Vision Without Execution is Just A Hallucination

Thomas Edison had such wise words….  “Vision without execution is just a hallucination”.  It hits home with so many of our clients.  Let us at MCDA help you build your plan and train your team to execute your vision into a reality.

A great vision is the table stakes for building a valuable business.  A great vision:

  • Is clear, concise, and understandable to a broad constituency
  • Is inspiring and motivational to those that are trying to execute on it, or buy into it (e.g.: customers, partners, consumers, etc.)

But to move from hallucination to reality, requires hard-nosed execution.

The keys to effective execution include:

Clear plan and objectives

The WHY, WHAT, HOW, WHO and WHEN

Great execution starts with a plan.  The plan sets the stage with strategy (the why, if you will), then lays out the objectives (the what), and then the required steps and actions (the how), to be carried out by the respective team members (the who), and the timeframe in which the actions should be accomplished (the when).   Like the vision, it needs to be clear.  Unlike the vision, it needs to be as comprehensive as possible, with a robust appreciation of the risks and challenges, and well thought-out “plan B’s” for all the major risk points or hurdles.

There are many tried and true frameworks and strategies that can help leaders design a great plan that sets them up for successful execution, but in my opinion, one of the most effective of these frameworks (as proven by several of our portfolio companies), is the True North model.  I’ve also always been a fan of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis as a key preparation exercise heading into a planning process.  A brief note on SWOT –clients will often get confused between the first two and the second two and struggle a bit with the differences.  Strengths and Weaknesses are internally focused; Opportunities and Threats are externally focused.

As to objectives, it’s imperative that the objectives be relevant, meaningful, unambiguous and very very measurable.  I can’t stress measurable enough!  KPI’s are a great tool for measuring, we can get into that in another discussion.

Focus

Once a clear executable plan with properly aligned resources and capital is in place, focus becomes paramount.  More startups go astray by either losing their focus on the plan and objectives, chasing down distracting shiny new objects, or by getting caught up in details  and losing sight of the overall objectives and outcomes.  Maintaining focus, along with building a great team, and raising capital, are probably the three most important jobs of an early stage entrepreneur/CEO, after the vision and plan are set.

Common techniques for maintaining focus are to post the key objectives and milestones publicly; to review the milestones at the start of all-hands meetings; to tie bonus or variable compensation to their achievement; and often overlooked but perhaps most importantly of all, to explicitly state WHY those milestones are important.  People are far more willing to chase audacious goals, to achieve extraordinary results, and to make the sacrifices necessary to deliver ground-breaking outcomes when they understand why the goals matter.  Explaining “why” may be the most important thing you can do to achieve buy-in and co-ownership of the goals.  Get your employees to buy-in to you as a leader, you are the drumbeat of success.

Motivated Team

Whether it’s The New York Yankees or The 12 year old Yorba Linda Colts, extraordinary effort is required to get to the top and deliver a stand-out performance.  Explaining “why” is an important element of building a motivated team.  So is shared sacrifice.  Even though most of my work as CEO has to be done between 7am and 7pm, I have played many a 10pm soccer games or improvised whiffle ball games with staff who needed to blow off some steam as they pulled an all-nighter to crank out a client project.  And with shared sacrifice must come shared success and victories, and shared rewards (a key reason stock options have been so instrumental to Silicon Valley’s success).

Celebrating wins company-wide, whether in client development, sales, customer success, etc., was a key element of keeping the team motivated at my last business.  So was personalizing the customer, through internally published success stories, customer logos prominently displayed on the reception area walls, even notations of which new customer brought us that week’s paycheck.  And there is nothing like a common enemy to motivate the competitive juices of the team – never underestimate the value of a common foe, even if it is semi-manufactured.

Measurable Intermediate Milestones

These intermediate stakes or flags in the ground are a crucial tool to maintain focus and pace.  It’s hard to keep focus or feel a sense of urgency when milestones are many months or quarters out.  Intermediate milestones give you a measuring stick and a goal toward which to sprint that is within easy sight and distance.

They also give you an early-warning indicator to know where you are in the journey and if you are ahead or behind the desired pace.  It’s much easier, much less stressful, and significantly less costly to adjust and correct early in the journey.

