10 Steps to Productive Meetings

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Meeting Overload

If you’ve ever watched an episode of NBC’s “The Office” you know exactly what unproductive meetings look like. The tragic news is many real world meetings too closely resemble a fictional Michael Scott get together. Stories of “death by meeting” are a well represented part of corporate folklore for good reason – unplanned, unnecessary, uninspired, or otherwise unproductive meetings are a colossal waste of time and resources. In today’s post I’ll provide you with 10 steps to creating meetings that produce real results.

Over the years I’ve found that you can tell quite a bit about a person by how many meetings they call or attend. I have consistently found the most productive people call very few meetings, and likewise they rarely attend meetings where their presence isn’t absolutely necessary. Whether meetings are held at the board, executive, management or staff levels, or whether they are small project related meetings or large company-wide meetings, the same basic principles apply to making meetings effective.

Early in my career I worked for a company where the CEO loved to have meetings. Meetings were held ad-nauseum about virtually every topic under the sun. Mostly we held meetings for the sake of meetings for one reason: Our CEO was a poor leader who couldn’t make decisions. Regrettably these meetings rarely resulted in anything being accomplished. Because the meetings were poorly conceived and poorly facilitated, it turned out that most meetings just ended-up being rehashing sessions for the subjects not resolved in prior meetings – a theme most of you are probably all too familiar with.

Unproductive meetings not only serve little purpose, but they waste one of the most precious resources that a company has…time. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to take its top talent away from productive activities and sequester them away for a mind-numbing babble session. Bad meetings are not only a productivity drain, but they also can cause a decline in morale and a lack of confidence in leadership.

I recently read a brilliant Kindle book entitled: Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli (@Pittampalli on Twitter)- I highly recommend this book. Al’s book is a fast read that absolutely nails the problem with most meetings, which is: “most meetings delay decisions rather than enable them.” The following excerpt is representative of what you’ll find between the covers of Al’s book:

Q: “What if I end up making a decision that not everyone agrees with?”
A: “Congratulations are in order. You’re a leader.”

The simple truth of the matter is that most meetings are not productive – they kill productivity. If leaders would spend more time leading and less time presiding over useless meetings the world would be a better place. The reality is that there is no excuse for holding a non-productive meeting. I won’t attend a meeting unless it is a good use of my time.  You won’t see my smiling face in attendance at a meeting unless I know why the meeting is being called, who’s going to be in attendance, what the objectives (preferably hard deliverables) are for the meeting, and unless an agenda has been circulated in advance of the meeting allowing for proper preparation.

A leaders role in a meeting is absolutely critical. A meeting isn’t an excuse to pontificate from the bully-pulpit, but to listen, extract information and gather intelligence. A leaders role is not to be right and to try and convince attendees they should be in agreement, but to seek the right outcome regardless of whether dissenting opinions exist. Once everyone in attendance is aligned around the expected outcome for a meeting, the leader’s role should quickly transition into observation and facilitation mode (mediation mode only if necessary). Again, the end game is to make decisions, which drive actions that are in alignment with the desired outcomes – it’s just not that hard…

While Al’s book calls for a meeting revolution, the truth of the matter is that meetings are not going to disappear, so rather than call for an end to meetings, let’s focus on how to make them productive. I’ve led meetings according to a standard for a number of years now based on 10 simple rules. Following is a more detailed breakdown of Myatt’s 10 rules for productive meetings:

  1. Culture: Create a culture where meetings are the exception and not the rule. When meetings are a rare occurrence the laws of scarcity will apply causing them to be valued as a highest and best use activity and not a nuisance. 80% of meetings never need to take place, so invest your energy in the 20% that do. If leadership doesn’t adhere to this standard then it will be impossible for the rest of the company to do so.
  2. Purpose: Some meetings are strategic and some are tactical – know the difference and don’t confuse the two. Remember, the purpose of a meeting is to create solutions – not problems, and to alleviate frustration  – not cause it. This only happens through some form of value creation, and value is created by action. Meetings should not be held to report things, but to do things. Discussing a problem only adds value if the discussion leads to solving the problem. Hoping for an opportunity is not the same thing as creating one. Ideating is not innovating. The bottom line is meetings that don’t drive action are useless – no exceptions. (see deliverables below).
  3. Scheduling: I’m not a big fan of impromptu meetings (I refer to these as “drive-bys”). Creativity and innovation are stimulated by structure, not stifled by it. If the subject is worth addressing, it is worth planning for and preparation takes time. A detailed agenda for a meeting should be circulated in advance to all attendees so that they have time to prepare to make a valuable contribution. Lastly, all meetings need to have a start time and an end-time. Don’t abuse other people’s time and expect them to appreciate you for it.
  4. Deliverables: If the objectives for the meeting are not clearly articulated as a defined set of deliverables your meeting is not worth having. The purpose of a meeting is to accomplish something, and you can’t accomplish something if that something is vague, ambiguous, ethereal or has not been defined to begin with. Set individual and collective expectations ahead of the meeting. Remember, the richness of meetings can be correlated in direct proportion to the amount of work done prior to the meeting.
  5. Mindset: Meetings must have a relaxed, non-intimidating, and professional atmosphere. If candor and trust aren’t fostered within a framework of accountability, no amount of talking will overcome the tension and animosity always lingering just beneath the surface.  Again, the purpose of a meeting is to be productive – to actually accomplish something. Leave the political correctness at the door. Meetings aren’t for coddling, and neither should they resemble a dance contest. Meetings must be challenging, welcome dissenting opinions, and encourage candid discourse. If people know that they are valued, respected and won’t be publicly embarrassed they will come prepared to deliver.
  6. Attendees: Too may people equals a circus and not a meeting. Other than a shareholder meeting, Christmas Party, an organizational (department, division, or company wide) gathering, or other special event, meetings should be limited to 10 or fewer attendees. Not everyone can or should attend a meeting, and far too many people receive invitations to meetings for no other reason than to appease their fragile egos. Don’t invite people to a meeting who have nothing to contribute, and don’t hold a meeting unless the key contributors can be in attendance. If a key person is not able to attend the meeting, reschedule for a time when they can be in attendance. If you’re coming to a meeting not prepared to make a valuable contribution why are you coming?
  7. Leadership: Someone must be in charge of the meeting. All meetings should have a meeting chair who’s responsible for keeping the meeting on point, on schedule and achieving the meeting objectives. Bad meetings are a result of bad leadership.
  8. Focus: Blackberrys, iPhones, and other PDA’s need to be turned-off. Nothing can be accomplished when people are not giving 100% focused attention to the issue at hand. If a meeting is important enough to attend, it should demand the participant’s full attention.
  9. Location: Don’t fall into the trap of going off-site unless it is absolutely necessary. Off-site meetings are expensive not only in terms of the hard dollars spent on facilities, but also in terms of the commute time to and from the meeting. You should have the discipline to use your facilities in an uninterrupted fashion. Make it known that meetings are not to be interrupted unless it is an emergency (an “emergency” needs to be defined as both urgent and important).
  10. Assess and Evaluate: The meeting chair should conduct a critical post-meeting analyses to determine what went well, what went wrong, were the right people in attendance, were the people prepared, were the deliverables met, etc. The bottom line is that companies that have great meetings have great meetings for a reason…they work on it.

It’s your time, and if you choose to spend it in meetings, make sure you spend it wisely….Please share your thoughts and observations in the comments below. Bonus points for those willing to share their “worst meeting ever” story…

10 Steps to Creating a Talent Advantage

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Creating a talent advantage begins with smart hiring. That said, it never ceases to amaze me at the number of people who are charged with hiring who possess absolutely no skill at doing so. While I rarely meet a CEO who is completely comfortable with the administration of the hiring process, most of them still seem to accept the status quo…”Who should do the hiring?” is a question more CEOs should spend time pondering. Here’s the thing; Anyone can make a hire, but not all hires are good hires. Smart leaders do more than just hire smart people – they have a smart hiring process and/or methodology. In today’s post I’ll share my philosophy on the best way to insure you hire tier-one talent.

