Finding the Sweet Spot in Strategy Execution

Do you often feel you are banging your head against the wall, crafting corporate strategies that aren’t embraced and executed as you feel they should be?

Well, sometimes there are things you just have to get your head around, whether you want to or not.

Harvard Business Review published an article entitled Great Corporate Strategies Thrive on the Right Amount of Tension, and they let you know right up front that strict compliance with your carefully crafted strategy doesn’t always correlate directly to performance. What you need is just the right amount of strategic stress between the deliberate execution of your plans and the responsive actions you take to emerging issues.

This thing called strategic stress, according to the authors, is characterized by three zones:

  • Strategic Burnout (too much strategic stress) – usually caused by such things as too much autonomy, unrealistic strategic plans and/or unexpected market dynamics.
  • Strategic Boredom (not enough strategic stress) – causing complacency which may, in turn, lead to rigid execution of the strategy and being blind to emerging risks or opportunities.
  • Strategic Sweet Spot (just the right amount of strategic stress) – which is characterized by a sufficient balance between alignment and nonconformity.

Perhaps it is true after all that we learned everything we need to know in kindergarten, and Goldilocks might have taught this lesson. To stay alert and responsive you need the right amount of tension between compliance and autonomy – not too much, and not too little.

To read the full article, you can go to

The Real Value of Talent Management

Are you very clear on the impact talent management has on your bottom line? Or do you feel it is a bit fuzzy, and not really worth a significant investment?

Well, just in time to help take this important, but often undervalued business practice out of the dark corners, McKinsey & Company have published the results of a new global survey in an article entitled Winning with Your Talent-Management Strategy. In their words – organizations with effective talent-management programs have a better chance than other companies of outperforming competitors and, among publically owned companies, are likelier to outpace their peers’ returns to shareholders.

Through this survey, McKinsey was also able to identify three common practices that had a significant impact on the effectiveness of talent management as well as organizational performance:

  • Rapid allocation of talent – this is facilitated by effectively deploying talent based on skills needed, ensuring executive team involvement in talent management, and having employees work in small, cross-functional teams.
  • HR’s involvement in fostering a positive employee experience – key to this practice is having an agile HR operating model, as well as an ability to deploy talent and skills in a way that supports the organization’s overall strategy.
  • A strategically minded HR team – simply put, this is an HR team with a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s strategy and business priorities.

If you haven’t done so already, it is time to really come to terms with the importance of effective talent management. This article can help.

To read the full article, you can go to

The Smart Leader’s Checklist

As a new CEO, could you use a transition checklist to help ensure you are making all the right moves? As a leader at any stage, would you like to have a look at that list too?

As a leader, new or otherwise, one of the greatest gifts you can receive is sage advice from a wise mentor. Imagine your luck, if someone would take the time to write you a letter with a 10-point checklist of tips, gathered over many years of experience as well as interviews with leading CEOs and chairmen from around the world.

Well, it’s your lucky day! Published in the McKinsey Quarterly is a Letter to a Newly Appointed CEO, written by their former managing director Ian Davis. It is written for a new CEO, but it is valuable to all leaders who believe in self-reflection and lifelong learning.

Here is a small sample of the advice offered:

Context is critical – you must be keenly observant both internally and externally, and remember that what worked in one context doesn’t necessarily transfer well to another.

Don’t just surround yourself with people you are comfortable with – it is important to have a bit of grit to reduce decision making bias and risk.

Make mindful choices – rather than letting circumstance or your staff determine your priorities.

Get objective, balanced feedback and information – find some room and time for mavericks and talking to your frontline staff.

I feel strongly that you will find several, if not all, of these ten pieces of advice extremely valuable.

To read the full article, you can go to

Really Understanding the Power of Listening

Do you truly understand, and believe, the value good listening can have in the success of your business, and the performance of each and every employee?

Listening has been studied for decades, but Harvard Business Review recently published a very interesting review of research entitled The Power of Listening in Helping People Change. They begin with the discovery that performance feedback, both positive and negative, can actually cause performance to decline. This led the authors to explore whether a different approach, asking questions and listening, could create a different outcome. Their premise was feedback is telling employees that they need to change, whereas listening and asking questions might make them want to change.

What they learned was that listening seems to make an employee less anxious, more self-aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect in a non-defensive manner. Basically, in a feedback conversation, listening to employees talk about their own experiences first can make the whole process more productive because they feel psychologically safe and less defensive.

Of course there are reasons managers don’t listen as they should, and a few of them are presented in this article. They include loss of power, the fact listening consumes time and effort, and fear of change. These are each well described and really do provide some food for thought.

I hope you will take a few minutes to read this article, including the tips for becoming a better listener offered at the end. You will have heard the list before, but you might not have really listened.