We can help you build those tools and measurable stakes during our journey together.

Proper Capitalization and Creative Resource Guarding

Make no mistake – early stage capital is brutally expensive.  You don’t want to take a penny more than you need to reach your next major value inflection point in the business.  At the same time, you do not want to come up short, as that can be even more expensive. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s what an entrepreneur must learn how to do.  In all cases, there must be enough capital to get the plan done.

Resource guarding is a term dog trainers use to describe a dog that isn’t friendly to other dogs or people when its food or toys are approached or threatened.  Good entrepreneurs need to be like that snarling dog; you paid a dear price for that capital.  Guard it viciously; make sure every penny is spent wisely; and only utilize it on your execution of the plan and objectives.

I’ll end this post with a quote from one of the great business leaders of the last few decades:  “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

Is your brain spinning with ideas?  Give us a call or shoot us a message we are always here to help.  I am always open to answering questions personally through email.  Let me help guide you on the path of success.

 

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Is it Urgent?

Here we are and another work week is upon us. As you enter the office to jump into the mix of the week, are you anxious? I think that many people are. This is especially true if you are in management . Why do I say that? It’s because our days are never our own. When you work in the field of people, management, you’re subject to constant movement.

I’ve written before how most folks in management (and business in general) state that their job is to “put out fires.” This is such a challenging way to work effectively because your entire day is based on something going wrong. You are always moving from one urgent situation to another. The urgency may not even be legitimate, but you jump to react because if gives you a sense of value. It’s short lived and it disrupts any attempt at consistency.

Now, I understand that there are things which are urgent and need to be addressed quickly. You shouldn’t ignore them, but you should step back to see if the situation truly is urgent or just packed full of emotion. When emotions rise, people tend to want things addressed immediately mainly to get their emotions back in check. The key is to take the time to gauge the level of urgency. Don’t step away from any situation, but get context first.

A stronger way to approach your work with people is to focus on what’s important. I’m not going to dare to define what that looks like in your current company and role because I’m sure it varies with each person. The method you do this is an individual choice as well. Some use quadrants to place items in, and some use to-do lists. It’s essential that you have a method that works for you because without some defined approach, you won’t get to important items. Your day will slip away so rapidly and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get to the important items . . . again.

There’s one more factor to consider in looking at this topic. Both urgent and important aspects of our job coexist. You will rarely be able to have one that can keep your full attention. I find that I keep an on-going list of “important” items that never ends. Some items can be accomplished sooner than others, but some stay on my list so that I don’t forget them. Losing sight of the important facets of how manage automatically puts me in the fire extinguishing business again.

I recommend that you become fluid in how you manage.  Go into each day with the assurance that urgent situations could occur. Take them in stride and do your best to not freak out. That never helps anything. Don’t let the urgent situation consume your attention, or day, completely. Make sure to get to one or two important items as well. Having a combination of the two allows you move within the natural flow of the day as it occurs.

We will continue to be frustrated, or worn out, if we keep separating the reality of our days. Take things in stride. It’s important !!

It doesn’t help to pass the buck

I had a boss in a past life with a reputation of being a face melter, meaning he would light you up and chew your face off.  He could definitely be hard on people that was not my experience with him.  Why?  I held the secret.

He was definitely tough. On a few different occasions I saw him chew a person’s face off. But here’s why: He hated it when someone tried to shift blame for an outcome, especially someone in leadership.

Take Total Responsibility

One of the most important traits of an effective leader is a leader that other leaders can trust.  Trust in the willingness to accept total responsibility for the outcome.

I approached my boss several times with huge problems, I am talking million dollar problems.  But I 100% owned it. Instead of chewing my face off, he leant support, administered patience and advice.

Why is this story relevant?

Because I recently finished reading Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALSs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Willink and Babin were both officers in Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser. These guys fought through the worst days of the battle of Ramadi in Iraq. What they learned on the ground is now part of the training for incoming SEALs.

It probably would have helped a few of my colleagues with our old boss too.

When You Blow It

Willink starts on a low note—with an incident that went disastrously wrong. When it was over, a SEAL was injured, an Iraqi ally was dead, and many others were placed in serious danger.

And the whole thing could’ve been avoided. Multiple breakdowns in systems and protocols added up to one big disaster. It was a case of friendly fire.

