Inconsistency Kills
Posted on Monday, Apr 21, 2014 by Michael Canic

Inconsistency kills. When you as a leader say one thing but do another you kill your credibility. You demotivate your people. And you undermine your ability to win.

What does inconsistency look like? It’s when you trumpet excellence yet tolerate mediocrity. When you commit to a strategy but don’t execute it. When you provide moral support but not material support. When you emphasize respect but act disrespectfully. In each case you’re sending the same message: I said one thing but did another. So what’s the message your people are receiving? You’re not credible. You can’t be trusted.

As a leader, they’re judging you. Constantly. They listen to what you say but they hear what you do. Are you consistent? We’re bloodhounds for inconsistency from the time we’re young. Ever have a child catch you doing something you shouldn’t? “Why did you do that when you told me not to?” Uh-oh. How far does the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do explanation get you? Right.

The crime of it is your people want you to be credible. They want to trust you. They want to believe you’ve got a clear vision and are committed to achieving it. Most of all, they want to feel secure in knowing you’ll set them up to succeed, not to fail. Consistency inspires. Inconsistency kills.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Why a "Three Landscapes" Approach to Strategy Beats a SWOT Analysis
Posted on Monday, Apr 14, 2014 by Michael Canic

Last week I covered why I’m not a fan of the “SWOT Analysis” – the four arbitrary lists of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that often pass for so-called strategy.

So what’s the alternative?

Think of three landscapes: 1) the industry landscape, 2) the macro landscape, and 3) the internal landscape. The industry landscape takes into account market segments and dynamics, customers and prospective customers, competitors and prospective competitors, and suppliers. The internal landscape reflects the state of your offerings, people, processes, structure, assets and financials. The macro landscape considers the social, technological, economic, environmental and political factors that can influence the other landscapes.

A three landscapes approach beats a SWOT analysis because: 1) it provides meaningful context for analysis, 2) the landscapes are researched, conclusions drawn and implications identified prior to the strategy meeting, and 3) the implications are then subject to validation, and relevant strategic options are identified, evaluated, prioritized and decided upon.

The result: context-driven strategy based on research, validation and prioritization.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Why I'm Not a Fan of the "SWOT" Analysis
Posted on Monday, Apr 7, 2014 by Michael Canic

Ask leaders about which tools they use for strategic planning and the most common reply is a “SWOT Analysis”. Which stands for strengths and weaknesses (internal), and opportunities and threats (external). And why wouldn’t every organization want to know about these?

The problem lies in how organizations come up with and utilize the information. Too often it’s simply the output of a brainstorming exercise. Everyone on the strategy team offers their opinion. (It’s amazing how “our people” is always identified as a strength.) And even if the exercise is data-driven, filling in the four quadrants doesn’t provide any context. Are your strengths truly strengths compared to your competitors? Are they relevant to the current and/or emerging needs of your business? Should you develop them or should you shore up your weaknesses? And what of opportunities and threats? Do all of them require action? Do any of them? What action? How would you know?

Too often the so-called SWOT analysis produces nothing more than lists of items. And then arbitrary action. That’s not strategy.

There’s a better way. That’s the topic of next week’s blog.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Why Great Mountain Guides are Great Leaders: 4 Preparation
Posted on Monday, Mar 31, 2014 by Michael Canic

I realized early on that I couldn’t trust his judgment. We were on a 17-day trek to the base camp of K2 – the second highest mountain in the world, located in Northeast Pakistan. When our Head Guide – Malcolm – suggested that, contrary to the published itinerary, our party might return via the Gondogoro Pass at over 18,000 feet, I questioned his thinking. The pass, I had read, is known for rock and ice fall at that time of year. He seemed surprised, and said the group could decide on the way back where the two routes fork.

The group could decide? As the leader, shouldn’t he be prepared with as much knowledge as possible to make the right decision?

I told my wife that I planned to veto the idea on decision day. The warnings in my mountain guidebook were clear. Not to mention that our group didn’t have the technical equipment needed to cross a high-altitude pass.

I try not to confuse being adventurous with being an imbecile.

Two weeks later, returning from the awe-inspiring beauty of K2, we were met by several Pakistani’s who came to deliver a warning. There had just been a tragedy at the Gondogoro Pass. Two men had died in a rock fall – one was decapitated. One other person had a broken leg and was waiting evacuation by helicopter.

Our decision was made for us.

Application: Every great leader is detailed in their preparations. They learn, reflect and anticipate. They plan for contingencies. You can’t cut corners. Be very well prepared.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Why Great Mountain Guides are Great Leaders: 3 Priorities
Posted on Monday, Mar 24, 2014 by Michael Canic

Most organizations have goals. Multiple goals. Too often what’s not clear is the relative priority among the goals. And which goal ultimately takes precedence. Worse, I often hear leaders say that every goal is a top priority.

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. In the mountaineering world, this could be fatal. The great guides I’ve climbed with have always been totally clear on the number one goal: To not take excessive risk. That trumps everything else.

I’ve been on a climb when the head guide ordered a member of our party to go down (escorted by another guide) because he was simply too slow. And if we didn’t summit and start to descend by a certain time the threat of avalanche would be heightened. When the climber vigorously protested, the guide threatened – forcefully and rightly – to turn the entire party around because he wasn’t going to subject everyone to undue risk. The climber went down.

