Business Model Architecture

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Business Model Architecture
I never cease to be amazed at how many times I receive a “deer in the headlights” stare when I mention the topic of business model architecture to even the savviest of senior executives. While most C-level execs have a general idea of what I’m referring to, it is also quite clear that most can’t even begin to define it, much less articulate the specific constructs of a sound business model. In today’s post I’ll attempt to define what a business model is, and what it is not…

If I decide to peel back the layers, and dig a bit deeper in my attempts at having execs define a business model, what I typically find is that they will confuse business logic and business rules as being a business model when they are simply components thereof. Also, a common response is to confuse a sales engine, fulfillment process, operational process, technology platform, or any number of other areas as business models, where this is not the case. Furthermore, a business plan, strategic plan, marketing plan, capital formation plan, exit plan, etc., are also not business models. My observations over the years simply lead me to draw no other conclusion than there exists a fundamental misunderstanding about what a business model is, about the value they afford, and about the absolute need to have one.

So, since we’ve discussed what a business model is not, let’s now address what it is…A business model is a completely integrated system that aligns core logic, business rules, value propositions, talent and resources, and operational processes in order to catalyze growth in assets (financial and non-financial), competencies, and constituencies, toward the creation of value. Business models must be designed with great care at the outset, but they must also be fluid in order to react to changing market conditions and avoid becoming stagnant. A specific example of this would be that while a company’s business plan may not change for a number of years, the company’s business model consistently evolve, or may even need to be reengineered to insure the execution of its business plan.

Put rather simplistically, a business model is the system that defines what creates value, generates growth, and increases revenue and profit within your organization. The primary advantage that a business model has over any number of other strategic frameworks lies in the fluidity of its inherently dynamic nature. Rather than binding the enterprise to a rigid set of static operating principles and procedures, the elasticity and flexibility of a well defined business model allows the organization to influence necessary inflection points and key business drivers in a real-time manner.

The bottom line in regard to today’s thoughts on business modeling can be summed up in the following three points: 1.) if you cannot define your business model, then you likely don’t have one. 2.) if you don’t have one, create one, and; 3.) if you have one and it isn’t working, you have a flawed business model in need of immediate reengineering.

Play To Win

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Playing to Win
Today’s message is not likely to please the politically correct, nor will it mollycoddle the timid. I’m not going to address competing or playing nicely, rather I’m going to deal very bluntly with the topic of winning. Want to succeed? It’s easier than you might think…just don’t quit. Strip away the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications, and the only thing standing between you and the attainment of your objectives is what you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror each morning. In today’s post I’ll examine the benefits of playing to win…

How quickly time passes…in only a matter of a few weeks we’ll close out the first 3 months of 2010. So I have a few questions for you: Are you on pace to meet your objectives? Will you be carrying positive momentum into Q2, or will you be playing catch-up from the get go? If you think Q1 passed quickly, it won’t be long before you’re feeling the same way about Q2. Did you just show up the last few months, or did you play to win?

I’m a big fan of the Die Hard movies, and the one thing you have to admire about the main character, detective John McClain (played by Bruce Willis), is that regardless of the obstacles he encounters, he just won’t quit. Granted, the aforementioned example of determination against all odds comes from a fictional character, but the fact of the matter is that successful people play to win. They don’t indulge themselves in half-hearted attempts destined for failure, rather they choose to focus all their efforts and energies on accomplishing their mission. 

My first football coach used to say: “Don’t even bother showing up if you’re not going to play to win…” Mind you I tend to be a bit competitive, but even so, that phrase has stuck with me my entire life. I don’t often bother with taking on an endeavor unless I plan to accomplish the task at hand, and that means not quitting until I meet the objective. It is that “refuse to lose” and “never say die” attitude that I picked-up on the playing field, and had further reinforced during my time in the military that provides me with a competitive advantage.

I have found that dedication, determination, attention to detail, commitment, and focus are the traits that have been most valuable to me throughout the years, and are therefore the strengths that I tend to play to. The good news is this…if you examine the aforementioned traits you’ll quickly see that I possess no special skill, and I have no secret tricks up my sleeve. Rather the things that have allowed me to serve my clients well, are things that anyone can harness and leverage if they possess one thing…the desire to do so.

