place…which makes it very useful for navigating. However, regardless of how much we’ve used Polaris, no human has ever visited. At the speed of light, it would take 433 YEARS to get there!

Photo credit: Preston Dyches

So, what would happen if you decided to follow the North Star and go as far as you could go…where would you end up? The North Pole. The North Pole is a place that has been flown over, skied to, walked to, and visited by boats and submarines.  It’s difficult, but you can get there.

This is where we start when it’s time to scale a company. What’s the ‘North Star’ for both the leader and the company? We’re looking for those things that may seem like dreams (we often use the term ‘Imagine if’) and that are free from any constraints. Are we going to get there? Probably not. However, we have a clear idea of the direction that we’re going in and why.

Later in this process, we will take an understanding of our current situation combined with our North Star and turn it into a ‘North Pole’.  Specifically, what are some tangible things that we can accomplish in the next year that move us in the direction of the North Star?

Next time you can see the stars, take a minute to think about where you want to go (your North Star) and how you’re going to get there (the North Pole).  Then get a warm coat and start the journey!

7 Scaling Secrets – Intro – Seeing the Empire State Building in a Whole New Light

It’s been said that all businesses are experiencing pain…it’s either growing pain or shrinking pain. So, if growth is the (sometimes elusive!) goal, how do we get there?

In the business world, we frequently think of growth as linear – invest in new resources (factories, people, capabilities, etc.) and see increased revenue…easy, right? In real life, markets determine if our work delivers the goal, and the increase is often proportional to the investment (ex: increase marketing à increase sales).

Linear growth is good (and results in growing pains which are, in my opinion, much more fun than shrinking pains)…and there’s something even better. We call it scaling.

Let’s look at the world of architecture for some context. Although it can take a long time to lay the foundation of a building, thankfully, the depth of the foundation typically doesn’t have to be equivalent to a building’s height. For example, the Empire State Building stands at 1,454 feet above ground with a foundation just 55.7 feet deep. At the Willis Tower in Chicago, a foundation just 10 feet deeper allows it to be 351 feet taller than the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles (11% increase in depth, 32% increase in height).

The Empire State Building
Roberto Vivancos on Pexels

That’s what scaling is all about. Growth that is significantly higher than the investment needed to obtain it.

In our work with growing companies, we’ve found seven secrets to successful scaling that we’ll be sharing in 2022:

  1. Having a clear vision of the future
  2. Understanding the state of your business
  3. From today, forward…and tomorrow, backward
  4. Analyzing your competition and the ecosystem
  5. Simultaneously “changing” AND “running” your business
  6. Sticking to the plan
  7. Finding the right coordinator for this work

So, take a break from digging today to ask yourself “is this work going to provide linear growth or exponential growth”? If it’s not the latter, ask yourself if you have the seven things above and start working on the gaps!

Hate feeling unprepared? Go ‘Back to the Future’ to get some advice!

I had just started the meeting and the team was staring back at me from the screen, expecting wise council and direction on how we were going to achieve today’s objective. As I began the meeting I felt confident but, about 15 minutes in, I realized that my preparation on the first group exercise was lacking. Just a few minutes of pre-work would have made the difference between a good experience for the team and an excellent one. I silently blamed myself for wasting the team’s time and promised myself I’d do better next time.

Many times I’ve found myself in the situation above and I’d guess that you have as well. We’re faced with so many competing priorities that we are often preparing for things at the last minute…if we have time to prepare at all! Regardless of how painful it is to be under-prepared, it seems like the pain of preparing is often so significant that we still set ourselves up for failure!

It’s painful both to prepare and to be unprepared. Choose your pain wisely.

I’ve found that in the moment, I would much prefer the pain of preparing to the pain of being unprepared. But in the emergencies of the every day, I choose the opposite. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, I don’t do what I want to do and I hate what it is I DO do!