Right after the event the Navy wanted an investigation. Willink, who was in charge, collected all the relevant information. He found mistakes at all levels. But he didn’t feel right about submitting the list without adding one crucial detail.

“I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong,” says Willink. “That’s what a leader does—even if it means getting fired.”

It’s an example of what Willink and Babin call extreme ownership. It was not only the right thing to do, it also paid off. By taking the blame, Willink kept the trust of his team and was able to identify ways of improving operations.

It also preserved trust with his commanders. “Looking back,” he says, “it’s clear that, despite what happened, the full ownership I took of the situation actually increased the trust my commanding officer and master chief had in me.”

If he had thrown someone under the bus, he would have lost the trust of his team, making it impossible to lead them. He also would have told his commanders that he couldn’t manage his team. Lose-lose.

6 Battle-Tested Lessons

The idea of extreme ownership is the backbone of Willink and Babin’s battle-tested advice for leaders in any area of life. There are six leadership lessons that stand out for me:

  1. Take ownership. Our effectiveness as leaders depends on how much we own what’s on our plate. We usually reject responsibility out of self-protection. But as the Willink example showed, if he had dodged responsibility it would have undermined him. By owning the problem, he was able to fix it.
  2. Stay out of your own way. That kind of self-protection is all about our egos, isn’t it? Willink and Babin point out that ego can be a good thing. It’s part of what drives us to succeed. But it can get in our own way. Usually it happens when take our eye off the mission and start worrying about winning and losing by less important measures—like status.
  3. Support your team. Willink and Babin call this “covering and moving.” As I’ve written about before, the team is really the whole game. And it’s essential that everyone on the team thinks so. The moment a leader or others are out for themselves and their own win, you’ve lost.
  4. Simplify. Business is simple. We deliver something people want and charge them for the service. But how we do that can get complicated in a hurry. Here’s the catch: A complicated plan is hard to communicate to our teams, and that makes it hard for them—and us—to win.
  5. Stay focused. There are a million distractions on the battlefield. Same with the office. If we lose focus on the priorities, we’ll get overwhelmed and fail. This is why I’m such a major advocate of life planning and goal setting. They’re not ends in themselves. They enable to set and stay focused on your targets.
  6. Empower your people. This one is critical. You might think if you’ve got to take this kind of total, extreme ownership that you have to do everything. No way. First, you can’t do it. Second, that’s why you have a team! Leaders delegate. Willink and Babin stress training, empowerment, and communicating clear responsibilities and expectations.

Start to begin to think for yourself

I recently just facilitated a meeting for a client, it was a group brainstorming all of the factors needed to accomplish their purpose of building a stronger connection to the community.  I stood at the flip chart with one of those colorful SMELLY Sharpie flip chart markers listening and writing down so many of their thoughts and ideas.  The page was just about full and then the last statement…  “People must have their own thoughts and ideas.”  That statement had me very curious and it also needed a bit of clarity from the group.  I asked for an example of why people currently aren’t thinking for themselves. A member of the group spoke up, “When the negative voices in our business start to make noise it pulls us away from our purpose and each other… pretty soon people start believing what is the loudest rather than search for the facts.” This breakthrough led me to do some of my own research to discover an answer to the question, “How can we help people learn to think for themselves?”

My research led me to a study that was conducted a few years back by a group of University researchers.  The participants were asked to just sit in a room and think.  That sounds easy enough, right?  Researchers quickly found that the task of sitting alone to think wasn’t quite as simple as they all assumed.  The participants struggled to sit with their thoughts for a limited time of just 15 minutes.  Left in a room with nothing else but their thoughts, participants could sit quietly or choose to receive one stimulus, an electric shock. Astonishingly, 70% of the male participants and 25% of the female participants administered electric shocks to themselves, rather than taking a few minutes to think.

It appears from the research that we may be living in a world of non-thinkers. Ultimately, this deficiency leads to a population who cannot determine the difference between fact and opinion.

We all face day-to-day problems in our personal lives and in our businesses. These problems require us to think through a solution, whether it’s who to vote for, what job offer to accept, or how to deal with a negative business member.  These opportunities to make decisions should lead us to examine the facts, ask questions, seek counsel and take wise action.