I could certainly paint a more complex picture of what it takes to be successful by citing esoteric management theories, but the truth of the matter is that I just don’t quit until I get the job done. I don’t spend my time complaining about the challenges and obstacles, rather I spend my time solving problems and creating solutions. If my objective is to get to the other side of the wall, I don’t really care if I go over the wall, under the wall, around the wall or through the wall…I just care that I get to the other side. While I might spend a bit of time evaluating the most efficient strategy for getting to the other side of said wall, it will ultimately be my focus on the tactical execution of conquering the challenge that will determine my success. A bias toward action is always a better path than falling prey to analysis paralysis.

I once played an entire half of a football game with a broken ankle, early on in my first entrepreneurial venture I found myself at a critical nexus and chose to liquidate personal assets to meet payroll, I’ve gone as many as 4 days in a row without sleeping to stay the course and solve a critical issue, I’ve led teams to achieve things that others said couldn’t be accomplished, I’ve kept my family a priority being happily married for more than 25 years and having raised two wonderful children, and the list could go on…My point in describing these actions is not to pat myself on the back for anyone could have done these things, but the reality is that most people don’t. They choose to accept defeat…they don’t play to win…They aren’t willing to do what it takes to be successful…They quit. 

Quitting is a temptation that all of us are consistently confronted with. The reason that so many people become a casualty of giving up, is because they can. Put simply, quitting is one of the easiest things to do in life. If you take your eye off the ball, even if only momentarily, that’s all it takes for most people to throw in the towel is a tinge of anger, humiliation, panic, rejection, stress, frustration, hurt, pain, jealousy, sorrow or anguish. Look back on your live, or the lives of others, and you’ll find numerous instances of people who took the easy way out and just quit.

Upon further examination, you’ll also find that the people who have succeeded in life are those people who displayed the grit and fortitude to stay the course. They are the ones who possess the desire and will to overcome whatever challenges and barriers that happen to be placed in their path.

My message to you as we enter Q2 is simply this: Play to win…Don’t compromise your values, define your vision, refine your mission, architect your strategy, identify your objectives, set your goals, implement your tactics and engage in willful, purposeful action. Stay focused and do not quit until you’ve met your objectives…

In Support of Strategy

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In Support of Strategy
What’s with all the “strategy bashing” of late? How could sound strategic planning possibly be a bad thing? Things have spun so far out of control that I recently had a CEO ask: “Is strategy still relevant in today’s business world, and if so, what role does strategy play in the overall make-up of a CEO’s duties and responsibilities? Let me begin by stating that strategy has never been more relevant than it is today. With all of the current emphasis on tactical execution I guess I understand how a question like this could be posed, but wow, what a sad commentary on the state of executive leadership when a CEO asks whether or not strategy is relevant. In today’s post I’ll examine the role of strategy in business, as well as the CEO’s responsibilities therein…

Let me be as blunt as I can – The issue should not be strategy vs tactics, but strategy and tactics. While separate functions and disciplines, one cannot prosper without the other. Strategy is what provides the tactical road-map, and it is tactical execution that validates and delivers strategy. The noise attempting to lift one up above the other is simply more unneeded rhetoric. The best strategy cannot succeed without tactical execution, and tactical execution is much easier to achieve with the clarity provided by a sound strategy.

With all of today’s emphasis on pleasing investors by meeting short-term financial expectations, it is not at all uncommon for many executives to press for better execution when what they really need is a better strategy. Conversely, other executives change strategic direction when what they should do is demand better execution. The truth of the matter is that a sound strategic plan can be executed with a high probability of success, whereas a flawed strategy is almost impossible to execute profitably.

The emphasis for CEOs needs to be on creating long-term sustainable value for shareholders without sacrificing short-term tactical interests. While in most cases a sound strategy will allow a CEO to have his/her cake and eat it too, if you must sacrifice one over the other, you would be well served to place long-term interests above short-term objectives. History has shown us on many occasions that it is quite possible to win the battle and lose the war. CEOs must learn to fight the battles that need to be won, and not just the ones that are easy to win.

Please read the following statements very carefully…The CEO is often times the chief architect of corporate strategy, and has the ultimate responsibility for assuring the delivery of a strategy, which is consistent with the corporate values and vision. One of the primary duties of the CEO is to communicate, evangelize, and lead the company in the implementation of the corporate strategy. Absent an over abundance of blind luck, a company’s strategic planning process will be critical in the eventual success or failure of the enterprise. CEOs must view themselves as being completely accountable and responsible for the corporate strategy, regardless of whether they were the original architect.

