Why You’re Not as Committed as You Think You Are
Posted on Monday, Dec 5, 2016 by Michael Canic

I often start a presentation to organizational leaders by asking a question: How committed are you to winning? Unsurprisingly, almost everyone says they’re “totally committed”, “100% committed”, “all-in”, things of that sort.

Of course it’s a set-up. By the time I’ve finished the presentation they realize they’re not nearly as committed as they thought. (And therein lies the opportunity.)

If we look at those who are truly committed, we see what commitment truly looks like. Take Ashima Shiraishi, for example. Ashima is a 15-year-old girl. And it just so happens she is one of the very best rock climbers in the world. She has numerous “youngest ever …” and “first woman ever …” ascents to her name. So how committed is she? For the past nine years (you do the math) she has spent at least four hours, almost every single day, climbing. To improve, to hone her skills, to grow stronger.

Then there’s the grizzled veteran of rock climbing, 23-year-old Adam Ondra. Considered by many to be the finest rock climber ever, Ondra’s training regimen has been described as maniacal: one-to-two hard workouts a day, at least six days a week, for months at a time.

You know when they say, “Don’t work harder, work smarter?” Sure, work smarter. But if you want to be exceptional you’d better work harder too.

And if the prospect of that energizes you, then you’re doing what you should be doing, what you love to do.

So, how committed are you to winning?

Your thoughts?


Why Leaders Should Be Like Scientists
Posted on Monday, Nov 28, 2016 by Michael Canic

If there’s one thing the growth of business analytics has made clear it’s that leaders need to think increasingly like scientists.

Consider Booking.com. Founded in the Netherlands in 1996, they are the world’s largest accommodation booking site. In addition to hotels, Booking.com offers over 6.6 million non-hotel locations – over three times as many as a company that generates a lot more buzz: Airbnb.

Booking.com’s innovation-driven culture is fueled by research-based decision-making and employee empowerment. Their development team is given wide latitude and conducts up to 1000 experiments daily (!) to test the subtle nuances of website content, design and features. Using a controlled “A/B protocol” each experiment tests one option against another to see which if either results in more bookings.

CEO Gillian Tans explains, “The quickest way to innovate successfully is to make lots of little mistakes on your way to getting it right. If you’re afraid of failure … you’ll never test out those crazy, off-the-wall ideas that may actually be genius. We celebrate failure because it’s a moment for us all to learn.”

Scientists speak of hypotheses. You have assumptions, beliefs, and hunches. Business analytics is the practice of systematically testing those through what scientists call controlled experiments. The outcomes of those experiments allow you to develop approaches or, using science-speak, theories about which actions are likely to lead to which outcomes and why.

“Even if you think you know what the customer wants,” says Tans, “you need to follow what they actually do to be sure.”

In other words, don’t guess, be a scientist.

Time for you to put the lab coat on.

Your thoughts?


What Your Lawyer Can Teach You about Hiring Right
Posted on Monday, Nov 21, 2016 by Michael Canic

So I’m having breakfast with my lawyer, Tim. I like meeting with Tim because he’s smart, pragmatic, and he doesn’t view our meetings as an opportunity to maximize his billable seconds. The topic turns to hiring so I ask him what he looks for in a new lawyer other than the obvious considerations of grades and a law degree.

“I like it if they’ve been a waiter,” he says.


“If they’ve worked in that kind of job then they’re used to a stressful environment. They’ve learned the importance of teamwork and they’re continually dealing with customer relations. And they’re likely to be trustworthy because they’re dealing with money.”

Ah, of course.

When hiring, it’s common to look for relevant traits and skills. Yet do you consider how those traits and skills might be revealed in activities completely unrelated to the position you’re hiring for?

Hmmm, I wonder if restaurant managers look for someone who has practiced law?

Your thoughts?


What Political Strategists Need to Learn About Organizational Change
Posted on Monday, Nov 14, 2016 by Michael Canic

Over the past week I’ve been reading and reflecting on the surprising outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Imagining myself a political strategist – which I’m not – I’ve been pondering the question, “Why did it happen?” In doing this I’ve come to the conclusion that political strategists could learn a thing or two from business, especially about organizational change.

1) When corporate leaders become insulated from field employees the changes they impose are often out of touch with and resisted by those employees.

It’s easy for business leaders to stay rooted at corporate headquarters. When they do, they lose touch with what field employees think, feel and experience. They become captive to their own perspectives; they make wrong assumptions. Then they’re surprised when organizational change initiatives crash and burn.