Put simply; talent matters. The problem is that very few people actually possess the talent to identify talent. Identifying and recruiting talent requires much more than screening a resume and having a set of standard interviewing questions to guide you. There are issues of values, vision, culture, context etc., which need to be creatively and intuitively addressed in the hiring process. Sadly, it’s these areas that often go overlooked because the wrong person is evaluating talent.

Further complicating matters, is just because someone has succeeded in the past doesn’t mean they’ll be a success for your company. Likewise, just because someone has failed in a previous position doesn’t mean they might not end-up being a top performer for your company. Assessing talent is in fact a talent… Adding even more complexity to the hiring process is that not all those capable of identifying talent are capable of recruiting the talent by sealing the deal…Think about it, does the person in charge of your hiring process have the experience and charisma to convince a top performer at another company to take a pay cut to work for your company?

While CEO’s can’t personally be in charge of recruiting, it’s important to realize CEOs still own responsibility for the outcome – the buck always stops at the desk of the chief executive. No matter the size of your enterprise, I don’t believe recruiting should be the sole domain of HR (other than for lower level positions). Rather in most instances, I believe HR should be a part of the hiring team. The following commentary came from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft when he was asked about his philosophy on hiring:

“I did all the hiring myself for a long time. No one joined Microsoft without my interviewing them and liking them. I made every offer, decided how much to pay them and closed the deals. I can’t do that anymore, but I still invest a significant amount of time in insuring that we’re recruiting the best people. You may have technology or a product that gives you an edge, but your people determine whether you develop the next winning technology or product.”

I tend to be similar in positioning to Steve in that I believe one of the highest and best uses of time is to make sure we attract the best talent for our company and our client companies. I believe C-level executives can’t afford not to keep their hands in the talent function at some level. In order to ensure you make the best hiring decisions possible, I would strongly recommend you follow the practices listed below:

  1. Definition: Make sure you know exactly what you are looking for, both in terms of the job description, and the profile of the individual most likely to be successful in that role. If you can’t define what you’re looking for, you shouldn’t be looking.
  2. Timing: There is wisdom in the old axiom “hire slow and fire fast.” Don’t panic and end-up making a regrettable hire out of perceived desperation. Give yourself plenty of runway. You’ll be much better-off taking your time and making a good hire rather than using the ready, fire, aim methodology and end-up terming the new hire before they eclipse their probationary period.
  3. ABH: Always Be Hiring…Never let your organization be put behind the talent 8-ball, as great talent is rarely available on a moment’s notice. In the world of professional sports the search for talent often starts during the middle-school years, which is long before the potential talent being tracked by the scouts has matured. Your organization should always be on the look-out for great talent whether that talent is still in graduate school, in the military, working for competitors, or working outside the industry. Some of the best hires I’ve made over the years were executives that I spent months, and in some cases, years developing relationships with.
  4. Identify Your Talent Scout: Look for and identify the person within your organization that has the best nose for talent. Regardless of what position this person holds, get them involved in the process. If you don’t have a natural talent scout internally, seek outside assistance in the form of a consultant. Don’t turn your talent scout into just another corporate bottleneck, rather give them leverage by having them collaborate with outside recruiters. Outsourced recruiting is very effective and affordable if managed properly.
  5. Team Based Hiring: While I’m not generally in favor of management by committee, hiring based upon a team approach works very well. In a perfect world, a hiring team would consist of your HR manager (compliance), your internal and external talent scout (the gut-check), the direct supervisor over the position being hired for (competency, capability, and compatibility) and the senior executive who is the best at selling your organization (the closer). Hiring in a team based fashion eliminates many of the typical mistakes that can be made in the hiring process.
  6. Values Based Hiring: You can either spend time finding employees who share your organization’s values, or deal with the brain damage of managing conflicts that arise due to opposing values. Smart companies focus on the former and not the latter. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to get talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential…they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision. Trust me when I tell you that compromises in this area which seem insignificant during the interview process will become visibly and materially significant down the road.
  7. Hire Leaders: I have a basic premise when it comes to hiring – most companies get exactly what they deserve. When companies complain about a lack of leadership, or how difficult it is to identify leaders, my question is simply this: Why didn’t you hire a leader to begin with? Sure, leadership can be learned, but not everyone is willing to learn, and even if they are, education takes time and has a very real cost. Let me be clear, I’m not knocking leadership development initiatives – there is no perfect leader, and all leaders need to focus on development. What I am saying is that development of an existing leader is faster, easier, and more effective than creating a leader.
  8. Cultural Fit: Culture matters – forget this and all other efforts with regard to talent initiatives will be dysfunctional, if not lost altogether. Don’t allow your culture to evolve be default, create it by design. The first step in cultural design is to be very, very careful who you let through the front door. People, their traits, attitudes, and work ethic (or lack thereof) are contagions. This can be positive or negative – the choice is yours. The old saying, “talent begets talent” is true.
  9. Pay for Talent: I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve witnessed companies pass over the right hire, or worse yet, not even look for the right hire because they let self-imposed financial constraints serve as a barrier precluding sound decisioning. I’ve actually personally observed HR managers filter better qualified candidates because they were a few thousand dollars outside the “top-end” of the salary range. It is precisely this type of thinking that will keep a company from being competitive in the market. To put it bluntly, you get what you pay for…Real talent produces real results, and is worth the investment. Always hire up where possible…find the right talent and then do what it takes to secure the services of said talent. You cannot afford not to invest in talent.
  10. Constantly Upgrade: You can hire the best talent in the world, but remember that “best” is a subjective evaluation largely measured within the context of a snapshot in time. Obsolescence can take root in anyone if growth and development are not focus points. Development needs to occur at every echelon of the workforce  – the top, middle, and bottom performance tiers. Top performers need to be stretched, mid-tier performers need to be challenged to up their game, and you should always look to upgrade the bottom 20% of your workforce. This can be done through training and development or via new hires. You need to ask yourself the following question: Who are the least productive members of your team? Why? Coach them to productivity or replace them – there is no third option.

Hiring is a blend of art and science. The reality is that those organizations that identify, recruit, deploy, develop and retain the best talent will be the companies who thrive in the market place. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback below…

The Downside of Passion

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Review any list of positive leadership traits and “passion” will undoubtedly rank near the top – rightly so. In most cases passion is an asset capable of carrying you through tough times, sharpening your perspective, revealing purpose, and helping you succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. You’ll find no shortage of content describing the positive attributes of passion, but few that examine the downside of passion, and trust me, there is a downside. On more than a few occasions I’ve witnessed passion run amok resulting in untold harm. Virtually any positive trait when taken to extremes, misunderstood and/or misapplied can quickly become a liability. So, in today’s post I’ll examine the downside of unbridled passion…

The word “passion” comes from the Latin root which quite literally means “to suffer.” Therefore it should come as no surprise that those who are passionate in their pursuits are often willing to make personal and professional sacrifices in order to reach their objectives that the unimpassioned simply won’t make. Channeled properly, this is a huge advantage. As a person who provides advice and counsel to leaders I can tell you I’ve rarely come across a successful person who hasn’t been truly passionate.

You’ll find no argument from me that passion can almost single-handedly propel leaders to new heights of success. History is littered with accounts of marginally talented individuals who have risen to greatness based upon little more than being passionate about the pursuit of their objective. Passion creates a “refuse to lose” mentality which can enable the average person to move outside comfort zones, take-on greater risk, go the extra mile, and achieve phenomenal results. However it’s important to note the same trait which can propel you to the top can also send you over the edge of a cliff. Passion is not aptitude, nor is it omnipotence, neither is it totally unique. These are nuances lost on many…

