Tag Archives: CEO

BIV Boardroom Strategy: Focusing on past corporate success to build future success

An enormous amount of time and energy gets devoted to solving problems within organizations, all under the pretence that solving those problems is the best way to achieve success, superiority, a competitive advantage and greatness. The challenge is that growing organizations are constantly changing, which inevitably leads to new and more interesting problems to solve. It’s an endless cycle of focusing on problems that means it’s impossible to solve our way to greatness.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the traditional problem-solving approach. Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Copperrider and his associates at Case Western Reserve University in the mid ’80s. It focuses on doing more of what does work: uncovering the high moments in an organization’s history and using the commonalities of those experiences to build a plan to replicate those wins for the future. Sounds like more fun than constantly problem solving, doesn’t it? Here’s how it works and how it can be applied to your business.

Continue reading

BIV Boardroom Strategy: Candid realities about business’ dirty little secret

In an effort to avoid conflict, leaders and team members often conceal their true feelings, withhold their opinions or outwardly agree and go along with the crowd while inside they are vehemently opposed.

For some, this lack of candour also extends to hoarding information or avoiding communicating with others entirely, in an effort to save face or get and stay ahead of the pack.

Strength of the strategic plan and the ability for executives to collaborate cross-silo with their teams depends considerably on trust and respect within and between teams. The willingness to come forward with authenticity and transparency is key to building up that trust and respect.

In Jack Welch’s book Winning, he describes a lack of candour as businesses’ “dirty little secret.” Continue reading

The value of unplugging

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I just spent two fantastic weeks in Italy with my wife and I think it’s the first time in 10 years that I truly unplugged from work: no email (the caveat is that I did have someone on my team checking my email and deleting, reply, etc. to anything time sensitive), no vmail, no Yammer, no Twitter, no Linkedin, and no work related reading.

On the plane home I was thinking about the times that I’ve had the biggest epiphanies in my business: not during the work day, in between meetings, or driving to a lunch. The most creative times I can remember have been while I was on vacation, on a plane, or completely relaxed and disconnected from the day to day.

As CEO’s part of our role is to be the chief dreamer. Scheming and dreaming the future of our organizations is the part of our job description that comes before the strategic planning and operational plans. The challenge is that our busy day-to-day environment is not conducive to creativity.

So here’s my challenge to you: the next time you’re out for dinner or relaxing on the weekend and reaching for your favourite RIM or Apple device ask yourself this question: do I really need to check my email right now?

Ensuring success when transitioning into a new role

As a leader with ambition one thing you will being doing a lot of in your career is dealing with transition: being promoted into new roles with greater responsibility and similarly promoting star performers who report to you into new roles. When you consider that the average leader, rising through the ranks of a large company, will be in transition to a new role every four years and those who are marked as “high potentials” will be transitioning about every 2 1/2 years, it leads to a situation in which over half the organizations leaders being in transition at any one point.

So here’s my question for you: when’s the last time anyone received any guidance, coaching, training, or development around what success looks like through transition? The answer is very rare to never.

The best guide available on the market today to help you build a plan for success through transition is The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. In this blog post I’m going to highlight the fundamental concept for transition that is the foundation for success: understanding expectations upfront.

Time and time again, when researched, the number one reason that people leave their roles for another division or company is that they have had a fundamental breakdown in their relationship with their boss. Since most transitions to new roles involve a change of boss as well, or at minimum at shift in the way you interact, it’s critical to setup a series of conversations upfront to align your expectations and your bosses expectations.

Here are the five conversations:

  1. Situational diagnosis: this conversation is about the overall current situation and how you and your boss view the opportunity and challenges as they stand today. Is this an overall to a division, a start-up, a shift in focus, or simply maintaining the success the division has experienced so far?
  2. Expectations: what does success look like from your bosses perspective? What time frame, metrics, and subjective means are you being judged by? This may require some negotiation to ensure you are aligned on the definition of success.
  3. Communication Style: How, what, when, and where are the two of you going to communicate to ensure that your interactions are efficient, timely, and effective?
  4. Resources: What funding, personnel, and overall support (communication, political, structural, etc.) do you need?
  5. Personal Development: How will this role contribute to your personal development? What areas does your boss feel need the most shoring up or improvement? Which strengths is your boss relying on you to demonstrate in this role?

I’ve spoken above in the context of the new leader asking his/her boss these questions and yet at the same time, as the boss, you are responsible for supporting your team to success so each of these conversations is equally helpful to you.

The first three months of any new role are critical to your long term success. By negotiating with your boss through the questions above you increase you chance for success considerably.