What’s the solution? I like Jesse Itzler‘s solution when he says “Remember Tomorrow.” Take a peek into the future and decide if future you will be happier that you knocked three tasks off your list or that you spent another 15 minutes on Instagram…and we all know the answer to that question! Then, make it happen. Remember tomorrow and take a step in that direction. I look forward to seeing you there…and you don’t even need a DeLorean!

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava from Pexels

What do you hold in your hand today? It may be more important than you think…

A couple of years ago, I moved from a Chief of Staff role focused on research and development to a more far-reaching one in a newly created organization. This new role would allow me to see firsthand what it took to run a multi-billion dollar company from the executive suite. I readily admit that I was intimidated. There were lots of big names in the company who were making huge decisions…and they were expecting me to keep them organized!

I decided that I might need to find some different ways to work with this new team so, I took inspiration from a college professor, Kevin Treu. Dr. Treu always asked a ‘question of the day’ to start each class. I had successfully used that tactic in several training classes I gave. and decided that we would start each weekly staff meeting with a ‘song of the day’.

The first Monday morning of the year, I had the song Good Morning by the artist Mandisa playing as the team walked into the room. For a few weeks, I was met with some strange looks (maybe due to my taste in music) but by soon I had people making playlist recommendations!

Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

It’s always been challenging for me to focus on the capabilities that I do have instead of the ones I wish I had. In high school, my choir sang a song called “Moses” that included the line “What do you hold in your hand today?” That line has always challenged me and it’s my challenge to you.

Are you staring at a challenging project, a new role, or an opportunity to be ‘stretched’? If so, take stock of what you have…the experiences and unique mindset that you bring to the table. Then, pick one or two that you can start implementing. You’ll discover that what you already hold in your hand is more important than you thought!

Many thanks to Treyci Lilje for accompanying me on the journey and constantly reminding me of what I had in my hands.

Some against the grain advice: If you’re determined to win, then don’t be scared to fail

I’ve coached my sons on the baseball field for the past 9 years so it was really strange not to be out there this Spring. It’s often said that baseball is a game where hitters can be in the Hall of Fame if they can only limit their failures to 60-70% for 20 years. It’s true that the highest batting average in Major League Baseball is Ty Cobb’s .366 – meaning he failed 634 out of every 1000 times he went to the plate!

Ty Cobb (left) with ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson

Failure isn’t limited to baseball….basketball greats are acquainted with it as well.

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Marty Osborn made the same observation about football: “In a football game a team will run about 60-70 plays. Of those plays, 90% fail. That’s right. Only 10% of plays will really work. It’s those 6 or 7 plays that will be the difference between winning and losing.”

If we take a step into the world of organizations, it’s clear that there are lots of things we do every day that don’t work:

  • That meeting that did NOT go as planned
  • A project you poured weeks into doesn’t get approved
  • The sales lead you thought was ready to sign the contract goes another direction
  • And many more!

So, what do you do with all that failure? I’d propose you embrace it!

Success has been defined as the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

Anonymous – referenced in How to Say a Few Words by David Guy Powers
(not Winston Churchill as I thought!)

The next time you strike out and are disappointed by what was a sure thing, pick yourself up and try again…with enthusiasm!

Who knows, the next time you’re at the plate, you may hit a home run…

Photo Credit: Louis van Oeyen, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (058.00.00)

Why are leaders covering twice as much trail to get to the same summit?

One beautiful Saturday, my family headed out to take a hike up one of the nearby extinct volcanoes. My wife and I had hiked it over a decade ago with our infant son so we knew that it was worth the trip. The route we chose was completely wooded for 95% of the way and we had a teenager and tween in the crew who were looking for immedicate gratification. They were pretty vocal about their lack of interest in hiking (between their sprints up and down the trail). Finally, we arrived at the top and everyone quietly sat down and enjoyed the view.

Puy Pariou

The fact that my wife and I, the leaders of our little expedition, had already been to the top of this mountain gave us the energy to encourage our ‘team’ that it was worth the trip.