While executives must learn to view strategy and execution as being inextricably linked, they also must come to understand that strategy should always drive tactics. The tendency for some CEOs to let tactics determine the strategy is the classic example of reactive vs. proactive leadership. It also represents a great illustration of letting the tail wag the dog. A lack of strategic focus in dictating tactical initiatives is a ready-fire-aim approach to leadership and will result in higher costs, a perpetual state of chaos, and places a higher emphasis on activity vs. productivity.

There is so much focus on execution these days that it is not uncommon for me to receive a few e-mails each week with headlines that read: “Screw Strategy” or “Tactics before Strategy.” While I’m all for exploiting trends, and I appreciate a good marketing hook as much as the next person, these e-mails from so-called business experts can be both misleading and dangerous to those readers who don’t possess the savvy to understand that they are just being pitched on a product and not being given sound counsel.

As much as some of my direct marketing friends wish it weren’t so, there are certain inevitable truths that do exist in business. Listen, I have no problem with creating velocity and leverage, but as fluid as business is today, most of the “short-cuts to success” being marketed today constitute form over substance. You see business is much like an algebraic formula, in that while there are certainly formulaic short-cuts that can be taken to solve an equation more quickly, the one thing that will provide an incorrect solution 11 times out of 10 is when the order of operation is skewed.

The following visual is one I developed more than 20 years ago, and the interesting thing is that it’s applicationally as sound today as it was back in 1988. The orange horizontal line that cuts the image in half is what I refer to as the leadership line. When working above the leadership line you are working “on the business in a true leadership capacity, and when working below the line you are working “in” the business in more of a management capacity.  While all good leaders spend time on both sides of the line, the most effective leaders spend as much time working above the line as possible. Follow this methodology and the ambiguity surrounding the “why” and “where” to spend your time will start to clear itself up. 

Leading Above The Line

For those of you familiar with my work, you’ll see that I have consistently espoused that a bias toward action and tactical precision are essential to achieving sustainable success. However, I am also clear in my belief that misguided and ill-timed/advised tactics can also create huge problems for any business. The bottom line is that strategy matters, and that as a CEO, strategy is your responsibility. The challenges associated with leading corporate strategy initiatives are not easy, but neither is the burden of leadership. If you’re not up to task at hand you don’t deserve the title of CEO…it is harsh but true.

Social Media Expert or Wannabe

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Social Media Expert or WannabeDetermining whether someone is a social media expert or a just another wannabe can be a difficult task for the typical consumer. There is a tremendous amount of noise out there being created by a plethora of “consultants” professing expertise in what I refer to as the new social sciences: personal branding, social networking, social media marketing, etc. I just did a Google search for the term social media expert and had more than 96 million returned search results…give me a break. So my question is this: what constitutes a “social media expert,” and how do you tell the posers from the players? Which of these professed miracle workers are true professionals, and which ones are simply attempting to gravy-train a rapidly growing market niche in pursuit of a quick buck?

Let me begin by dispelling a popular myth oft espoused online – It seems to be fashionable of late to state that there is no such thing as a social media expert. The thinking (albeit flawed thinking) of those who hold this opinion is that social media is so new, and so rapidly evolving, that there simply could not be any real experts.

My answer? Ridiculous…Every industry has experts regardless of maturity of life-cycle. In fact, many of the real innovators and experts are those early adopters doing the heavy lifting and the ground breaking. There are experts in every industry and at every stage of maturation. Some early experts mature as the industry grows, and others fall by the way side because they don’t keep pace giving way to new generations of innovators building on what the first generation of experts created. The issue is not whether experts exist, as they most certainly do. The issue is finding them among the hordes of pretenders and wannabes.   

I’m going to cut right to the chase and give you six things to beware of when attempting to discern the true professional advisers capable of delivering a certainty of execution, from the rogues and scoundrels simply looking to separate you from your money:

  1. Beware the Part-Time Expert: My father has an old saying that I’ve found to be very accurate over the years: “part-time efforts, yield part-time results.” If the person seeking your business has a day job that constitutes something other than the services he or she is pitching, run for the hills. If your potential advisor is moonlighting then they really have no business asking for your business.
  2. Beware the Shoemaker without Shoes: Your position should be one of “don’t tell me…show me.” If your would-be social media guru cannot be found online, doesn’t blog, tweet, or is invisible on the major social networking platforms you might want to rethink their qualifications. Important Caveat: the mere existence of a blog, YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile, Facebook account, or a Twitter page doesn’t guarantee competence…any idiot can amass thousands of followers on Twitter just by following everybody and their brother, so look for someone who has amassed a quality list of followers, who has more people following them than they follow, and who actively engages with their followers.
  3. Beware the Expert without Clients: No referenceable clients equals zero credibility. It’s one thing to show you their own work, but quite another to show you demonstrated success on behalf of paying and satisfied clients.
  4. Beware the Expert without Industry Recognition: If your so called expert isn’t referenced as such by credible, independent third parties, isn’t published, doesn’t speak, lecture or teach, doesn’t have a column, hasn’t won any awards, etc., then they might not be a true expert.
  5. Beware the Expert too Aggressive in their Pursuit: There is a big difference between professional follow-up and desperation. Let me be blunt…most professionals at the top of their game haven’t made a cold call in years. In fact, even in this down economy they typically have more business than they know what to do with. If your world-beater of a consultant is chasing you down like a hungry dog after the meat wagon then you may want to take pause.
  6. Beware of Bargain Basement Expertise: In most cases the reality is that you get what you pay for…True expertise doesn’t come cheaply, but is well worth the investment. Few things in business will get you in as much trouble as not getting advice and counsel when needed, or worse yet, getting poor quality or incorrect advice. I would much rather pay an expert a larger fee for 30 minutes of their time and get what I need rather than pay someone $50 dollars an hour who is hoping to fake it until they can make it…Questionable advisors will take much longer to get from point a to point b (if they get there at all), and will likely cost you more money at the end of the day when contrasted with true professionals.  

If you need help in integrating social media into your business I would recommend the following individuals (some you may know and some you may not) as they all pass the litmus test mentioned above. Those listed below are in no particular order of preference and you can rest assured they are not “info-product” sales people masquerading as social media professionals, but they are in fact the true subject matter experts who can get the job done:

  • Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan): Chris is smart, approachable, innovative, has a high degree of integrity, probably the hardest working man on the planet, and a heck of a nice guy. I’ve enjoyed every interaction I’ve had with Chris, and he has earned my trust and respect.  
  • Mack Collier (@MackCollier): I don’t know Mack personally, but have enjoyed reading his candid and ever straight foward opinions online.  Mack is well respected and his the loyalty of his followers more than speak to his capabilities.
  • Lee Odden (@LeeOdden) I’ve known Lee for several years (before he was rich and famous). In fact, in a prior life as a corporate executive Lee was the consultant I chose to place on retainer. He is smart, seasoned and delivers on his promises. 
  • Amy Martin (@DigitalRoyalty) I guess the moniker Digital Royalty says it all…Amy represents some of the biggest names and fastest growning brands online. Nothing bodes as well for an agency as success, and Amy has plenty of pedigree in that department.  
  • Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) Ashton combines his celebrity status, a fascination with social media, and a disarming and ever inquistive intellect to head one of the fastest growing social media agencies on the web.   
  • Liz Strauss (@lizstrauss) – Liz is well known for her approachability, friendliness and candor. She also happens to be one of the savviest bloggers and social media consultants online.
  • And if you’re slumming:), feel free to check out our social media practice or ping me @mikemyatt – nuff said…

Related Post: “How to Select a Professional Advisor

Change at N2growth

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth
change
While all of you were enjoying your weekend, watching the Super Bowl or otherwise recreating in leisure, the N2growth team was hard at work launching our new website and blog. We’ve blended some of the old with some of the new to create the next step forward in the N2growth brand evolution. We invite you to look around (please let us know if you find any bugs) and we welcome your feedback. We hope you find our efforts more pleasing to the eye, easier to navigate, but most of all, we hope it encourages more dialogue and conversation. We look forward to your comments, tweets and emails. Thanks for your patience during this transition.

How to Face Your Critics

Facing Critics

By John Baldoni, Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth 

When people criticize you, what’s the best thing to do? Show up and face the music.

President Barack Obama did just that when he met with Republican House members at their party conference last week in Baltimore. He met face-to-face with some of his sharpest critics, and in the process, demonstrated what it means to lead under fire.

In doing so, the President, whether you like or dislike him, provided a template for leaders to use when they need to face critics. Here’s what we can learn.

