Why Strategy is About More than Just Predicting the Future
Posted on Monday, Oct 24, 2016 by Michael Canic

Imagine going back in time 5 years and being told these would be the headlines in the not-too-distant future:

Alphabet Drones to Deliver Burritos

Brexit to Cost Thousands of Jobs

Donald Trump in Tight Race to Become President

You might reasonably ask, “Who is Alphabet, why are drones delivering burritos, what on earth is ‘Brexit’, and president of what?”

Which is all to say it’s no easy task to predict the future.

When developing strategy, sure, you want to look into the future and attempt to extrapolate where events and trends are headed. But just as importantly you want to be flexible and adaptable to the unanticipated futures that appear on the horizon. That’s why strategy should be an ongoing process, not a once-a-year event. That’s why contingency planning – thinking through the “what ifs” – is a valuable exercise to help prepare you for those different futures.

And that’s why strategy is about more than just predicting the future.

Your thoughts?


How to Grow a Business by Cultivating a Culture
Posted on Monday, Oct 17, 2016 by Michael Canic

I love it when I come across someone who is genuinely, viscerally, passionate about his or her business. Invariably, people like this never view their business as merely a business. Their purpose is always grounded in something deeper.

Jay Steinfeld, the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, is such a person. On the journey from running the business out of his garage to becoming the world’s #1 online retailer of blinds, Jay’s future took shape when he started to define success as, “being in the act of continuous improvement and improving the lives of others around me.”

Yes, the “C” word
For Jay it’s all about the culture. And culture must be intentional. If you don’t define your desired culture and design your business to support it, then don’t be surprised if the culture that emerges is not the culture you want.

Who to delegate to
He notes that the biggest struggle for many CEOs is realizing that the only person they can delegate this to is the person in the mirror. If the CEO doesn’t become the chief role model and celebrant for the culture, then don’t expect it to permeate the organization.

How to create it
Strong and consistent cultures are apparent in everything an organization does. Which is why at Blinds.com they make sure that policies and practices, measures and meetings, accolades and accountabilities all point people in the same cultural direction.

It starts with selection. Not just getting the right people in, but letting only the right people in. Until the company grew to over 200 employees, Jay would conduct the final interview with every, prospective new hire to check for cultural fit. Today, he still interviews all prospective managers for cultural fit. What does he look for? Given that one of the four core values is “improve continuously”, he wants to know if the candidate can demonstrate that they value improvement, and self-improvement. Do they constantly take steps to learn and stretch themselves? Do they seek, and are they open to, feedback in support of improvement?

Action, Not Just Words
When you read the company’s “Getting to the Core” booklet (as in core values) you see more than just a description of “improve continuously”. You see quotes from employees about what that means to them. You see employees’ answers to the question of how they have improved continuously over the past six months. More than that, you see their answers to how joining a company that values continuous improvement has changed their lives.

So, is all this just feel-good stuff? You bet it is! Imagine how good it feels to go from a one-person operation to the world’s #1 online retailer of blinds! But that’s not the validation for Jay. The validation lies in seeing people become better than they ever thought possible. In “growing a company with deep customer relationships and, ultimately, a culture that improves lives.”

Now, how do your efforts at cultivating culture stack up? Are you ready to continuously improve?

Your thoughts?


The Ingredients of an Impeccable Restaurant
Posted on Monday, Oct 10, 2016 by Michael Canic

The restaurant business is notoriously fickle. Chefs come and go, gastronomic trends emerge and wane, and reputations rise and fall based on whims of fashion as much as experiences delivered.

Which is why it takes an exceptional restaurant not only to endure but to consistently excel. Bishop’s, in Vancouver, is such a restaurant. For over 30 years the namesake restaurant of restaurateur John Bishop has been a fixture in the top-tier of West Coast dining establishments.

How? What is the secret to such enduring success?

Of course, it has to start with the food. In the early days Bishop partnered with select farmers and was a pioneer in developing seasonal menus with a local focus. Knowing where ingredients come from, understanding how they are grown, and being a stickler for freshness are foundational to his approach. And having honed his concepts of menu creation, he does not get distracted by mimicking the trends of the day on one hand or endlessly experimenting on the other.

The next ingredient: service. When dining at Bishop’s it’s immediately apparent that the employees are not simply restaurant staff but skilled, service providers. The hostess who exudes a comforting warmth. The servers who convey professionalism, but not pretention. Who connect through sincerity, not excessive familiarity. And John himself who greets every guest and who has been described as, “the world’s most gracious host.” The overall experience is consistent and smooth – not surprising once you learn that many of the staff have been at Bishop’s for over 20 years.

