How Adaptable is Your Organization?
Posted on Monday, May 18, 2015 by Michael Canic

When even the military takes up the argument against rigid, command-and-control organizations, then you know the battle is won. And that is exactly what General Stanley McChrystal does in his book, “Team of Teams.”

McChrystal makes the case for adaptable rather than hierarchical organizations. Why? Because in complex, fast-changing environments, organizations that are quick to adapt are organizations that succeed. Adaptability isn’t optimized in the traditional top-down hierarchy where decisions come down from above. And it isn’t optimized in a command-of-teams hierarchy in which those same decisions flow down to teams. Instead, adaptability is optimized when there is a team of teams network that communicates closely and makes interactive decisions as the situation dictates.

To be clear, this requires clearly defined and distributed authority, strong capabilities at the team level, and a culture in which situational adaptability is encouraged.

How well does this describe your organization? How adaptable is your organization? And what is it costing you by not being more adaptable?

Your thoughts?


Should High-Performing Employees Select Their Manager?
Posted on Monday, May 11, 2015 by Michael Canic

Ask anyone who knows classical music and they will tell you the Berlin Philharmonic is among the top three symphony orchestras in the world. Today, for only the seventh time in the past 70 years, the orchestra will select a new conductor.


The 124 tenured members of the orchestra will meet in a secret location – without access to cell phones or the outside world – and vote. They can vote for any living conductor yet, as a practical matter, several front-runners have emerged based on talent, temperament, musical approach, career stage, and interest in the position. After several rounds of voting the members will reach a consensus.

So, an interesting question: Should an organization of high-performing employees be able to select their manager? Given a unique set of assumptions, the answer may be: yes. If there is a strong motivation to sustain organizational excellence, personal incentives (monetary and/or psychological) for doing so, and a recognition that sustained excellence depends on a highly capable leader who can work well with and get the most from a group of skilled performers, then, yes, this may be an effective (the ideal?) model.

The question to ask yourself: For your organization and your employees, would this model, or a modified version, lead to better results than you’re getting now?

Your thoughts?


Is Strategy Distinct from Execution?
Posted on Monday, May 4, 2015 by Michael Canic

There’s a way-too-academic debate going on in the management literature about what strategy is and is not. In a recent Harvard Business Review article (, Roger Martin, a well-regarded management thinker, exhorts us to “stop distinguishing between execution and strategy.”

“It’s impossible to have a good strategy poorly executed,” he claims. Oh really? Good strategies are automatically well executed?

But that’s not what Martin means. He continues, “… execution actually is strategy – trying to separate the two only leads to confusion.” Well, there’s certainly confusion! Especially since poor execution, by Martin’s definition, makes a strategy a poor strategy.

Many leaders have told me of strategies that failed when they first attempted to implement them, yet succeeded on the second attempt. Why? Because of the lessons learned from the first attempt. So did a poor strategy suddenly become a good strategy?

No, strategy is not the same as execution. Your strategy captures what you aspire to, why, and how you intend to achieve it. Execution translates that framework into an actionable plan and applies mechanisms to track, manage and recalibrate that plan.

Success requires a good strategy that is well executed. It is a critical distinction.

Your thoughts?


How Do You Deal with the Naysayers?
Posted on Monday, Apr 27, 2015 by Michael Canic

You’re about to launch a major new initiative. Yet you’re dreading the inevitable … the cynics who declare defeat before the initiative even gets off the ground. What do you do?

You’re tempted to sell them on the benefits, to make a special effort to get them on board. Big mistake. The time you spend trying to get these people on board is better spent supporting those at the front end of the curve, who seriously want the initiative to succeed. Don’t neglect them!

Trying to sell the initiative to the cynics only empowers them. Because their power lies in denying you what you want – their support. Unless they’re proactively spreading poison – which requires immediate and definitive confrontation – then don’t give them any special attention.

Support your strongest proponents, trumpet the quick wins, and create the “pull” for those in the middle of the curve to join the movement. And the cynics? They become isolated. Now they have a choice: join everyone else or leave.

Sounds harsh? How important is the initiative? How committed are you to success?

Your thoughts?


So What Does it Take to Be a Great Manager?
Posted on Monday, Apr 20, 2015 by Michael Canic

Last week I referenced a Gallup report that found only 10% of managers have what it takes to be a great manager. Why? In a nutshell, many selection processes put too much emphasis on the wrong things. So what should we be evaluating, what does it take to be a great manager?

According to the research report, great managers possess an uncommon blend of five capabilities:

1)  They build trusting relationships
2)  They create a culture of accountability
3)  They make unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company
4)  They assert themselves to overcome obstacles
5)  They motivate their employees

What stands out for me? Relationships and accountability are not mutually exclusive. Unbiased decisions means they aren’t self-serving. And they don’t quit when faced with obstacles.

When selecting for a management position, evaluating these five capabilities should be part of your process. Instead of just good you’re more likely to end up with great.

Your thoughts?


Why are there so few Great Managers?
Posted on Monday, Apr 13, 2015 by Michael Canic

According to a recent report by Gallup, only 10% of managers have what it takes to be a great manager (

With all that has been written about management, all the training and workshops, and all the coaching and mentoring, the question that screams out is: Why?

It likely starts, as they say, at the beginning. With how managers are selected. Does your company rely on these criteria:

1)     Performance – how the person is performing in their current, non-management role

The best sales person often doesn’t make the best sales manager. How often have we painfully watched that play out?