If you’re someone who would rather receive an electric shock than think for yourself, then I invite you to consider these questions to start the process:

What are the facts? If someone is trying to convince you of something, then seek evidence to prove the facts being shared. Demand to be convinced and do some of your own research using reliable sources.

What do I value? (and Why?) You might be surprised to learn how many of your cultural values have been shaped by family, community, religion, schools, organizations, or employers. Write down a list of things you value as a member of those groups. Then decide whether you truly believe those values or not.

What are the opposing viewpoints? One good way to form your own opinion is to make sure you’re getting input from a lot of different viewpoints, not just one person’s opinion. Document the viewpoints, give yourself time to sort through it, and then make your own decision.

How can I resist peer pressure? If you have a lot of friends saying the same thing, resist making your decision based on peer pressure. Sometimes it’s best to not respond, because the more you do, the more others might try to convince you of their point of view.

How do my values align with this decision? Learning to think for yourself isn’t going to have much of an impact if you don’t act on what you value and believe. Once you’ve had time to think about things decide about how you’ll act and stick to it.

How do I track my progress? Keep a journal. Begin by describing a situation that is significant to you. Next, write in detail how you responded to the situation. Then, write how you will respond in the future.

If you’ve had a hard time thinking for yourself in the past, you might find that you’re swayed by other people the first few times you try. That’s okay! Changing habits of thoughts are some of the hardest habits to change. Give yourself time to learn how to resist other people’s opinions, seek out evidence and think for yourself!

Do I have you thinking now?

Build Up Trust to Build Up Your Business

Small- business owners frequently talk about and are looking for ways to build up their business.  Most often, thoughts are focused on having the right products and/or services at the right price and selling to the right target market.

I have to say, these are key elements in building a sustainable business but just as they are necessary they are not sufficient.  Without trust and reliability, those elements can make a one-time sale, and that’s about it.

So now the big question.  How do you build trust?  Trust is built by actions, words and deeds.  It cannot be bought!  As and owner you really can’t ever quantify the level of trust that a customer has for he business.

Trust starts from your internal values and principles.  Building trust is NOT in what you SAY but in what you DO.  Trust is built on having a solid product and providing ongoing fair and dependable service.  Building trust needs to go beyond just your business; you need to think about building trust in your industry.

Developing trust begins with your customers.  You also need to drill down a bit and think  about suppliers, other business owners and the financial backers.  You even need to think about the trust relationship between you as the business owner and family members.  For many of my clients I see that family members are a critical part of that small business.

Small-business owners also must remember that they need to build trust in their local communities.  Building community trust is an important factor in terms of potential customers as well as in the terms or referrals and general community support.  I have seen business get great community support via Facebook Community pages, Instagram, etc.

Here are some specific ways to build trust:

  • Do what you promise
  • Meet, or beat, the deadlines you set
  • Acknowledge a mistake and correct it
  • Be authentic in your communications (verbal, email, etc)
  • Be transparent in your actions.
  • Be visible and active in your community

Trust is important in building a business. Companies seen as trustworthy are usually the most successful.

 

5 Steps to Take When an Employee Goes Rogue

When an employee goes rogue, it is often the company that deals with the damage on a short-term or long-term basis, repairing what was broken and regaining what was lost. The damage can be in the form of putting the company’s security at risk, losing profit and clients, or to the extent of losing its credibility to operate a business. This is an occurrence that needs to be dealt with proactively, though there are instances when it still happens despite the security measures being implemented within the company.

What is a rogue employee and why do they go rogue?

A rogue employee is someone who has stopped complying with the company policies and is behaving in an unscrupulous manner not amenable to the company’s reputation. This often occurs when an employee is faced with professional or personal struggle making it easier to lose the sense of propriety. The employee might start abandoning his or her tasks and responsibilities, and worse, commits fraudulent activities like stealing assets and/or sensitive company information for monetary gains.

It is important to take immediate actions when this happens. As a business owner or manager, there are critical steps we need to consider when an employee goes rogue.

1. Heighten security level and protect company assets.

Meet with your IT  team to discuss the situation and immediately implement protective measures to ensure no further leakage is going to take place. Do a quick inventory of assets and sensitive information and try to assess if any are compromised. Identify the risks the company may be facing as a result of the violation committed and deploy protective measures necessary.