To read the full article, you can go to

Stall Points: Most Companies Stop Growing, Yours Doesn’t Have To

What are stall points?

According to a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, a “stall point” is the moment in time that best represents a downturn in corporate revenue growth. As it turns out, of the Fortune 100 companies who have failed since 1955, only 13% can point to uncontrollable factors as the cause of their stall. The remaining 87% should have seen their stall coming, and done something about it.

What Happens When you Assume?

How do stall points happen? How did we not see them coming? The reality in most organizations is that mental models take hold. The longer these models go unchallenged, the more rigid they become. Organizations develop an unrealistic view of the world, and this “filtering” causes the organization to misread changes in their environment, and ultimately to stall.

To avoid stalling, therefore, organizations must keep a close watch on key strategic factors, including key customer dependency and strategic diffusion, as well as organizational factors including talent bench shortfalls, organizational design and incorrect performance metrics.

Against All Odds

There is no question – the odds are against you. In the study of companies on the Fortune 100, it turns out only 13% of companies will avoid stall points all together. The other 87% aren’t so lucky. Of that 87%, only 11% will actually pull out of a stall point, and return to significant growth. That means that an overwhelming 76% will stall, and never recover. The key to being at least somewhere in the top 24% is to constantly challenge your organization’s mental models, and develop a series of long-term projections that include a number of contingency plans to help you in the event that the gauges on the dashboard start to act up.

Keys to Reversing a Stall Induced Free Fall

Re-orient the plane – Getting control of your organization is key. This involves remarkable levels of communication. Everyone has to know exactly where they’re headed, and fast – even if it’s down. Alignment is critical.

Power-up – It takes a tremendous amount of energy to turn an organization around. The leader can’t do it alone. Everyone has to know what their role in the turnaround is, and they had better get on it.

Adjust the trim – Keep your eyes on the gauges. Once the organization is moving back in the right direction, be vigilant in your monitoring. Otherwise, history will repeat itself – and you might not be as lucky next time.

Re-plot the course – With the stall point in the rear-view mirror, you must refresh the organization’s view of its true business environment, by removing the out dated mental models and inward focus that caused the stall in the first place.

Leading the Clevers

Clever people are famous fast. Their impact is more profound and spreads more quickly than ever before. The global economy amplifies their influence.

Being clever isn’t just about being smart. While in many cases your organization’s most clever people may also be on the smarter end of the IQ scale, there are many other components to be on the lookout for. Not only do clever people add value, they seek it out. Clever people are always looking for new and exciting things. They are self-motivated, and this is one of their key differentiators.

What Clevers Want

Clever people need to work in clever environments and, if possible, for a clever boss. They respond to expertise, not hierarchy, and that is something mangers and leaders have to understand. For this reason, your position alone isn’t going to get you anywhere with clever people. In the end, though, this leads to a two-fold benefit to having a Clever-friendly culture – you get innovative and creative thinkers, and your managers must constantly develop themselves in order to keep one step ahead of the Clevers.

Another cultural expectation Clevers have is freedom. At Google, a Clever-haven, their corporate culture has been developed in a way that enables Clevers to spend a percentage of their time working on anything that is of personal interest to them. This freedom fulfills a fundamental need in the Clever and, therefore, results in a greater ability to focus on other corporate driven initiatives.

Leading Clever People

Herding cats may seem like a perfect analogy for Clevers. The immediate picture is a room full of self-absorbed, creative thinkers with high ambition.

As a manager, it may seem virtually impossible to approach them, let alone lead them. However, they, as with all other people, are just that – people, and they need you.

In terms of specifics, the first thing they need is context setting. Clever people may have a great ability to solve a problem, but leaders must be willing to spend time ensuring that the Clevers understand the context in which to solve the problem. In other words, tell them the What and the Why of the problem, let them come up with the How.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, is the fact that Clevers need rewards and recognition for their accomplishments. While they may be self-motivated in terms of picking up the next project, they need the satisfaction of knowing that they impressed you, and that you value their contribution.

Bottom line – take of your Clevers, and they will delight you.


Igniting Champions
Embracing New Mindsets
Become an Influencer
How the Mighty Fall
Managing Mental Models
the beacon group …
why CEO’s fail
thoughts on thinking
this idea must die
“I don’t know!”
leading a winning team
Opportunity Sensing
Faint Signals Matter
It’s About Choices
The Coach as Leader
Opening Our Minds
The Human Dynamic
Caution or Courage?
The Evil of Compromise
Karaoke Capitalism
Lies We Tell Ourselves
Shifting Relationships
Mastering Complexity
Breakthrough Strategy
Early Warning Systems
Banishing Dependence
Book Launch Party
Navigating the Future
Disciplined Thinking
No Time to Waste
leading to the future
Mastering Pivot Points