This is where things begin to get a little tricky – passion without perspective and/or reason can actually serve to distort one’s perception of reality. These distorted perceptions can quickly become a very slippery slope that will blur the lines between fact and fiction…very dangerous territory for any leader. Have you ever known someone who wanted something to be true so badly that they started to adopt positions and manufacture circumstances to support their own false reality? Just because you can convince yourself (or others) that your position is correct, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is…

Just as there exists a very fine line between brilliance and insanity, there also exists a fine line between passion and many negative traits such as narrow-mindedness, narcissism, fanaticism, delusion, and even paranoia. For instance, there is a big difference in a leader who is passionate about their business, and one that is emotionally over-invested in their business. Passion which is balanced by perspective and reason can reveal purpose, but passion absent those filters can just as easily impede purpose.

Healthy passion for one’s business actually brings focus and clarity of thought, which serve to accelerate growth and create sustainable success. However being emotionally over-invested in one’s business can lead to irrational decisioning, prideful or ego-driven actions, the use of flawed business logic, and poor execution. These are the regrettable and completely avoidable precursors to unnecessary loss and/or failure.

It is not at all uncommon for entrepreneurs and executives to be too close to the forest to see the trees. Passionate professionals thinking clearly will seek independent outside counsel and advice to continually gut-check and refine their thinking. Emotionally over-invested professionals will either avoid counsel or surround themselves with legions of yes-men. Another trait of healthy passionate thinking is to recruit tier-one talent at the executive leadership and senior management levels in order to stimulate innovation and thought growth. Effective leadership teams have a balance of left-brain and right-brain thinkers from a variety of backgrounds so that they can draw from the broadest possible array of experiences when formulating positions and options. Emotionally over-invested professionals tend to surround themselves with very small teams of like minded individuals from similar backgrounds who tend to reinforce each others thinking instead of challenging it.

I applaud those of you reading this post who constitute the passionate minority…I would however also counsel you to take pause and evaluate your current positioning and thinking. Are you operating in a vacuum? Do you seek advice and counsel from those who will tell you the truth, or from those who will just tell you what you want to hear? Is your passion creating clarity, focus and purpose, or is it blinding you from seeing the reality of your current situation?

As always, I welcome your thoughts, experiences and opinions and encourage you to comment below…

Leadership and Blame

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In the world of leadership where the traits of accountability and personal responsibility are so highly regarded, I have one question? What’s with all the finger pointing? One of my pet peeves is coming across leaders who think they’re always right, and that any problem or challenge that arises must clearly be the fault of someone else. Here’s the thing – as a leader, anything that happens on your watch is your responsibility whether you like it or not. This level of responsibility just goes with the territory, and leaders who cannot accept this do not deserve to lead. Last I checked we all make mistakes – I know I do. Most of us don’t look for perfection in leaders, we look for leaders who see mistakes as a chance for opportunity, growth and improvement, not an opportunity to blame shift.

Leadership isn’t about blaming others, but realizing any blame levied should rest solely upon the leader. The best leaders will only point the finger at one person – themselves. The truth of the matter is no victories are won by participating in the blame game. It’s been said, “the only thing that happens when you throw dirt is that you lose ground.” Blame doesn’t inspire, it breeds malcontent and discord. If trust is the cornerstone of leadership, then blame can only be viewed as the corrosive behavior that eats away at the foundation. Don’t be the “Teflon” leader who worries about what might stick – be the mature leader who takes the hit, deals with the issue, and moves forward with character. Lead – don’t blame…

Real leaders won’t accept credit for success, but always claim responsibility for failure. In analyzing why some leaders struggle with blame shifting I’ve concluded it usually comes down to an overabundance of pride or a lack of courage. Excuses, rationalizations, and justifications will never serve as an adequate substitute for courage and humility. Those in leadership positions who talk rather than listen, and point fingers rather than take decisive action have simply failed to lead.