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

John C. Maxwell

Recently, I’ve been working with business leaders who are trying to get their teams to ‘hike’ a pretty significant mountain. It requires the leaders to run ahead of their teams by looking into the future and working on strategy, then circle back to the team to get them on board. That means the leaders are doing twice the work of the team…and that’s exhausting!

If you’re a leader, and you haven’t (mentally) been where you want the team to go, maybe now is a good time to take a few hours off the treadmill and make sure that the future is clear for you so you can take others there.

If you’re being led (and we all are in some area of life), take a minute to thank the leaders that are running back and forth between the future and today!

photo credit: flickr.com/photos/alphaducentaure/11887177805

Social distancing got you down? Here’s how to take one of your worst experiences and make it one of your best!

Ever since I lived with 2 guitar players during college, I had wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar. My fiancée (now wife of 21 years) had purchased a guitar for me as a gift, I had taken lessons, and I couldn’t play a chord. Finally, I had put my guitar in a closet, irregularly pulling it out, longingly looking at it, and usually beating myself up for my failures in learning.

After seeing an ad on facebook, I decided that June 2016 was the month I would learn. I had purchased an online class from Tristan de Montebello and planned to start it after getting home from a business trip on June 17, 2016.

June 18, 2016 is a ‘date which will live in infamy’ for my family. That’s the day I decided to play soccer with my sons and their friends in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. The day an 11 year old kid faked me out well enough to send me tumbling over the soccer ball. The day my kneecap took a direct hit on the asphalt…and broke in two. Ouch!

After a few days waiting on the couch, I had surgery and wasn’t allowed to bend my knee for 6 weeks. It would have been really easy to have a pity party, tell myself that this was just another roadblock to learning and given up. I definitely had my share of feeling sorry for myself but, for some reason, I pressed on, finished the class, and began playing a few songs for kids at our church.

photo credit: Quốc Bảo at pexels.com

Almost 4 years after these experiences, I have a 4 inch scar and a guitar I can pick up and play between virtual meetings at home during a global pandemic

Speaking of that global pandemic, did you think this was going to be a time you finally read that book, reconnected with that former client, or made progress on that objective that was so hard to complete with the interruptions of the office? If you’re anything like me, there’s been a significant conflict with those intentions and reality. After 28 days of ‘isolation’ I was sure I would have written several articles and posts that are on my list and maybe even made progress on a book manuscript.

Until now, I’ve accomplished none of those things. The urgent is STILL crowding out the important! So, I’m challenging myself to spend just 20 min a day on some of these important professional goals (knowing that I’m likely to be interrupted by my even more important family). How about you? Have the urgent tasks (or even the pity parties) taken far too much of your time and attention? This week, try to find just 20 min a day (or 25 if you’re a believer in the Pomodoro Technique) and make progress on one thing. You may find you can make one of your worst experiences one of your best!

Need to ‘pour’ change into others? Here’s how to find out if they’re already ‘full’ first!

The 4 year old takes the pitcher of water in both hands and with as much focus as she can muster, tilts the pitcher and aims the stream of water into the glass. The last thing she wants to do is make a mess so she’s being really careful. It looks like she’s going to make it until the last second when a surprise ‘slosh’ of water jumps out of the pitcher and it’s more than the glass can handle. Water overflows from both the glass and her eyes.

photo credit: pixabay

I feel bad for the the little girl in this story and I made her up! We often work with leaders in organizations who are much like her. They really want to do the best for their team. They don’t want to make a mess so they are very deliberate about the changes they implement. Then, slosh! One unplanned change (new legislation, mandatory software version, employee turnover, etc.) causes their team to go into ‘change overflow’ mode.

In this recent post, I mentioned a major company whose employees “had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year.” If you’re implementing a change, how do you know the amount of changes those around YOU are facing? Organizations have a limited capacity for change. It’s like giving a patient medicine…essential at the recommended dosage limit, but beyond that potentially hazardous!