Generally, the number two goal is to summit, and the number three goal is to have fun. This is an important distinction. Because if it comes down to a choice between summiting and suffering on the one hand (because your heart is hammering, your lungs are gasping and your fatigued legs feel like rubber), or not summiting and not suffering on the other, then be prepared to suffer. Goals are goals, and priorities are priorities. If everyone is truly committed, then suffering is simply the price you pay to achieve the goal. And when all is said and done, climbers will be thankful that the guide pushed them to achieve the summit, pain and all.

Application: Prioritize your organization’s goals. Then make sure your people know and understand that hierarchy. Create teaching scenarios of hypothetical situations that set up a potential conflict between goals (example: customer service vs. cost). Ask your people how they would respond and why.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Why Great Mountain Guides are Great Leaders: 2 Resources
Posted on Monday, Mar 17, 2014 by Michael Canic

Every leader needs to identify specifically what resources are required to succeed. Yet too often in business I hear leaders talk in generalizations like, “we just don’t have the resources” or, conversely, “we need to do more with less.” As if all resources were equally important.

There is much we can learn from mountain guides who are expert at managing resources. Why? Because in the mountains, resources could be a matter of not just summiting, but life or death.

For some things you need to invest in high-end resources. You don’t try to save a few bucks by climbing Mt. Everest in flip-flops. You have $500+ climbing boots.

For other things you only need what’s adequate. Food that meets nutritional, size and weight requirements. It doesn’t have to taste great.

And many things you simply don’t need. Razor and shave cream? Forget it. Pillow? No way.

What skilled mountain guides do exceptionally well is discriminate among the resources that must be high-end, the resources that can be merely adequate, and the resources that are excessive and will only weigh you down.

Application: Be discerning. Make sure your people have the right resources … and not one thing more.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Why Great Mountain Guides are Great Leaders: 1 Psychology
Posted on Tuesday, Mar 11, 2014 by Michael Canic

Having climbed with some very good and very poor mountain guides, I’ve learned that the best guides are great leaders. That means they don’t just know mountains, they know people.

Over the next few weeks I’ll touch on how the best guides inspire both confidence and performance.

Masters of Psychology. Skilled guides know when to encourage, when to challenge and when to pressure. They are constantly reading their team, evaluating both performance and morale. And they regularly check in with individual team members. They are acutely aware that individual traits and experiences vary, and they know how to best adapt their approach for each person.

If a guide isn’t actively managing performance and morale, the team isn’t likely to achieve their goal. That’s a failure of leadership.

Application: Be a psychologist. Regularly monitor performance and morale, and adapt your approach to the team and the individuals.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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A Competitive Spirit
Posted on Monday, Mar 3, 2014 by Michael Canic

When hiring people I used to pay special attention to people who came from competitive sports backgrounds. The thought being that they knew what it meant to intensively pursue a goal, to work tirelessly to improve, and to deal with adversity.

Yet I’ve learned that coming from a competitive background can be misleading. Were they happy just being members of the team or did they strive to excel? Were they “naturals” who got by strictly on ability, or did they have to work? Were they fair-weather competitors or people you could count on when the chips were down?

And a competitive background isn’t restricted to athletics. People compete for opportunities to advance and excel in the arts, entertainment, academics and many other fields.

So now I’m not so much concerned with a competitive background as I am with evidence of a competitive spirit. Someone who has a history of being goal-oriented, who has continuously worked to grow and improve, and who has shown courage and resilience in the face of adversity. Someone who has a smoldering restlessness that keeps driving them forward.

Yes, when hiring people there is a lot to consider. Don’t underestimate a competitive spirit.

Your thoughts?

Michael

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Analyze, Anticipate, Act
Posted on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 by Michael Canic

With all the talk about analytics in business, you might think that the goal of collecting data is analysis – to describe what happened and explain why it happened.

Elite organizations realize the goal is not simply to analyze, but to anticipate and act. Meaning, to project what will happen and influence what they want to happen.

Consider the makers of Kleenex, Kimberly-Clark. They use a web-based, cold-and-flu prediction tool (called “Achoo”) that uses data from multiple sources – including vaccination rates and even bird migration patterns – to predict location-specific outbreaks of cold and flu. In order words, they analyze to anticipate.

Then they act. They direct their marketing and promotional efforts – such as coupons and samples – to those locations about to be affected. That drives sales and keeps Kleenex ahead of the competition.

Analyze, anticipate, and act. The purpose of analytics is to drive outcomes.

Your thoughts?

Michae

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How to Use Negative Feedback
Posted on Monday, Feb 17, 2014 by Michael Canic

Ever feel a little down after receiving negative feedback? Don’t. Top performers, regardless of occupation, use negative feedback in two ways. As inspiration for why to improve, and information for how to improve. They don’t let their egos get bruised. That would only hurt their future performance.

Think you’ve got it tough? Consider this:

“How would you like a job where every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?”

                                                                        Jacques Plante, Hall of Fame goalie

Your thoughts?

Michael

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