2. Deactivate employee’s access and invalidate the credentials.

Implement preventive suspension if further investigation is needed. This ensures a quiet gathering of facts without the threat of having the person in question creating further obstructions. This will also prevent the involvement of other employees that might cause for alarm and wreak havoc on the company. Make sure all access and credentials of the employee are deactivated and prevent further access to other company information and assets.

This is an essential step for companies with virtual offices or has remote workers. Some companies provide VPN access which allows employees to access their company’s portal from home and work as if they are in the office. Immediately discontinue access to virtual office work platforms, emails, and other portals. For brick and mortar office setting, remove access and confiscate any personal identification card issued to the employee before they are sent home.

3. Gather and document relevant details that led to the event of the employee going rogue.

Find out what influenced the employee to go rogue and commit offences against the company. Know the tools and measures he/she used to actualize the transgression. This is where you start cleaning up the mess created. Identifying the motive of the employee will help you determine the measures that can be done to help find an amenable and legal way to resolve the real problem. This will also allow you the opportunity to identify employees who will possibly commit the same offense and implement preventive measures.

4. Meet with the deciding team to decide on the status of the employee in the company

This important meeting would include the immediate supervisor, the HR, and in serious cases, the company lawyer. Discuss the offence and come to a decision on the fate of the employee with regards to his or her employment. The sanction to be enforced on the employee will depend on the gravity of the violation.

There are instances when termination is the clear-cut decision. Termination applies to serious offences like theft or inappropriate use of company funds, rowdy behavior like sexual assault to a fellow employee, serious insubordination to an immediate supervisor, and losing a client while putting the company’s reputation in question by using the client’s confidential information (i.e. credit card details) for personal gains. There are also instances when a lighter sanction can be served in observance of the due process privileged to every employee. Such sanctions progress depending on the consistency of occurrence. It can start with a written warning, suspension, and then dismissal. It is best to review and collaborate with the human resources team to ensure that the proper sanction is served.

5. Reinforce company policies and implement preventive measures to avoid the same occurrence from happening again.

Gather your team and have a focused discussion with HR to review the existing policies and possible sanctions in the event a specific policy has been violated. Each employee is accountable. Ensure commitment to protecting the company’s best interest by reviewing the roles and responsibilities of every employee and their important functions in the company.

Utilize company tools like memo boards, workstations, desktop wallpapers documenting these policies, on top of the company handouts existing. Email cascades and group discussions will help disseminate and enforce the policies to virtual employees and remote workers and team members

How to Tell Someone That They Are Being Laid Off

Dismissing an employee is one of the most unpleasant tasks of management. It’s likely to evoke a lot of mixed feelings: sympathy, sadness, and anxiety. Even if letting go of the employee (or employees) is in the best interest of the company, you still may feel guilty. What’s the best way to deliver the news? How do you strike the balance of being direct and compassionate? How much should you let your emotions show?  Presiding over layoffs is a distasteful part of management that many people fear. It’s also a thankless task.  Nobody ever got promoted because they fire well. But your career can get sidetracked if you don’t treat people in a dignified way.  All of your employees and customers are going to be watching how you handle the process. The way you fire people needs to reflect the words you have in your mission statement.  Dismissing an employee or group of employees is particularly hard when you disagree with the decision. You’ll feel conflicted, discouraged, and frustrated. Still, as a manager you may have to do what’s best for the company. Here’s how to manage the process in a way that is clear and respectful, whether you’re terminating a single person or letting go of an entire team.

Seek training
All organizations need an effective, efficient, and standardized process for handling layoffs and everyone — managers and potential managers — should be trained in how to do it. Training makes it a less frightening task.  Trouble is most organizations don’t necessarily see the need to offer extensive training because it costs time and money and layoffs are a relatively infrequent occurrence. This is an oversight. Companies that do layoffs poorly suffer tremendous consequences, including wrongful termination lawsuits and dents to their reputation. It’s a no-brainer to invest resources in doing this well.  If your company doesn’t offer training, seek advice and guidance from mentors who have first-hand experience with laying off employees.