Decisioning Models for Leaders

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

CEO Decisioning
You cannot separate leadership from decisioning, for like it or not, they are inexorably linked. Put simply, the outcome of a CEO’s decisions can, and usually will, make or break them. Those leaders who avoid making decisions solely for fear of making a bad decision, or conversely those that make decisions just for the sake of making a decision will likely not last long. The fact of the matter is that senior executives who rise to the C-suite do so largely based upon their ability to consistently make sound decisions. However while it may take years of solid decision making to reach the boardroom, it often times only takes one bad decision to fall from the ivory tower. As much as you may wish it wasn’t so, as a CEO you’re really only as good as your last decision.

“CEO Decisioning” is a skill set that needs to be developed like any other. As a person that works with leaders on a daily basis I can tell you with great certainty that all CEOs are not created equal when it comes to the competency of their decisioning skills. Nothing will test your metal as CEO more than your ability to make decisions. That said, nobody is immune to bad decisioning. We have all made bad decisions whether we like to admit it or not.  Show me someone who hasn’t made a bad decision and I’ll show you someone who is either not being honest, or someone who avoids decisioning at all costs, which by the way, constitutes a bad decision.

When I reflect back upon the poor decisions I’ve made, it’s not that I wasn’t capable of making the correct decision, but for whatever reason I failed to use sound decisioning methodology. Gut instincts can only take you so far in life, and anyone who operates outside of a sound decisioning framework will eventually fall prey to an act of oversight, misinformation, misunderstanding, manipulation, impulsivity or some other negative influencing factor.

The first key in understanding how to make great decisions is learning how to synthesize the overwhelming amount incoming information leaders must deal with on a daily basis, while making the best decisions possible in a timely fashion. The key to dealing with the volumenous amounts of infomation is as simple as becoming discerning surrounding the filtering of various inputs.

Understanding that a hierarchy of knowledge exists is critically important when attempting to make prudent decisions. Put simply…not all inputs should weigh equally in one’s decisioning process. By developing a qualitative and quantitative filtering mechanism for your decisioning process you can make better decisions in a shorter period of time. The hierarchy of knowledge is as follows:

  • Gut Instincts: This is an experiental and/or emotional filter that may often times have no current underpinning of hard analytical support. That said, in absence of other decisioning filters it can sometimes be all a person has to go on when making a decision. Even when more refined analytics are available, your instincts can often provide a very valuable gut check against the reasonability or bias of other inputs. The big take away here is that intuitive decisioning can be refined and improved. My advice is to actually work at becoming very discerning.
  • Data: Raw data is comprised of disparate facts, statistics, or random inputs that in-and-of-themselves hold little value. Making conclusions based on data in its raw form will lead to flawed decisions based on incomplete data sets.
  • Information: Information is simply an evolved, or more complete data set. Information is therefore derived from a collection of processed data where context and meaning have been added to disparate facts which allow for a more thorough analysis.
  • Knowledge: Knowledge is information that has been refined by analysis such that it has been assimilated, tested and/or validated. Most importantly, knowledge is actionable with a high degree of accuracy because proof of concept exists.

Even though people often treat theory as knowledge, and opinion as fact, they are not one in the same. I have witnessed many a savvy executive blur the lines between fact and fiction resulting in an ill advised decision when decisions are made under extreme pressure and outside of a sound decisioning framework. Decisions made at the gut instinct or data level can be made quickly, but offer a higher level of risk. Decisioning at the information level affords a higher degree of risk management, but are still not as safe as those decisions based upon actionable knowledge.

Another aspect that needs to be factored into the decisioning process is the source of the input. I believe it was Cyrus the Great who said “diversity in counsel, unity in command” meaning that good leaders seek the counsel of others, but maintain command control over the final decision. While most successful leaders subscribe to this theory, the real question in not whether you should seek counsel, but in fact where, and how much counsel you should seek. You see more input, or the wrong input, doesn’t necessarily add value to a decisioning process. Volume for the sake of volume will only tend to confuse matters, and seeking input from sources that can’t offer significant contributions is likely a waste of time. Two other issues that should be considered in your decisioning process as they relate to the source of input are as follows:

  1. Credibility: What is the track record of your source? Is the source reliable and credible? Are they delivering data, information or knowledge? Will the source tell you what you want to hear, what they want you to hear, or will they provide the unedited version of cold hard truth?
  2. Bias: Are there any hidden and/or competing agendas that are coloring the input being received? Is the input being provided for the benefit of the source or the benefit of the enterprise? 