Good, bad, or ugly, I’m interested to hear your stories about transition. What’s worked well, what do you wish you would have done differently, and what did you learn? Click the comment button above below the title of the article.

Leadership: people don’t buy “what” you do, they buy “why” you do it.

Key lesson: people don’t buy what you do, they buy “why” you do it.

Finding a mentor or a coach

One of the first questions I get asked by entrepreneurs, CEOs, and executives interested in mentoring and coaching is, “what’s the difference between them?”

Coaching is a process in which a coach asks a series of cascading questions (sometimes referred to as Socratic Method), to help the person being coached use their own experience, intuition, and intelligence (emotional and intellectual) to come up with the answers they are looking for. Coaching is not advice driven in that the coach asked questions but does not proffer feedback or attempt to move the person being coached in a particular direction.

Mentoring is similar in it’s approach to coaching in that strong mentors are also good coaches. What mentors bring to the table that coaches don’t is the ability to add in their personal sage experience in the areas the person being coached is struggling with. Mentoring is both question and advice/guidance based.

Now that we know the difference, here are the rest of the questions I get asked:

  • Do you (Mike) have a mentor or a coach: I have two Mentors who are also very strong coaches, Walt Sutton and Guff Muench. I am grateful for the time, energy, and wisdom they’ve shared with me. They are great men who I have a deep admiration for.
  • How did your meet your mentors? Walt and I were introduce by a mutual acquaintance. Guff and I were introduced through the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Mentorship Program (a program I founded in Vancouver with the help of the late Steve Cowan).
  • Where can I find a mentor ? I’ll get the self-serving part out of the way first – at ViRTUS we offer both Mentoring and Coaching. One of my mentors, Walt Sutton, has space to work with another entrepreneur or CEO right now as well. The other way is to consider successful people in your life who have accomplished something similar to what you’d like to accomplish (family friends, executives in your company, other entrepreneurs you know, members of associations you belong too, etc.). Approach them to see if they are interested in having lunch or coffee from time to time so you can learn from their experience.
  • If I want to hire someone to mentor or a coach me, what does it cost? The range for coaching and mentoring in Vancouver is between $1500 – $5000+ per month depending on the mentor/coaches experience and the time and energy they put into working with you.
  • How often would we meet? Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly for anywhere from 1-4 hours is the time commitment you can expect for face-to-face or on the phone mentoring. As well you should expect to have unlimited access to your mentor or coach between sessions by email or phone in case something time sensitive comes up that you really need some support on.
  • What will we talk about? Mentoring and coaching conversations span the complete spectrum from business, career, personal, and family. The primary focus is on your success as a business leader and as a human being – however you want to define that for yourself.
  • Why would I get a mentor or a coach? Because the very top performers in their field, regardless of what field that is (business, sports, medicine, law, etc.) all have mentors and coaches who help them stay ahead of the pack and ensure they put their energy, attention, and focus on the behaviours and actions that will lead to the success they are looking for.

BIV Boardroom Strategy: A selection of the best books on strategic planning


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There is no “right” strategic planning methodology that works for every company or organization. In fact, using a blended approach to create a customized methodology will likely yield the best planning framework for you and your company. The question becomes, “Where do I start?”

There have been five key books on strategy written in the past 10 years that provide perspectives on how to approach strategic planning. Here is a brief synopsis of each book, and why it’s worth reading.

Good to Great (Jim Collins): Collins refers to this book as the book he should have written first. Good to Great describes in detail the steps that good companies have taken to become great. From leadership to confronting the brutal facts, simplifying strategy, adding in discipline, understanding the role of technology and discovering what builds momentum with your business, Good to Great covers the complete strategy canvas at a high level, simplified in a way that will allow you to share your company’s strategic priorities with everyone in the business.

Built to Last (Jim Collins and Jerry Porras): Before Good to Great, Jim Collins collaborated with Jerry Porras to write Built to Last. This book is a study of 18 visionary companies and how they differ from their key competitors. The core philosophies are:
•stop reinventing the wheel and instead develop and document the core procedures that can withstand changes in personnel;
•stay focused on your core values while trying new things; and
•focus on the long-term goal – the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) – a 10- to 30-year goal of the organization that is so large and so far in the future that it bears that moniker.

