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Category Archives: Executive Advisory

Part 2 of 2: How Narrative Drives Outcomes for Apple, and Kodak

As we discussed in Part I, narrative is important because individually and collectively, all of our outcomes are the result of our narratives – narrative drives outcomes. If the leaders of an organization want to change outcomes, they have to begin by figuring out which narratives are getting in the way, and which narratives are actually serving them in regard to helping create intended outcomes. Good leaders know that the right narrative is critical to fostering the kind of organizational development that will positively impact the bottom line.

Consider this:

Most organizations that aren’t happy with their outcomes will focus on their processes or behaviors in order to determine what they might need to do differently in order to change their outcomes. They may have a pow-wow of some kind to brainstorm ideas. They may have a retreat. They may hire a niche consultant who specializes in their industry or in the particular kinds of problems they’ve identified. They may even decide they need to reorganize.

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Part 1 of 2: What’s Your Story? How Narrative Drives Outcomes

What Drives Success?

Individually and organizationally, we are the stories we tell ourselves we are. This, more than anything else, drives individual and organizational success. While ideas, innovation and execution are important, they can only be as powerful and positive as the narrative that drives the thinking and behaviors of the collective consciousness of a company’s workforce. Yes, this definitely and especially includes the executive leadership team.

Here’s how this works:

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How the Best Stay Their Best

I rarely pass along full articles, but the recent article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker is one that got my attention and I think is worth the read. It’s about a surgeon who, despite his success in the operating room, decided he would do well to hire a well-respected, retired surgeon to watch him work and provide him with tips on how he could improve.

Athletes, politicians, musicians and celebrities who are at the top of their game regularly turn to advisors and coaches to help them with their work. Heck, I have been advising CEO’s, Admirals and organizational leaders and business owners for most of my career, yet never thought of how a surgeon could benefit from having a coach. I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with one of my newer CEO’s over breakfast.

This young CEO had hired me to advise on business strategy, organizational structure and board-related issues. We had been working together for about three months.  As we waited for the change from our bill, she turned to me and said, “You know, I’ve been a CEO for 15 years and it never occurred to me to hire an advisor. This process has been more helpful than I could have imagined. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before.”

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The Importance of Market Connection

The headlines for Netflix of late haven’t gone the way they would have hoped or anticipated. Until recently, Netflix was seeing good performance in the market and taking steps internally to reach their goals and vision. But when a company plans on and performs to the wrong market perception, results are inevitably disappointing.

As most of you probably know, the Netflix business model is subscription-based and involves DVD by mail as well as streaming video. The success of their DVD by mail business had a big impact on the fate of Blockbuster and other brick and mortar video stores. The growing popularity of streaming video, which continues to shake up the media market, has also contributed their success.

Then they raised their prices.

Then they split their business in two, and rebranded the founding part of their business (DVD by mail) as a separate business.

And their customers are not happy.

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Four Critical Elements to Mentoring Programs

Even in organizations with exemplary training programs, at some point it occurs to the senior members that those not so senior in the organization could use some mentoring.  For over twenty years various individuals have called on me to help start a mentoring program.  Being that the most recent call came from the Navy while I was vacationing, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to write down my thoughts on the subject and make it available on my website.  So, here goes…

I formally apologize to those who are fond of formal mentoring programs. By and large, in my experience, they fail to be worth the effort. There are reasons for this. Firstly, not every senior member of an organization is capable of being a good mentor. Secondly, mentors only get the title when someone who looks up to them and learns from them decides they mentored them. Contrast this to schoolteachers, who get and retain their title regardless of whether the students learn. Thirdly, while one can teach what they know even if they don’t embody that knowledge in their daily behaviors, effective mentors consistently display what they want others to learn through their own behavior, and beyond that, take the time to explain why they have found it wise to think and behave the way they do.

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Fad or Trend?

Fad or trend?  Opportunity can be found in both.  Just be sure you know the difference.

If you aren’t setting the trends, you can still create revenue opportunities by getting in at the front of the curve with fads that ride the coattails of the trends.  Fads like laptops, iPhones, texting – all generate short-term revenue, and can for years.  But a key trend associated with these fads–mobility–offers long-term revenue streams.

Line your pockets with the fads; take the trends to the bank.

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Revealing Phrases

As one who studies cultures as a professional, I pay particular attention not only to what people say, but how and why they say things.

When I begin working with a new client, I listen to how the people in the organization refer to themselves and to others.  For example, if they use the pronoun ‘we’, even if they are talking about someone who works in an unrelated department, it is a possible indicator that their company culture is fairly strong.  If, however, employees refer to other employees and other departments as ‘they’, it could indicate that there is a lack of unity in the organization.  Of course these are merely potential indicators.

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When Policies and Procedures Aren’t Enough

When organizations need to improve efficiencies and productivity, they often rely on new policies or updated procedures to meet their goals.  Unfortunately, policies and procedures alone are not enough to create the desired outcome. It is only when the people who are supposed to follow those policies and procedures learn how to do so with a common approach that efficiency and productivity soar.

I was recently flown to Hawaii to do some work for the Navy.  One of my charges during my visit was to serve Admiral Dixon Smith and Captain James Kitchens in their efforts to create Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Those who know their history will be aware that while Pearl Harbor is a Navy base, Hickam is an Air Force base.  As part of a major restructuring and downsizing of our military bases, it has been determined that these two bases will soon be run as one under Navy command.

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Mountains, Molehills, and The Value of Good Advisors

How we define our circumstances can help us either solve problems or exacerbate them.

In January of 2002, Robert McNamara, who was the Secretary of Defense for John F. Kennedy, said that the decision to enter Vietnam was based on an incorrect appraisal.

Think about it. It’s estimated that over one million people lost their lives in the Vietnam Wa—all because of an “incorrect appraisal.”

I’m not making a statement about politics or peace here. That’s not what I do. I’m simply using this example to illustrate that we as human beings assess problems and potential problems, threats and potential threats, numerous times nearly every day of our lives. We then base decisions and actions on those assessments. As a result one of two things can happen: problems get solved and threats are averted; OR we create even bigger problems—problems that can cost millions of lives, millions of dollars, or millions of jobs. Or they just make us miserable.

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So What’s A Company To Do?

While the prices of some goods and services are lower than we’ve seen them in a long time, don’t let it fool you. Doing business in today’s economy is more expensive and more treacherous than this country has seen in decades.

So what is a business to do? What most businesses are doing is the basic act of reducing overhead and the cost of goods and services. They are operating leaner and asking their people to do more with less. And, because of the high unemployment figures, most of America’s workers are working harder this year for less money.

But this kind of leaner, meaner approach to today’s economic conditions is not going to be enough. “Doing more better” will only allow you the right to keep struggling. The fact is, you can only cut so much and people can only become so productive. So what’s a business to do?

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