How to Create a Positive Work Environment (part 1)
Posted on Monday, Nov 24, 2014 by Michael Canic

Each of us is energized in a positive work environment. So how can you as a leader create and sustain such an environment? This week and next I’ll spotlight ten ways.

Setting Goals
1)     Set challenging, achievable goals, not big, hairy, audacious goals. People are more likely to believe in them and more likely to reach them. They won’t feel set up to fail.

Discussing Ideas
2)     Ask before you judge. Don’t reflexively shoot down ideas. Ask explanatory questions starting with ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ It shows respect, and you just might learn something.
3)     Disagree with the idea, respect the person. If you do disagree, be sure to do it as respectfully as possible. As a result you’ll be less likely to create a battle of wills.
4)     Change your views enthusiastically, not begrudgingly. It sends a powerful message that it’s okay to change one’s views and that ego should not stand in the way of learning.

Motivating People
5)     Remove the de-motivators. Doing things to motivate people has little impact unless you first identify and remove the things that irritate and de-motivate them. The inconsistencies. The mixed messages.

Next week: Creating a positive environment by how you respond to outcomes.

Your thoughts?


The Financial Case for Employee Engagement
Posted on Monday, Nov 17, 2014 by Michael Canic

It amazes me that some managers still question the benefits of promoting employee engagement. That, “How will this improve the bottom line?” is still being asked.

So in case you’re one of the remaining few who thinks all of this engagement stuff is just a bunch of fluffy pop-psychology that distracts from the real business, consider this:

A 2013 report by Gartner, the I.T. research and advisory firm, summarized studies from Gallup, Hay Group, and Towers Watson showing that employee engagement has a quantifiable impact on business performance:

Companies with top-quartile engagement scores grew revenues at 2.5 times the rate of bottom-quartile companies

A one-year study showed high-engagement companies grew operating income by 19% and earnings per share by 28%, compared to -32% and -11% for low-engagement companies

Those with engagement scores in the top-quartile showed 12% higher customer advocacy, 18% higher productivity and 12% higher profitability

Of course you can always find counter-examples. Company A treats it’s employees well but performs poorly; Company B treats its employees poorly but performs well. There are many critical factors that drive business results. Yet the correlation between employee engagement and financial performance is (rationally) undeniable.

Can we finally move on?

Your thoughts?


How to Be Number One
Posted on Monday, Nov 10, 2014 by Michael Canic

How do you differentiate your organization? How can you stand out as unique? You want to be number one yet there’s only one who can be number one.

Consider this: Only one person was the first person to climb Mt. Everest – Sir Edmund Hillary. No one knows, for example, who was the 40th person, the 64th person or the 1490th person to climb Everest.

However the first woman to climb Everest was Junko Tabei (#40 overall). The first to summit without supplemental oxygen were Peter Habeler and Reinhold Messner (#64, #65). And the first blind climber to climb Mt. Everest was Erik Weihenmayer (#1490).

The lesson: There can only be one number one in any category. Yet there are an infinite number of categories. Your challenge is to define the customer-relevant category in which you are or can be number one. And then fight to sustain it.

Yes, you can be number one.

Your thoughts?


Be a Cannibal
Posted on Monday, Nov 3, 2014 by Michael Canic

It’s tough to knowingly put your revenues at risk. To release a product you know will cut into the sales of an existing product. Why would anyone do that?

Because if you don’t someone else will. Apple CEO Tim Cook loves cannibalization — as long as it’s self-inflicted.

“We know iPad is cannibalizing the Mac, but that doesn’t worry us. On iPad in particular, we have the mother of all opportunities because the Windows market is much larger than the Mac market. It’s clear it’s already cannibalizing some. I’ve said for years now that I believe the tablet market will be larger than the PC market at some point, and I still believe that.”

Of course it’s a gamble. That’s business. But cannibalization isn’t wrong, simply because competitive advantages don't last forever. In fact the only safe assumption to make in business is that any competitive advantage you have will be copied, leap-frogged or made obsolete. Cannibalization may be what keeps you ahead of the curve.

Bon appétit!

Your thoughts?


A Universal Truth in Business
Posted on Monday, Oct 27, 2014 by Michael Canic

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a number of executive groups in London and Belfast. Given that most of my consulting and speaking is in North America, I was interested in learning what cultural differences there might be regarding how they engage people at work.

Instead, what stood out was strikingly similar. Namely, that when people feel they are respected, trusted and cared about as individuals, they are more connected to their coworkers, their managers and their work. As a result, they give discretionary effort. And they perform better.