Blue Ocean Strategy (W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne): Written by two professors from INSEAD, Blue Ocean Strategy seeks to understand how companies like Cirque du Soleil, Apple and Blockbuster have changed the foundations of their business models and how they approach the market to move from the Red Ocean, bloody from the fight for market share, to the Blue Ocean, where the companies stand alone to compete for clients who don’t fit the traditional mould of their “old industry.” Their strategy canvas approach is designed to narrow down the key factors that you and your competitors use as the defining points of service in your industry. Then, by eliminating, creating or changing these key factors, a new industry is formed that appeals to a customer segment not being served by the existing industry. The short version of this would be to say that this is the story of the game-changers in their industries and how they did it.

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (Verne Harnish): Harnish’s first book is based on the one-page strategic plan that John D. Rockefeller had each of his key executives complete at United Steel. The book details how to create a plan that summarizes your 30-year, three- to five-year, one-year and quarterly goals, along with supporting SWOT analysis, financial information (budget and actual) and accountabilities. The real magic is that all of this can fit onto one 8 1/2 x 11 page.

Execution (Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan): Execution speaks to one of the core reasons that most strategic plans fail – a lack of accountability and execution.
Many people think execution is the tactical side of business, best left to those people below the senior team in the organizational hierarchy. Bossidy and Charan argue that execution should be part of an organization’s cultural fabric, starting in the CEO’s office. The book describes a series of behaviours and techniques common within businesses that demonstrate a high level of execution of their plans.

Each of these books has a summary online that does a great job of breaking down the key points and practical applications. What the summaries won’t provide are the examples of real companies whose products and services you recognize and can relate to. Reading some or all of these books will help you relate the decisions made by other successful companies to the strategic challenges your organization is facing today.

PDF of Column BIV Boardroom Strategy – Nov 3-9, 2009

Business in Vancouver: Why your strategic plan failed and what you can do about it.

PDF of actual column in Business in Vancouver: Sept 15th-21st, 2009

Mike[total read time: 4 mins]

The conversation normally begins like this, “We’ve tried strategic planning in the past but somehow it allows seems to fall by the way side. No matter what method we try, the same result occurs. What are we missing?”

From it’s military genesis to strategic planning as we know it today, the reason for it is always the same: we need to know where we want to end up, how we’re going to get there, what resources we need, and who can help us make it happen. From small entrepreneurial businesses to large public entities, strategic planning is critical in shaping the future of your business. As I say to new clients who haven’t put a planning methodology in place, “you wouldn’t go on a road trip without a destination and a map or GPS, so why are you running your business without a plan for where it will end up and how you’re going to get there?”

There are five key reasons that most strategic plans fail. The good news is that each and every one of them is avoidable.

1. Lack of accountability. Without direct accountability, more specifically the name of a person who has agreed to complete a series of actions around an initiative, strategic planning leads to great ideas for the future with no one to see them through.

2. Lack of follow-up. In as short as three months changes in the economy, industry, market, or company can render a strategic plan full of holes that no longer link to reality. The result of this is a lot of three-ringed binders being hidden on shelves. The trick to keeping a strategic plan dynamic is to schedule quarterly sessions to review, evaluate, and revise the plan.

3. Lack of execution. Once everyone leaves the strategic planning retreat the day-to-day realities of running the business start flooding into their Blackberries and iPhones. Without agreed upon actions that link each initiative to reasonable timelines, you’re left with a framework with no method to execute on it. It’s tantamount to wishing something would occur but not ever taking any steps towards making it happen. Enter into strategic planning with the following mindset – planning is not about the plan, it is about the execution.  A 10% plan executed with authority is far more valuable than a 100% plan left on the shelf.

4. Lack of buy-in. Without the buy-in of the people who can actually make the strategic plan a reality, the exercise is moot. Create buy-in through involvement in the planning process, and with clear communication about how each person on the team can contribute to the successful execution of the plan.

5. Lack of connection to operations. Without connecting how the strategic plan naturally extends from the existing operations and responsibilities internally, it’s doomed to always be just out of reach of the organization. Most people wake up each day wanting to do a good job at work and looking forward to contributing to the long term sustainability of the business – help them see how key initiatives fit into their day-to-day.

There’s a great quote from General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, from the book The Gamble by Thomas Rick which sums up many of these points: “there are three enormous tasks that strategic leaders have to get right” Petraeus said one night in Baghdad, “the first is to get the big ideas right. The second is to communicate the big ideas throughout the organization. The third is to ensure proper execution of the big ideas.”

So if planning is about the alignment and execution, start by asking yourself, “What is our system for planning?  How does our system drive behaviour and measurement that tells us early on about execution effectiveness? Is our strategic planning system heavy on communication, reporting, metrics, review and revision so we can’t ignore it, forget about it, or avoid accountability around it?”

Next month we’ll introduce a planning process that will allow you to match personal goals with divisional and organizational goals – all on one page. Stay tuned.