2)     Seniority – the person who is “next-in-line”

Yes, some experience may be preferred (or even necessary). But more doesn’t always mean better. And having experience doesn’t mean the person has the right skills, traits, and values to become a successful manager.

If we want a person to stand a fighting chance of becoming a great manager, we need to give them a fighting chance by selecting them for the right reasons. And what are those? Those are the topic of next week’s blog.

Your thoughts?


No, Perks Don’t Make Your Company a Great Place to Work
Posted on Monday, Apr 6, 2015 by Michael Canic

Our understanding of what makes a great place to work has finally evolved. It’s not simply the things that companies provide; it’s the environment in which employees interact and work, and the relationships that environment fosters. Fortune Magazine, in their recent edition of “The 100 Best Companies to Work For” shines a blinding light on this:

Perks don’t make a great workplace. The real key is interpersonal relationships. Employees are more engaged where relationships thrive.

Here’s the simple secret of every great place to work: It’s personal – not perk-onal. It’s relationship-based, not transaction-based.

Not employee benefits, not time off, but the building of high-quality relationships in the workplace. And in case there are still one or two of you who think this is all just HR hooey:

Companies will continue to gain a competitive advantage by attracting and keeping the most valuable workers, which is reason enough to become a great workplace.

… the 100 Best really do outperform other companies as investments … 3.5% annually over 25 years (!) …

And when professionals are evaluating a new employer, the most important factor they consider, by a margin of almost 3-to-1 … is whether the company is a great place to work.

Being a great place to work. Creating the right environment. It’s a strategic imperative.

Your thoughts?


What Happens When You Assume You Know Your Audience?
Posted on Monday, Mar 30, 2015 by Michael Canic

So I’m presenting to a group of young entrepreneurs. Full of ambition, eager to learn, they’re ready to grab onto anything that might help them conquer the world.

I’m talking about building your personal brand and always bringing your “A” game. I give an example that everyone knows:

If you’ve ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert – three-plus hours of uncompromising energy – you know that he’s given it his all. And he’s known for giving it his all at every concert in every city, night after night.

Blank stares. Silence.

Hmmm, seems like a reserved group. Maybe I can goad them into responding.

Let’s see a show of hands: How many of you have been to a Bruce Springsteen concert?

No hands go up. More blank stares.

Ooooooo, I get it … albeit not as soon as I wish I did!

An uncomfortable lesson about what not to do: Don’t assume you know your audience, whether it’s your customers, your employees or a group of people at a presentation!

Challenge your thinking: What is their frame of reference? Which of your assumptions about them might be wrong?

Your thoughts?


Why Are We Losing Customers?
Posted on Monday, Mar 23, 2015 by Michael Canic

A few months back Fortune magazine published an article about how over the past few years McDonald’s has been losing market share, losing sales, and losing its identity. (

Of course, many factors are at play. However, a prime culprit seems to be that McDonalds has lost sight of its competitive value equation – what customers experience compared to what they pay, at McDonald’s versus its competitors.

Some of the value attributes weighted in McDonald’s favor – like fast and convenient – have been losing ground in relative importance to other attributes such as fresh and healthy. Not good news, especially considering Nation’s Restaurant News recently published customer research that placed McDonald’s food quality last among hamburger chains.

In a recent debacle, McDonald’s released “Mighty Wings”. Market taste testing suggested these Hong Kong-style, spicy wings would be a hit. Yet the release crashed, leaving McDonald’s with 10 million pounds of unsold chicken! What happened? Customers apparently balked at the high price point … because McDonald’s failed to make clear that what customers were getting was giant wings. McDonald’s assumed customers would understand the value. Customers assumed they would pay more for less.

And with a menu that has increased fourfold over the past 10 years to over 120 items, what is it exactly that McDonald’s stands for?

What does this mean for you? 1) Identify your distinct customer segments. 2) Determine the attributes that drive value for each segment, and the relative weighting of those attributes. 3) Establish your competitive position based on the value attributes you can best deliver on. 4) Repeat the process regularly to stay relevant in an ever-changing market.

Your thoughts?


How Often Should You Revise Your Strategy?
Posted on Monday, Mar 16, 2015 by Michael Canic

Once upon a time companies would create “5-year strategic plans”, go away and work on them, and then come back five years later to start again. Today things change way too quickly – technology, markets, competition – to wait five years before revising your strategy.

It makes good sense to go through an annual strategic exercise, generally the last 4 months of the fiscal year, to reassess the market landscape, macro landscape (e.g., economic, technological and social factors) and internal landscape, and then reconstruct your strategy as needed. Many mid-size companies do this. Good, but it’s not enough.

Even within a year, things can change. Working with clients I’ve found it useful to conduct one or two “Recalibration” meetings that segment the fiscal year. What do they look like? Full day sessions at which the top management team questions their previous assumptions and evaluates new data to: 1) determine implications for the existing strategic framework, and 2) identify and prioritize changes and actions to be undertaken.

The third trigger for revising strategy is a real-time major event. The loss of a key customer, the economy goes into free-fall, or the release of a game-changing competitor product, are all examples. When this happens the top management team needs to meet asap to, again, determine the implications, and identify and prioritize critical changes and next steps.

Strategy is a living process that should be both planned and adaptive. How often should you consider revising it? Annually, within the fiscal year, and as circumstances demand. That will keep your strategy real and relevant.

Your thoughts?



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