The complexity of the current business landscape, combined with ever increasing expectations of performance, and the speed at which decisions must be made, are a potential recipe for disaster for today’s executive unless a defined methodology for decisioning is put into place. If you incorporate the following metrics into your decisioning framework you will minimize the chances of making a bad decision:

  1. Perform a Situation Analysis: What is motivating the need for a decision? What would happen if no decision is made? Who will the decision impact (both directly and indirectly)? What data, analytics, research, or supporting information do you have to validate the inclinations driving your decision?
  2. Subject your Decision to Public Scrutiny: There are no private decisions. Sooner or later the details surrounding any decision will likely come out. If your decision were printed on the front page of the newspaper how would you feel? What would your family think of your decision? How would your shareholders and employees feel about your decision? Have you sought counsel and/or feedback before making your decision?
  3. Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis: Do the potential benefits derived from the decision justify the expected costs? What if the costs exceed projections, and the benefits fall short of projections?
  4. Assess the Risk/Reward Ratio: What are all the possible rewards, and when contrasted with all the potential risks are the odds in your favor, or are they stacked against you?
  5. Assess Whether it is the Right Thing To Do: Standing behind decisions that everyone supports doesn’t particularly require a lot of chutzpah. On the other hand, standing behind what one believes is the right decision in the face of tremendous controversy is the stuff great leaders are made of. My wife has always told me that “you can’t go wrong by going right,” and as usual I find her advice to be spot on…Never compromise you value system, your character, or your integrity.
  6. Make The Decision: Perhaps most importantly you must have a bias toward action, and be willing to make the decision. Moreover as a CEO you must learn to make the best decision possible even if you possess an incomplete data set. Don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis, but rather make the best decision possible with the information at hand using some of the methods mentioned above. Opportunities and not static, and the law of diminishing returns applies to most opportunities in that the longer you wait to seize the opportunity the smaller the return typically is. In fact, more likely is the case that the opportunity will completely evaporate if you wait too long to seize it. 

If you develop the appropriate blend of a bias to action with an analytical approach to decisioning your stock as CEO will surely rise. Good luck and good decisioning…

Truth Matters…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Truth MattersThere is simply no substitute for the truth. That said, how do you measure a person’s positional conviction? How do you know if someone is sincere in their communication? How do you know if you’re being told the truth, or just being spoken to in a manner designed to elicit a desired response? Listen to what’s being said…When attempting to evaluate the shifting sands of fluid messaging, or what I like to refer to as spin, examine the choice of words used in the composition of said messaging.

I have long believed that words matter. My experience has consistently shown that astute people listen carefully to the words a person uses in evaluating the constancy and sincerity of their message. If the strength, color, or tenor of an individuals nomenclature changes, common sense would dictate that the underlying message may be changing as well.

Perhaps I’m a bit old-school in my thinking, but in my world form over substance doesn’t get you very far. Call something what you will, but the facts remain the same regardless of how you choose to describe them. Those of you that know me have come to understand that I prefer to cut to the chase, and get to the root of an issue as quickly as possible.

While I appreciate the great oratory skills of those who communicate using wonderful word pictures, or the academics that can wax eloquent while always using best form of prose, I prefer my business communication to be quick and dirty. In the immortal words of Jack Webb: “The facts ma’am…just the facts.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not word bashing as I enjoy and appreciate anyone who has command of a great vocabulary, but I don’t have time for a 30 minute explanation of something that could have been, and should have been, communicated in 2 minutes. Ah, the lost art of brevity, but I digress.

What all of us need to remain on guard against are the people (notice I didn’t say professionals) that always seem to speak at the 30,000 foot level. A high-level overview is fine as a summary, but certainly not for anything beyond that. Vocabulary should be a tool for communicating expertise, and not masking a lack thereof. Let’s define what I call the black-art practices of confusion:

1. Job security by confusion: Have you ever had an employee in a particular business unit or practice area paint the picture that things are soooo complex that only they can solve your problem? Nothing is too complex to be explained or understood, and no single individual is invaluable. Real knowledge should be transparent, transferable, and heavily leveraged, not horded or kept in isolation.

2. Sales by confusion: Have you ever been party to a sales presentation that was so sophisticated and technical that you arrived at the conclusion that: “surely these guys really know their stuff”; and as a result ended-up purchasing something that wasn’t at all what you thought it would be? Remember, if someone can’t explain the benefits to you in plain English, then the benefits probably don’t exist. The best communicators use clear and succinct statements, that are factually based, and that add value. They are never vague or ambiguous.