Similarly, it’s easy to become isolated in the political world of Washington. And lose touch with what voters in places like Wenatchee, Wilmington and Wausau think, feel and experience. Look at the map. Trump won more than 80% of the country geographically. Many people in small towns and rural areas felt he was reaching out to them, he understood their concerns, and he would take action to right perceived wrongs. Clinton, on the other hand, was associated by many to be part of the insular and out-of-touch establishment in Washington, the authors of change who had wreaked so much havoc.

All of us need to feel heard. Understood. Respected. When leaders fail to meet those fundamental needs, it’s little wonder that people lose confidence and trust in them.

2) The greater the volume and velocity of change, the greater the resistance. That resistance is amplified when the direction of change runs counter to the values, beliefs and interests of those affected.

Just think of the volume and velocity of social change in recent years: gays and lesbians gaining the right to marry, fallout from the great recession, Obamacare, jobs lost to technology and offshoring, declining respect for law enforcement, Syrian refugees, the prospect of amnesty for illegal immigrants … and which restroom am I supposed to use now?

For many, it’s simply too much, too fast, and it’s going in the wrong direction. Is it any wonder that the candidate who passionately claimed he would reverse many of these changes is the one who resonated so strongly with the disaffected?

So, how can these lessons be applied in the political sphere?

Early on, candidates should connect with people beyond the corridors of power, beyond the traditional economic centers.  The first objective isn’t to convey a grandiose vision or to outline a detailed platform. It’s to ask, listen, observe, and understand. It’s to apply the practice that many business leaders have come to value in recent years: empathy.

Be sensitive to the amount of change people are experiencing, the pace of change, and their reaction to the direction of change. Too much, too quick, too contentious? Then reaffirm a commitment to bedrock beliefs and principles that continue to endure. Reinforce the familiar touchstones that people need so as not to feel they’ve been ignored or left behind. Demonstrate that the goal isn’t change for change sake, but well-conceived improvements prudently implemented.

Finally, embrace the core truth about effective leadership and change that applies in all organizations and all institutions: Ultimately, it’s not about what you do; it’s about what they experience.

Your thoughts?


The #1 Trait Winners Look for When Hiring Winners
Posted on Monday, Nov 7, 2016 by Michael Canic

Theo Epstein is the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs – oh, did you hear? – just broke a 108-year “curse” by winning the World Series.

Epstein is a pioneer of the analytics movement in baseball: finding, understanding and relentlessly acting on the variables that truly correlate with winning. Prior to joining the Cubs he was General Manager for the Boston Red Sox where he helped them win two World Series titles (and break their own curse, albeit a meager one of 86 years).

Here’s an insight into Epstein’s unique approach: when it comes to player acquisition and development he focuses on personal traits, not just physical ability and skills. And the trait he looks for above all others? Overcoming adversity. Baseball, like any sport, like any line of work, like life, invariably brings adversity. How a player responds to adversity is a key determinant of success. So when considering a prospect, Epstein asks for three examples of how the prospect has overcome adversity outside of baseball as well as three baseball-related examples. Why? Because overcoming adversity reveals tenacity and persistence … and correlates with winning.

When you’re selecting people into your organization do you assess the traits that are critical to success? Do you, to use Epstein’s words, “scout the person more than the player”?

Your thoughts?


A Basketball Legend’s Three Keys to Enduring Success
Posted on Monday, Oct 31, 2016 by Michael Canic

The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden led UCLA to 10 national championships including seven in a row. He was known for his principled leadership, meticulous organization, and unfailing persistence.

Once, when mentoring an eager young coach who himself would go on to a hall-of-fame career, Wooden passed on his three keys to enduring success:

First: “Always have better players than anybody that you play.”

Whether it’s sports, business, or any other competitive field, you must have the right people to compete and win. Don’t settle for good-enough. Don’t tolerate performance or conduct that won’t allow you to win.

Second: “Always get those better players to put the team above themselves.”

There’s an old coaching adage: the best players don’t necessarily make the best team, but the best team usually wins. When people are willing to sacrifice for the team, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Third: “Always practice simplicity with constant repetition.”

It’s not always about having a brilliant strategy. It’s about uncompromising execution.

Did you notice the common thread in Wooden’s three keys?


Doing the right things with ruthless consistency.

That’s the secret to enduring success.

Your thoughts?


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 Sunday, Oct 16, 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 Sunday, Oct 2, 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?



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