Mike Desjardins is the Driver (CEO) at ViRTUS, an organizational development consulting firm with expertise in strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, change management and succession planning for medium to large organizations.

Jeffrey Kearney is a Mentor at ViRTUS, specializing in strategic planning, leadership development, and CEO Mentoring and Coaching.

The CEOs Top 5: Leading Through Turbulent Times

hurricane_500It’s during turbulent times, whether it be the current global economic situation or in times of industry or organization crisis, that CEOs have a tremendous opportunity to pull the people in their organization together towards a common goal.  As Francois De La Rochefoucauld said, “there is no stronger bond of friendship than a mutual enemy.”

Here is a list of the top five things CEOs must keep in mind while leading through turbulent times:

  1. Simplify the strategic message. The easier the strategy is to understand and communicate the more likely it is to be understood and passed on through the entire organization.  The Top 3-5 goals for the year is really what people will remember.  Stephen Covey takes it one step further in his book, The Eighth Habit, when he describes the concept of a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) – the most important goal for the company for the year, as the single overarching objective that everyone in the company must be able to understand, feel compelled by, and be able to repeat and pass-on.  A simple catch phrase that rallies support, the WIG is something that politicians have used to their advantage for years.  Side note: Premier Gordon Campbell knows this well.  At the BC Leadership Lunch last week he summed up the importance of forestry to British Columbia by saying, “wood is good.”  Now I’m sure the double-entendre was intentional and I guarantee that his message was passed on.
  2. As Jim Collins said, Good to Great, confront the brutal facts but move forward with healthy optimism anyway.  Be clear about what the situation is today, what that means for the organization, what the strategy is to move us is the right direction, and what each person can do to contribute to the success of the plan.
  3. Be candid and speak authentically about the reality of the situtation.  Jack Welch, in chapter 2 of his book Winning, speaks about candor,  or as he calls it, “the biggest little dirty secret in business.”  Jack says that he felt the biggest turning point in success at GE happened when they brought all the executives together and agreed to put true candor into place in the organization.  That chapter is one of the best pieces I’ve read on the value of candor in organizations.
  4. Keep your strategic plan dynamic. The most successful companies we work with at ViRTUS, are the ones that review, evaluate, and revise their strategic plans on a quarterly basis.  Adapting the plan to changes in the market, economy, industry, company, or direct competition creates a document which decision can be made by instead of another binder on the shelf (I swear a shelf manufacturer came up with the concept of putting binders on shelves to sell more shelves.).
  5. Be consistent in your communications to all stakeholders. In board meetings, executive meetings, press releases, articles, newsletters, speeches, blog postings, hallway/cafeteria adhoc conversations, etc., the message must be the same.

Hear’s where the rant starts:  and STOP blaming everything on the “global economic situation.”  Not all of the risks you take as a CEO, even as calculated as they might seem at the time, are going to pan out.  Own up to the mistakes that were made and move on.  You’ll make more later so now’s the time to focus on the path forward.

What is a Wildly Courageous Decision?

CourageAt ViRTUS our Wildly Courageous Decision (WCD) is to become the Apple of the consulting world.  I’ve been asked numerous times to go into more detail about the process of defining a WCD.

First off, the Wildly Courageous Decision is actually a blend of two different concepts:  the Wildly Important Goal (WIG) from Stephen Covey’s book the 8th Habit and the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) from Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great.

In crafting your WCD there are five different methods that work tend to best:

  1. compared to competition (Avis decided they wanted to be second to Hertz)
  2. compared to an absolute (The Seattle Pike Place Fish Market decided they wanted to be world famous)
  3. compared to an industry (We will become the leading/most admired/fastest/cheapest provider of X in the packaged goods industry)
  4. compared to a company you admire (ViRTUS is becoming the Apple of the consulting world)
  5. compared to a parent company (We will be the fastest growing/most profitable/more admired/leading brand of GE).

Here are the five criteria of a BHAG which also apply to a WCD:

  1. Are set with understanding, not bravado.
  2. Fit squarely in the three circles of your Hedgehog Concept.
  3. Have a long time frame—10 to 30 years.
  4. Are clear, compelling and easy to grasp.
  5. Directly reflect your core values and core purpose.

It took us a number of tries before we came up with a WCD that the entire team could rally around.  The first two just weren’t inspiring us to move in the long term direction we wanted.    As an entrepreneur I really had to ask myself this question as the final test of our WCD: “Am I willing to spend the next 10 to 30 years of my life to achieve this Wildly Courageous Decision?”