We’ve all witnessed leaders who are masters of the quick draw when it comes to pointing the finger. These are also the leaders who most quickly lose the respect of those they lead. Almost nothing impugns the character of leader faster than attempting to dodge an issue rather than deal with it. The interesting thing is that distortions and deflections might seem to work in the short-term, but reality always seems to find its way home. The fastest way to make an issue fade into the background is to own it, and then do everything in your power to resolve it. Attempts to do anything else only end up amplifying the issue.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic. Should leaders point fingers and blame others, or own all the issues that occur on their watch? What say you?

Leadership is Black and White

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I was skimming through headlines on my RSS feed this past weekend when a particular title caught my eye – it simply read: “Situational Ethics.” Have we really devolved to this level of thinking? Situational Ethics – Really? If ever there was an oxymoron this is it. While this phrase seems to be getting play in some circles, my opinion is that it’s nothing more than the latest politically correct sound-bite which attempts to rationalize and justify wrong thinking and wrong behavior. Life is full of areas that benefit from flexibility, fluidity, context, and other forms of nuanced thinking, but ethics isn’t one of them. If the title of today’s post seems a bit rigid for you, I encourage you to read on and see why rigidity in certain areas can be highly productive.

Here’s the thing – leadership begins and ends with trust. Trust is built on a foundation of the constancy of your character, and if your ethics are situational, then I would submit so is your character. You cannot effectively serve those you lead if you fail to earn and keep their trust. I would challenge you to view those whom you might label as black and white not as lacking sophistication, but as possessing a clear view of right and wrong. People who display the clarity and confidence to consistently do the right thing regardless of the current situation have reached a level of leadership maturity to be applauded not mocked.

I want to be clear – situational or contextual leadership is not the same thing as applying situational ethics. The former asks a leader to adapt strategy or tactics while the latter asks the leader to adapt principle – big difference. I would suspect that those who apply situational ethics in their thinking also likely subscribe to the theory of moral relativism. They believe anything can be justified or rationalized by the need at hand, or worse yet, manipulated for a desired outcome. While some might believe this constitutes right thinking, I believe it constitutes flawed thinking. Thinking that supports a means to an end mentality is dangerous and ultimately should not be trusted.

If you pay close attention to those who practice situational ethics you find them to be masters of spin, who while often appearing to do things right, often fail to do the right thing. People who fall into this camp frequently exhibit an inconsistency in their reasoning and/or positioning. While they would describe themselves as flexible, fluid, and open-minded, my take is that their character lacks integrity and can be easily influenced. When a person allows popular opinion, or situational characteristics to either define or supersede their principles, then I suggest their character is flawed. Simply put, my contention would be that if you serve as your own moral compass, your character will only be as good or bad as your thinking at that time.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Character is higher than intellect.” I could not agree more with Emerson as virtually anyone can develop their intellect, but it is the rare person who can retain their character. Emerson clearly understood the law of scarcity in placing more value on character. The most successful business leaders of our time have built their personal brand by consistently exhibiting strong character regardless of the situation at hand. They let right thinking, right decisioning and right acting serve as their guide. If you have to manipulate the truth or compromise your values to gain an advantage, the advantage is not worth the perceived gain, for any advantage gained in deceit will surely come at a very high cost – the sacrifice of your character.

Do you have to be perfect to be a leader? Absolutely not – as much as some won’t want to hear or admit it, we all have character flaws. The thing is, character flaws don’t necessarily equate to a lack of character – this isn’t situational rationalization, it’s a fact. We all have chinks in our armor, have had lapses in character, and have at one point or another broken trust with someone. We know how it feels to hurt and be hurt. The issue is not one of perfection or flawless character, but rather understanding our flaws and working diligently to have them be the rare exception and not the rule. The real trick is to focus on issues larger than ourselves. Real leaders understand that leadership has little to do with them – they are simply role players who have a job to do. In order to do that job well they must focus on something bigger than themselves, serve those around them, and not let their ego, pride, and arrogance overshadow their humility and empathy.

Bottom line, if you want to avoid falling on your face – avoid slippery slopes. Thoughts?