I’d propose that it’s worth your time for a quarterly review of the changes going on both inside and outside your organization. Just a quick list developed in a team meeting is enough. After a couple of times, you’ll be able to start seeing trends. How did we deal with the past quarter of change? Are there any lessons learned for the future?

You could even translate the feedback into an understanding of your organization’s ‘ability to absorb change’. Are we a yellow in change capacity because of recent benefits changes? Maybe we’re a red because of an unplanned change in import/export laws?

Within a year you’ll have a great feeling for the capacity of your organization to change and you’ll begin leaving some bandwidth for those unexpected ‘sloshes’!

Is it raining cats and dogs? No, that’s a storm of change and it’s heading your way!

Our family recently relocated from the US to France and has been experiencing A LOT of change!

  • Live out of suitcases for 58 days and counting? Check.
  • Two first days of school in two different countries? Check.
  • 10 different cars in 4 months? Check.

In the middle of all of this change, I read this interesting article on our bandwidth to handle change and was shocked by these two sentences:

photo credit: pixabay

“Consider a leading global wealth manager whose employees, we recently found, had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year. These included operating model changes; new leadership structures; new productivity procedures in areas such as travel booking, digitized financial planning, and HR; new enterprise resource systems; agile ways of working such as sprints; and new legal and risk requirements and compliance procedures.

Holy smokes, 250 changes per year!  I bet that’s true for most of us.  Just take a minute to think about it… benefits changes, staffing changes, position responsibility changes, organizational changes IT systems, physical moves, etc.  The article doesn’t clearly state this but I would guess their research doesn’t account for changes outside of work like kids moving grades, aging parents, new neighbors, etc.

I know it’s true that I fail to account for the ‘other’ changes going on when I am pushing ‘my’ change effort. With this newfound understanding, I want to start thinking about capacity for change like a bucket of water. When the bucket is full, it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into a great communication plan or training module, there’s just no room!

How full is your bucket? What about the bucket of the people you are working with?

Don’t wipeout…catch a wave of change and you’ll be sitting on top of the world!

Imagine you’ve spent a nice day building a sandcastle at the beach.  After several hours, you’ve got something to be proud of but you know that the rising tide or just one big wave will wipe out all of your work.

Now imagine that you’ve spent a nice 10 years building a career.  After  years of hard work, you’re proud of where you are and what you’ve done.  But what’s that out in the ocean?  It’s a wave of change…and it’s coming straight for your ‘sandcastle’!  You worry it will wipe out all you have worked for and woosh….suddenly you’re in a new role in a new department and you’ve got to start all over.

This article on approaching change like a skill instead of an event got me to thinking about some of the companies I’ve worked with.   Employees at newer and smaller companies expect and even welcome changes…at the expense of their sandcastles getting destroyed on a regular basis.  On the other hand, employees at older, larger companies have gotten used to building their sandcastles on the shore of the lake…where there is no tide and only the occasional pontoon boat makes a ripple. 

If you’ve built your sandcastle at the lake over decades with detailed ramparts and moats, a wave of change (which will inevitably come) is a huge disaster!   How will you ever get all of those grains of sand back in place?  It feels like a hopeless cause…and that’s a good thing.

Wait, what!?  How can the destruction of my years of hard work be a good thing?  Well, I have a dirty little secret to pass along…your castle was probably outdated!  I know turrets and moats were all the rage 20 years ago but since then we’ve created security cameras that can warn you when there’s any motion outside…and installing one of those in your sandcastle would take A LOT of work.  Even though the change is painful, it’s an opportunity.

Like those famous sandy philosophers, The Beach Boys, said, “Catch a wave (of change) and you’ll be sitting on top of the world!” It is a difficult thing when something that you’ve worked hard on suddenly changes.  If you can treat those changes as opportunities, you’ll see the waves of change NOT as sandcastle destroying opportunities but a chance to learn something new…surfing!