Practice
Don’t go into this task cold and certainly don’t go in alone.  It’s more comfortable and legally practical to deliver this news with at least one other person in the room. Ideally you’re working closely with a consultant at an outplacement firm to help you manage the process.  If not, enlist someone from HR. As you practice what you plan to say, role-play how the employee may react. During the trial run, anticipate worst-case scenarios, “The person might cry” The person might invoke their family with something like: ‘My daughter is going to college in the fall, how will I be able to pay for it now?’ You need to consider how you will manage your emotions” in these situations. You should have a script, but try not to rely too heavily on it.  The danger of a script is that you become too mechanical and detach yourself so much that you fail to show an interpersonal sensitivity.  At the same time, you don’t want to be so moved by efforts to show sympathy that you don’t deliver the message. Practicing beforehand helps ensure you strike the right balance.

Consider the logistics
The physical environment in which you deliver the news should be a private, quiet room or office.  Have a box of tissues at the ready. The goal is to maximize your comfort in delivering the message while also granting dignity to the person who’s being laid off. Your safety is another consideration.  Oftentimes the reaction of the person is shock or sadness, but the person could get angry.  In light of this make sure that the person has direct access to the door in case he gets emotional and needs to leave. Make it easy for the person to storm out.  While there is “no right time of day” to tell someone he no longer has a job — frankly, they’re all terrible,  try to do it on Friday because it gives the person the weekend to deal with it.  If you do it on Monday, everyone will be talking about it for the rest of the week.  And if you’re shutting down an entire division, it might be better to announce the layoff to everyone at once, since they’re all suffering the same fate.

Be direct
The script for letting an employee go is relatively straightforward.  Get to the point quickly: Be direct, be honest, and no small talk.  I recommend beginning the conversation by saying:  I have some bad news to deliver today  because it emotionally prepares the individual. It’s equivalent to saying:  I’m about to punch you in the stomach versus just punching you in the stomach.  Then say something like: “The purpose of this meeting is to tell you that your career with this company has come to an end.” Next, give the person a folder containing the severance arrangements. If your company is providing outplacement services, then say: “As part of the respect we have for you, we have hired a firm to help you successfully land on your feet.” Then hand over the meeting to the consultant or HR rep who will explain next steps. “It doesn’t need to be long and drawn out”. “Say what you need to say, then leave the room. The outplacement firm should take over.”

Don’t get sidetracked
As the person who’s losing her job absorbs what’s happening, they might react emotionally. They might get teary; they might lash out; they might have questions. But you, the manager, must not respond.  You don’t want the conversation to devolve into a debate, discussion, or argument. Don’t bring up the employee’s poor performance or the fact that they had been warned. Instead, say: “If you wish to discuss the justice of this decision, I will be glad to set up an appointment with you next week — this is not the time.”

Be compassionate
When you’ve been tasked with laying off an employee with whom you have a good working relationship, it’s likely you’ll feel genuine, deep sympathy for that person.  In cases like these, offer support by assuring him you’ll give a great reference or offering to introduce your contacts. This is certainly not something you’d do for everyone, but if your relationship warrants it and it “feels natural,” it’s the kind thing to do. Most important, never talk about how difficult this decision has been for you.  That is irrelevant.  The employee doesn’t care about your feelings right now.

Decompress and debrief
Letting go of an employee is a demanding task that “takes a toll” on even the most experienced managers. Don’t neglect your own wellbeing. Once you’ve delivered the news, find a way to physically and psychologically restore yourself.  Take a walk. Take a nap. Lift weights. Whatever you do, don’t schedule another meeting right after — give yourself time to calm down.  It’s also important to debrief, with the HR manager that helped you do the layoff.  Together you can reflect on how it went and what you might have done differently. There is usually room for improvement. It’s an emotional moment, but at the same time, it’s a task and it’s a skill. You can get better at this.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Create a private, quiet physical environment in which to deliver the news
  • Enlist the help of an outplacement firm or HR to manage the process
  • Restore yourself physically and psychologically after the conversation

Don’t:

  • Go in cold — role-play the conversation and anticipate how the person will react
  • Talk about how difficult this decision is for you — the employee doesn’t care about your feelings right now
  • Be callous — if you have a strong relationship, provide support by offering to introduce your contacts and by providing a great reference