Greatness & Tragedy

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Few things highlight great acts of selflessness and heroism more than tragedy. This weekend’s helicopter crash in Afghanistan was a horrific loss for the families of our fallen warriors, but also for our nation as a whole. The men who perished in the crash were in fact our nation’s best. They were courageous men who placed service above self, who went places and did things that most of us could never conceive of, and who died to protect our freedom and way of life. What I’m struggling with is whether or not as a country we are deserving of their sacrifice…

I spent a great deal of my weekend just watching people. We are a nation at war, a world in economic crisis, a planet in moral decay, and yet most people I observed just go through the motions of their daily lives seemingly void of what happens beyond the shopping malls, golf courses, and various other forms of alternate reality. I’ve been feeling for quite some time that people are disconnected from any reality that isn’t immediately visible to them, and I’m increasingly troubled by the cavalier attitudes of the those in “leadership.” Yet in times such as these there are still men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live their lives and exercise their individual freedoms. We lost some of these extraordinary men this weekend, and I hope their loss jolts us from our fog of ignorance, apathy, and naiveté.

The sad reality is that human nature adversely affects our perspective in that service is often undermined by short-sighted self interest. What most people intuitively understand, but fail to keep at the forefront of their thinking, is that our personal success and fulfillment will be much more closely tied to how we help others than what we do for ourselves…While there are many motivating factors which underpin a leader’s decisioning, nothing is intrinsically more pure, and more inspiring than the call to serve. The dedication and commitment required to be a true servant leader requires a level of personal sacrifice that can only be instilled by a passionate belief in a greater good…something beyond one’s self. As a nation we need to honor this weekend’s loss by living-up to the example set by our troops. We need to move away from self-interest and toward service. The good news is greatness overcomes tragedy, and the power of a lasting and honorable legacy can fuel greatness that spans generations.

Between ongoing military conflicts and wars, brutal acts of dictators, famines, droughts, violent flash mobs, riots, the frequency of economic calamity, and the almost daily forms of political hi-jinks and chicanery, it is impossible to view the current state of world affairs and not be troubled. Yet most people act as if nothing is wrong, and that everything will be okay. Will it? Perhaps, but of one thing I’m certain – we’ll never return to the world we knew growing up. What’s particularly troubling is that our children and grandchildren may never experience the innocence and charm of the childhoods we knew.

Other than in its creation our world has never been perfect, and we’ll likely never experience perfection going forward. That’s okay, and most of us can accept that fact. What’s difficult for me is that we live in far too dangerous times to exhibit such callous disregard for anything other than ourselves, and if we as a nation don’t wake-up to this fact we will continue to see more chaos. Our nation was built on the high cost of sacrifice by those willing to see beyond themselves, and today it is defended by such men and women. But know this – they cannot preserve ideals that we ignore, do not honor, or refuse to embrace. Hoping everything will get better is not the same thing as doing something about it.

In a time where our world is starved for those who take action on behalf others, if nothing else, let us honor those who did just that with their sacrifice this weekend. My advice is simple, don’t pretend everything is okay and ignore the examples of heroism, but rather pray for our military and their families while keeping them in the forefront of our thoughts and actions. The more we adopt a servant’s heart and a warrior’s commitment and discipline the better off we will all be. The following links will take you to just a few of the organizations’ who would gladly accept your contribution of money or service. If you cannot do either of those, at least honor our troops and their families by not forgetting what they give for you at such great cost to themselves and their loved ones.

If you want to comment or offer support to our troops and their families via this platform I’d encourage you to do so.

Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Ideas Don't Equal Innovation
I had a long conversation yesterday with a friend discussing creativity, ideas, innovation, branding and the like. As a result of our conversation, I decided to dust-off an old post, give it a few updates, and pass along my thoughts, which can be best summarized as “Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation.” It is my hope to help dispel the myth that ideas are inherently good things. Let me state right from the outset that I place little value on ideas. Not only do raw ideas have little intrinsic value, but they are often very costly. While I stipulate to the fact that ideas can sometimes lead to great things, I also submit that it is more frequently the case that ideas lead to disappointment, and even outright disaster. Those of you familiar with my work are probably wondering if it is really me authoring this text…if you’re baffled at how a champion of innovation can simultaneously be an idea-basher, I urge you to read on, and I promise the congruity will become apparent.