My experience is this is equally true of desert guides in Jordan, hotel staff in Peru, mountain porters in Pakistan, and personal drivers in Zimbabwe. This may be as close as it comes to a universal truth in business:

Connect with the heart, and the head will follow.

Your thoughts?


So What Exactly is Strategy?
Posted on Monday, Oct 20, 2014 by Michael Canic

For all that is said and written about strategy, it’s surprising how little agreement there is about what strategy actually is. Since the focus of my business is working with organizations to institute the structure and discipline of strategic management, I have some strong thoughts about this.

Some would say that strategy refers to the longer term intentions of an organization. Others emphasize that it must involve the organization as a whole, not merely a department, function or location. Still others maintain that the overarching goal is what is strategic, while executing towards it is tactical.

Yet imagine a small business on the brink, whose survival depends on the manufacturing department fulfilling a major order in the next 10 days. In such a case it’s hard to imagine anything more strategic. This, despite the fact that it isn’t long term and doesn’t involve the company as a whole. And the execution is very much strategic.

So what is strategy?

Strategy is a discipline, a structured and dynamic process that establishes why an organization must change, what it must achieve or become, how it intends to do it, and then acts to ensure that those intentions become reality.

That’s strategy.

Your thoughts?


What to Expect of Your People
Posted on Monday, Oct 13, 2014 by Michael Canic

There are two things you should expect of your people: performance and conduct. Performance refers to how well they meet job expectations – what they do and what results. Conduct refers to how well they interact with others and the integrity with which they act.

Importantly, the two do not average out. Conducting one’s self impeccably does not excuse poor performance. And exceptional performance does not excuse toxic conduct.

Yet too often organizations rationalize the poor conduct of an employee who happens to be a top performer. The cost? It erodes management credibility and demotivates employees.

So what happens when a top performing, poisonous employee is held accountable for his actions? Morale jumps up. People regain faith in management. And organizational performance improves.

Your thoughts?


The Power of Persistence
Posted on Monday, Oct 6, 2014 by Michael Canic

Sometimes the obstacles seem insurmountable. Sometimes the sheer volume of what needs to be done seems overwhelming. You ask yourself, “Is it really worth fighting this battle?”

All of us face times like this. It’s not uncommon. Maybe the battle is worth fighting or maybe it isn’t. But before we raise the white flag we should first ask ourselves a question:

Are we defeated by the obstacles or by our discomfort in striving to overcome the obstacles?

I’m reminded of the words of a small Indian man whose belief and persistence helped lead his country to independence.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” (Gandhi)

Your thoughts?


How to Connect with Your Audience
Posted on Monday, Sep 29, 2014 by Michael Canic


I was attending a pre-conference social event. As an icebreaker they set up a fun competition between tables: Which table could correctly answer the most trivia questions?

One question provided a quote and then asked which famous business person said it. The options: Jeff Bezos, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, or Warren Buffet. At which point one of the younger people at our table asked, “Who’s Jack Welch?”


So I don’t make any false assumptions about my readership … Jack Welch is the former CEO of GE who between 1981 and 2001 grew the value of the company by 4000%. He was lionized by many as the standard-bearer for CEOs.

But … Welch retired 13 years ago. His legacy is receding into history. For anyone under 35 – that is, for any millennial – the name “Jack Welch” is all but meaningless.

The point? To connect with your audience you must first know your audience and then use examples and stories that are relevant to them. Your frames of reference may be different from theirs.

Don’t start with you. Start with them.

Your thoughts?


How to Surmount the Insurmountable
Posted on Monday, Sep 22, 2014 by Michael Canic

It’s that time again … the biannual clash for golf bragging rights between the U.S. and Europe. Get ready for pressure, drama, joy and heartbreak.

In 2012 at Medinah, Illinois the Europeans trailed 10-4 on the second-to-last day. Clawing back two late wins they ended the day trailing 10-6. Not a promising scenario, especially considering the Americans have typically dominated the singles match format on the final day.

Still, European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal delivered a simple message to his players on the evening before the final day:


That’s all. Just believe. As Vaclav Havel, the former Czech playwright and president noted, “Belief is not a prognostication. It’s an orientation of the spirit.”

The result? In what was dubbed the “Miracle at Medinah” the Europeans came back to win and retain the Cup.

When things in your organization look bleak do you still believe? Do you force yourself to believe? And do you exude nothing but relentless belief when you engage your people?

Your thoughts?



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How to Create a Positive Work Environment (part 1)
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