3. Intimidation by confusion: We’ve probably all had someone attempt to steamroll us at some point in our careers…multi-syllable techno jargon used in circular conversational patterns with an authoritative posture doesn’t mean someone knows what they’re talking about, rather it usually means they are attempting to dazzle you with feigned brilliance in an attempt to intimidate. Remember that opinion doesn’t miraculously become fact simply by adding emphasis.

So, what is the best way to deal with the black art of confusion? Force people to justify their positions by being specific. Make these wizards’ of confusion give you examples of relevant experience, or have them explain their business logic in understandable terms. Make sure that your client’s, vendors, suppliers, partners, investors and employees all know that you value clear, concise, lucid and accurate communications.

Bottom line…say what you mean, mean what you say, and require the same of others.

Leadership & Employee Engagement

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer,N2growth

Employee EngagementThe topic of “Employee Engagement” is something that many CEOs tend to struggle with. Long gone are the days where the executive leadership of a company can remain sequestered in their offices with an internal focus on hard metrics. Given the current economic climate, it takes far more than cost-cutting to survive. It is the CEO who understands the need for focus on the soft metrics of customer centricity and employee engagement that will create sustainable growth in revenue and brand equity. In today’s post I’ll examine the need to have a fully engaged work force…

Before you read any further, I want you to stop and ask yourself the following question: How many of your employees are truly passionate about your company, its values, its vision, its mission, and the role that they play within the organization? Don’t fool yourself…conduct a harsh, critical analysis and come up with a true head count of the passionate employees within your organization.

Your answer to the question above should be a very telling sign about the overall health of your business. Are people just showing-up and punching the clock to collect a paycheck, or are they personally consumed and committed to achieving the company vision? Are your employees corporate evangelists serving as a motivating force to be reckoned with, or do they gather in small groups to gripe and complain about all the things wrong with the company and its leadership?

The key to having an engaged workforce is to have a passionate workforce. And the simple truth of the matter is that no single person in the company can instill passion in the ranks like the CEO can. Despite the consensus recognition that employee engagement matters, the enormity of its impact on the company’s bottom line still appears to be misunderstood by most CEOs. I rarely talk to a CEO that doesn’t understand this principle in concept, but yet I rarely see chief executives who put theory into practice…

So it begs the question, why are CEOs listening but not taking action? The answer seems to be that CEOs continue to allocate considerable effort and resources toward engineering the corporate strategy, yet they seem to be unaware of what forces can prevent said strategy from being delivered successfully. Not surprisingly, employee engagement is often the critical missing factor.

As the CEO you must also become the chief engagement officer. Operating in a vacuum and being out of touch is never a good position to find yourself in as the CEO. I have consistently espoused the value of walking the floor, dropping in on meetings on an impromptu basis, taking employees of all ranks to lunch, and any number of other items that focus on raising your internal awareness and creating a passionate workforce.

It is your passionate employees who are the franchise talent (regardless of position) you should be building around. If you can’t get employees to see the light and become passionate about the company and their contribution, then seek to replace them as quickly as possible. Just as passion is a positive, contagious trait so are apathy and dissatisfaction. Passionate employees are productive, energized, committed and loyal assets. Apathetic employees quickly become disenfranchised liabilities that will hurt both productivity and morale. To drive home the point of how much I value passionate employees, I would take a moderately talented but passionate employee over a very talented but complacent employee eleven times out of ten…

Truly great companies are built around passionate employees. When you walk into a dynamic, thriving company you can sense the passion…you feel a certain buzz and fervor that pervades everything. Contrast this with a company that feels as if it has no pulse…If you’ve ever walked into an organization that feels like rigor-mortis has set in, you know what I’m referring to…In today’s economy, the old saying that “the only thing worse than an employee who quits and leaves is the employee who quits and stays” has never been more accurate.

As a leader you need to understand that your employees not only want to be led, but they want to be led by a passionate leader. Ultimately employees want to be passionate about what they do; in fact, they’ll go to the ends of earth and sacrifice tremendously if passionate about the endeavor. Think of the employees that started off with Gates and Allen at Microsoft, or those that worked with Phil Knight in his garage before Nike even had a name, or those employees that endured the early days with Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google…it was their passion and commitment that helped change the landscape of business, not their starting salaries.