I want to start by actually defining what an idea is, and is not. Ideas do not constitute a philosophy, principle, or strategy. An idea is not synonymous with a competitive advantage, an idea is not necessarily a sign of creativity, an idea does not constitute innovation, and as much as some people wish it was so, an idea is certainly not a business. To the chagrin of many reading this post, ideas in and of themselves are nothing more than unrefined, random thoughts. Ideas on their own accord are really quite useless. The truth can often times be harsh and difficult to hear, but it is nonetheless the truth.

Ideas are a dime a dozen…take a moment and reflect on all the ideas you’ve spawned over the years, or the many ideas that have been birthed by your friends, family, and professional associates and you’ll quickly see that most of them never got lift-off. The problem is that most ideas never get implemented, and moreover even the best ideas when improperly implemented can cause great harm. You see, while creativity is a clearly a valuable asset, unbridled creativity where random, disparate ideas abound outside of a sound decisioning and execution framework will create distraction and chaos much more often than they will lead to innovation. The difference between an idea and innovation is execution – don’t be the “idea” person, be the innovator.

In fact, it is most often the organizations that demonstrate a “heard mentality” when rushing to adopt the latest ideas that are the farthest thing away from being innovative. The net result of being a late stage trend follower is that you will likely experience little more than yet another in a long line of great adventures that ended in frustration due to the time wasted and the investment squandered.  The reality is that many businesses are quick to recognize great ideas, but they often have no plan for how to successfully integrate them into their business model.

My advice to you is not to let your business get caught up in embracing random ideas – at least not without some initial analysis being conducted to determine the likelihood of success. Failed initiatives are costly at several levels. Aside from being costly, a flawed execution can cast doubt on management credibility, have a negative impact on morale, taint the brand, adversely affect external relationships, and cause a variety of other problems for your business.

Every sound business initiative begins with a solid strategic plan. However while most anyone can cobble together a high level strategic plan, very few can author a strategy that can be successfully implemented. In order for your enterprise to turn an idea into a monetizing and/or value creating event you should develop a strategic plan that attempts to measure the idea against the following 15 elements:

1. Framework: The idea should be generated within a solid framework for decisioning. It should be developed as a solution to a problem or to exploit an opportunity. The idea should be in alignment with the overall vision and mission of the enterprise.

2. Advantage: If the idea doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field. That said, the best initiatives don’t level the field, they tilt the field in your favor.

3. Alignment: Any new idea should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.

4. Assess: Put the idea through a risk/reward and cost/benefit analysis.

5. Simple: Whether the new idea is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must easy to use. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple.

6. Validate: Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is, and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research.

7. Contingency: Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk, that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives surrounding new ideas should include detailed risk management provisions.

8. Realistic: Adopting a new idea should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling.  New projects alway take longer and cost more than originally planned.  Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections.

9. Accountability: Any new ideas should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan, and all of this should occur in the light of day.

10. Measurable: Any new ideas being adopted must lead to measurable objectives. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.

11. Timing: It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.

12. Integrated: Ideas need to be incorporated into strategic initiatives and not constitute disparate systems. They should be incorporated into integrated solutions that eliminate redundancies, and build in tactical leverage points.

13. Evolving: Ideas should contain a road-map for versioning and evolution that is in alignment with other strategic initiatives and the overall corporate mission. No road map signals an incomplete idea and will also likely equal quick obsolescence.

14. Actionable: A successful idea cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through tactical implementation.

15. Champion: Senior leadership must champion any new idea being adopted. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new idea, it will likely die on the cutting-room floor.

The bottom line is that new ideas are beautiful things when they become solutions or lead to opportunities. Properly implemented, capitalizing on process driven creativity can keep business from stagnating and cause growth and evolution. Just follow the 15 rules above and avoid being the misguided change agent for solely for the sake of change. Thoughts?