Yet beyond the food and service there is something else that Bishop learned early on, something that has been seared into his core as a restaurateur: a meticulous attention to detail. A painstaking rigor around standards. A relentless commitment to check, check, and check again. It is this commitment that perpetuates the Bishop’s experience.

It is because of all this that he has served Presidents and Prime Ministers, actors and artists, and has been awarded numerous lifetime achievement awards including the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003.

To consistently excel is a rare accomplishment. But with the right commitment and right “ingredients” Bishop’s creates an experience worth savoring again and again.

Your thoughts?


The Evolving Role of Leaders in Decision-Making
Posted on Monday, Oct 3, 2016 by Michael Canic

After losing eight out of 10 Ryder Cup competitions over the past 20+ years, the United States defeated Europe this past weekend in Minnesota.

What interests me is not just the outcome of a competition but, from an organizational perspective, what contributed to that outcome. What contributed, in large part, was that the Americans borrowed from the European playbook on leadership and teamwork.

After the most recent loss to Europe in 2014, 11-time Ryder Cup veteran Phil Mickelson had had enough. Enough of players not being consulted on decisions, and enough of decisions that set players up to fail. Like back in 2004 when he learned just two days before the event that he would be paired with Tiger Woods in the foursomes competition (in which each team’s two players alternate shots with a single ball). The problem was that different golf balls have different characteristics, and it takes time and practice to become skilled at playing with a different ball. Yet Mickelson, playing with Tiger’s ball of choice, was given just a few hours to do this.

“It didn’t allow me to play my best,” he noted. “And it gave us no time to work together and prepare.”

The 2014 defeat brought years of frustration to a head and resulted in the creation of an 11-man taskforce, which included players, past captains, and golf officials. Their mandate: fundamentally re-think the preparation for and approach to the Ryder Cup. The outcome? A long-term template for success: revamped processes for player qualification, captain succession, and player-pairing in the competition.

But the most dramatic change was to a more inclusive, less leader-driven approach to decision-making. In short, a more European approach.

The scoreboard said it all. The U.S. won for the first time since 2008: 17 – 11. Yes, a victory on the course, and also for having the vision and courage to change.

Your thoughts?


How to be a Horrible Communicator
Posted on Monday, Sep 26, 2016 by Michael Canic

Every organization struggles with communications. It’s almost always the number one issue that comes up on employee surveys.

Why? Has anyone analyzed what leaders do, or don’t do, to communicate so poorly?

Here for the first time is the tried-and-true, repeatedly proven, failsafe method to be a horrible communicator:

  1. Communications should be 1-way. Everyone’s busy. There isn’t time to have a full-blown discussion about everything. And at the end of the day their opinions don’t really matter. Just tell them.
  2. Don’t get lured by the video fad. Video is fine if you want to impress people with how your cat can ride a bicycle. But for the serious business of business, words count for more than images.
  3. Communications should be cascaded. Respect the organizational hierarchy. Leaders should communicate important messages to their direct reports who then communicate to their direct reports. Violating the hierarchy only raises questions about who’s in charge.
  4. Tell ‘em once. Employees tune out when leaders keep repeating the same message. Don’t be a broken record. Tell them what you want to tell them one time and then move on.
  5. Stick to the Script. Since when did communications have to be fun and games? And does anyone even remember the message? If you want to be a clown, join the circus. If you want to communicate in business, never deviate from the message.

Am I missing anything? Let me know if you can add to the list!

Your thoughts?


Why You Should Embrace Pressure
Posted on Monday, Sep 19, 2016 by Michael Canic

The quote in the article stopped me in my tracks.

“Pressure is a privilege.”

Wow, I’d never thought of it like that. Mike Babcock, coach of Team Canada at this year’s World Cup of Hockey, was responding to the expectations that come with his team’s frontrunner status.

The pressure of high expectations is a privilege. It comes when you have exceptional talent or skill. It comes when you’ve been successful. It comes when you have a legitimate opportunity to win. If you’ve worked hard to become really good, then you’ve earned the pressure that comes with high expectations.

How did we come to view pressure as a bad thing? Excessive pressure can be a bad thing. Yet not enough pressure leads to complacency. That’s a bad thing. An optimal amount of pressure is what leads to the best results.

People experience pressure differently. It’s like the engineering distinction between stress and strain. Stress is the concentration of force applied to an object. Strain is the change in that object as a result of the force. Different objects with different properties respond differently to stress.

Adaptation to pressure can be trained. Which means we can learn to respond effectively to increasing amounts of pressure over time. If those increases aren’t too great, too soon.

Pressure is a privilege. Understand it. Apply it. Embrace it.

Your thoughts?


Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do
Posted on Monday, Sep 12, 2016 by Michael Canic

One of my favorite books about managing employee performance is a little gem called, Why Employees Don’t Do What They're Supposed to Do … and what to do about it, by Ferdinand Fournies.

For those of you quick to point fingers: no, it’s not because employees are incompetent or lazy (at least not in most cases). It’s because managers don’t do what they’re supposed to do … and don’t even know they’re not doing it.

So what is the “it” that managers are supposed to do? Based on the actual experiences of 25,000 managers, Fournies devotes a full seven chapters of his book – and it seems almost silly writing this – to conveying clear and credible goals and expectations:

  • They don’t know why they should do it
  • They don’t know how to do it
  • They don’t know what they are supposed to do
  • They think your way will not work
  • They think their way is better
  • They think something else is more important
  • No one could do it

I could go on to the other chapters but I won’t. If I did you’d take what you just read for granted.

Leaders! Don’t assume that your people understand where your organization is headed, why and how! Don’t assume they are crystal clear about what is expected of them, why and how! And don’t assume that what you communicate is credible!

Yes, you must clearly communicate. And, yes, you should repeatedly communicate using a variety of channels and media. But one-way communication is not enough. Active engagement is critical. What did they hear? What do they remember? What do they think? How do they feel?

Get back to basics. Relentlessly communicate. If it doesn’t feel like you’re communicating too much, then you’re not communicating enough.

Your thoughts?

Why Context Trumps Everything, Even Your Beliefs
Posted on Monday, Sep 5, 2016 by Michael Canic

One of automobile magnate Henry Ford’s core beliefs was that it is critical to control every aspect of production. He built power plants, owned coal mines and timberlands, ran a steel foundry, had a deep-water port and dozens of miles of railway … all to ensure he had every type of material that would allow him to manufacture cars.

Except rubber.

So Ford, who loathed being dependent on others, spent $20 million to build a city and rubber plantation in the Amazon, and create his own supply. Thousands of workers constructed a Midwestern-style city in the rainforest complete with bungalows and churches, restaurants and movie theaters, and, yes, an 18-hole golf course.

This Little America in the Amazon – nicknamed Fordlandia – was perfect … except for one thing. It couldn’t grow and sustain rubber trees. The soil wasn’t right, the rainfall patterns were too seasonal and a leaf blight decimated the trees that were unwittingly planted far too close to one another. In his zeal to take control of sourcing rubber, Ford bulldozed forward without consulting a single person who knew anything about growing rubber trees. The project was a complete failure.

Context. What applies here may not apply there. What works now may fail in the future. What you can get done with some people may not happen with others.

In every situation be sensitive to context. Ask: What are the similarities? What are the differences? Who has the insight?

Lease your beliefs, don’t own them.

Your thoughts?


One Powerful Way to Instill a Sense of Purpose
Posted on Monday, Aug 29, 2016 by Michael Canic

It’s widely accepted that when employees have a sense of purpose they are more engaged and perform at a higher level. So how can a leader help to instill a sense of purpose?

Novo Nordisk makes drugs for treating diabetes and hemophilia. They instill a sense of purpose by showing employees videos of patients who have recovered, or even survived, because of their drugs. Seeing what a product or service means to the end-user, from their perspective, can be a powerful way to instill purpose.

Imagine being a supplier of building products. Would watching customers talk with pride about what they’ve built, and how your people and products made a difference, help to instill a sense of purpose? Imagine being a commercial insurance broker. Would watching customers talk emotionally about how they had just the right coverage to protect them when disaster struck, and how their agent truly understood their business, help to instill a sense of purpose?

Could you extend the idea? How might similar videos on your website help to attract potential employees?

Purpose. It’s not just the execution of a service or the delivery of a product. It’s the lives that are touched.

Your thoughts?


The Difference Between Very, Very Good and The Best
Posted on Monday, Aug 22, 2016 by Michael Canic

The Olympic Games are a wonderful showcase of the possibilities of human performance. And of how thread-fine the margin can be between being the best, and not.

When I think of the Olympics I often think of the greatest sprinter you’ve never heard of.

Frankie Fredericks.

Frankie Fredericks of Namibia won the Olympic silver medal in the men’s 100-meter sprint in 1992. And, he won silver in the 200 meters. Four years later he again won the Olympic silver medal in the 100. And, yes, silver in the 200. The difference between Frankie Fredericks winning four silver medals and four gold medals was a combined time of 0.59 seconds.

That’s the difference between being very, very good and being the best four times.

What’s the difference between being good, very good, very, very good, and the best in your business? Are you paying sufficient attention to the details, the little things that, combined and multiplied over thousands of instances, make up the difference between silver and gold?

Good enough isn’t.

It’ll do won’t.

Will you go for good, or go for gold?

Your thoughts?



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