To build an extraordinary company, you must light the fire in the bellies of your workforce…You must get them to feel passion about your organization and to connect with your vision. You must get your employees to engage. As the CEO, your ability to transfer your passion to your employees is the essence of being a great leader…So much so that if you can’t accomplish this, you simply can’t be a great leader. Think of any great leader, and while you’ll find varying degrees of skill sets, intellect and ability, I challenge to name even one that did not have passion, as well as the ability to instill said passion in team members.

Thoughts?

Organizational Theory

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Since Organizational Theory, and particularly  Organizational Design are such hot topics these days, I thought I’d poke a bit of fun at that old corporate tradition that is the Organization Chart. Over the years I’ve seen every type of org chart in existence. Some have come and gone only to come again. Every year or two the latest revolutionary thinking in corporate organizational theory spawns a new form of charting. The dynamics of corporate organization are so revered by B-school professors and management consultants that an entire generation of corporate management has drunk the org chart Kool-Aid.  These managers often rush to adopt the latest thinking without any consideration for whether or not the new form of structure is even appropriate for their business. So powerful is this dynamic that entire companies and numerous products have been built to support these latest trends. In the text that follows I’ll share the truth about org charts…

So, is an org chart a corporate asset or a waste of time? The answer depends on the purpose behind its creation, the process used to create it, and the corporate purpose for the existence of the chart post creation. The following list contains my top 10 reasons not to create an organizational chart:

1. To give the CEO an opportunity to view his name at the top;

2. Because you need to beef-up your management presentation and you have room for an extra PowerPoint slide;

3. Your management consultant told you to create one;

4. The business planning software you purchased has a template for one;

5. Your CFO just read a new article on corporate organizational theory;

6. You just attended an off-site where someone drew an off-the-cuff chart on a dry erase board and it looked good;

7. When reviewing your competitor’s website you noticed they had one, and well your website needed updating anyway;

8. There wasn’t anything better for the intern to do;

9. Someone got a promotion, and;

10.  It just seems like you should have one.

Putting the humor aside, a business should in fact have an organization chart, in fact several of them. Sure, a sincerely motivated, properly constructed, and actively implemented organizational chart can in fact help refine the operational aspects of any business, but it should be so much more than that. The development of an org chart should be a serious initiative born out of solid underlying business logic, process, methodology, and creativity.  Culture and environment are considerations that are often times completely ignored in the design of and org chart while perhaps representing the most critical architectural elements. I prefer to think of an org chart as a relationship map rather than a rigid hierarchical matrix of reporting lines. People, relationships, and influence matter far more than reporting lines.

Again, organizational design is about far more than drawing circles, boxes, hard lines and dotted lines…it’s about relationships, engagement, influence and outcomes. If whatever form of schematics utilized don’t  roll-up into a representative illustration of an ecosystem comprised of communities of networked relationships that create the right outcomes, you’re missing the point. A chart is static – an ecosystem is living. Organizations that run according to static documents which reflect a snapshot in time are prone to breeding obsolescence by living in a status quo mindset. Conversely, organizations which focus on how to expand and improve relationships, influence, and engagement rather than just document it find themselves creating a culture that embraces leading change and innovation.

There’s an old joke in business circles that says “every company has two org charts…the one that’s put into graphical form and incorporated in the business plan, and the one that never gets published but is actually representative of how things really work.” The process of corporate organization is most succinctly and easily understood by using the following order of operation which I developed more than two decades ago: “Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals, that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what Resources, Infrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution.” (Mike Myatt 1988)

Put simply, any analysis of organizational paradigm that doesn’t present a clear picture of who, what, when, where, why and how your organization will function to produce the designed outcomes should be immediately recognized as flawed. I have observed all types of organizational structures (in vogue, antiquated and otherwise) succeed, and I have also seen them fail. It is not the “type” or the “style” of chart used that works or doesn’t, rather it is the process of design that was used in creating the org chart that will determine its usefulness, functionality and adoption. That said, my personal view is it’s simply silly to confine someone to a box – the goal should be to expand influence not restrict it. My best advice is to build a very flat organization, and where the purpose of any framework is to expand relationships not limit them, and to drive complex decisioning down as low as possible within the organization structure.

Please feel free to share your thoughts regarding organizational theory by commenting so that others may benefit your experience as well…

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