Think Big, Step By Step

In my last missive, I challenged you to think big, to set high goals and expectations for the future of your company. But it’s not enough to write down a lofty vision and expansive targets, pat yourselves on the back for your courage, and wait for great results to appear.

Too often organizations create a wonderful vision and set high targets without much thought about how to ensure they hit the targets and turn the vision into reality. They do a poor job breaking a long and often changing path down into the rocks that must be put in place to build it, rock by rock. Each rock attached to one and only one person accountable for its execution with a strict due date and specific and easily measurable metrics of completion.

To succeed in achieving your 10-year goal, you need to start at the end and work backwards. Pick the date and then ask yourself: where do we have to be in 3 years so we’re positioned properly for the rest of the journey? What does it look like? As you answer these questions, you need to set specific revenue, profit, geography, acquisitions and other similar metrics.

Then, jump back a bit more. Determine where you have to be in 1 year. What are the 6 or 7 big goals you need to accomplish? Think big, but think simply. Don’t come up with 20 or 30 goals, but only the most critical things required for you to be well on your way.

It’s tough to do as at first everything seems important. But if everything’s important, nothing is important. Get in the habit of always prioritizing. Once you have the 6 or 7 most important goals identified, set who is accountable for each goal and the metrics they have to achieve.

Backing up further, what do you have to accomplish in the next 90 days? Again, not 20 or 30 things but the 6 or 7 most critical things that need to be completed before the next quarter begins. Use your new skill in prioritizing to hone in on those that will have the biggest impact. Establish who is accountable for placing each rock in place as you build the path. That is, who is accountable for completing each goal and ensuring the specific metrics are achieved.

When the quarter ends, go through the same process for the quarter to come. Set the next group of 90 day goals and the 6 or 7 most important things you have to accomplish. Rock by rock build the path, finding new rocks every 90 days as you move forward and conditions change.

Each rock represents a critical piece in the journey. It is, simply stated, owned by someone, and carefully set in place, one by one as you carefully build the path leading to the vision guiding you forward.

Remember: keep it simple. Write it all in a couple of pages. Set specific metrics for completion of each goal. Totally completed…98% done is not done. Be tough in order to stay on track. As you move forward you’ll get better at defining what needs to be done and at bringing every goal to completion as scheduled.

That’s it. Think big. Create the vision and the metrics that define successful completion. Plan the path that takes you to your vision, rock by rock. No huge strategic plans that no one reads and that are impossible to understand and follow. Just simply stated critical goals with full accountability that step-by-step lead you with complete focus toward that shining future.

Before too long, like my clients in the last missive, Think Big, you too will be laughing as you realize the vision that originally seemed so huge is well on it’s way to completion…a few years early.

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Think Big

I’m a big picture thinker. I like to coax clients to think big too. To develop a wonderful vision that shows them a future more successful than they imagined possible.

A few days ago I was with a client reviewing the 10-year target we set a year ago. When we were initially setting the target, they began by cautiously projecting some small annual increases on their current revenue and profit. They used these figures to project other things such as employee and geographical growth. No big picture thinking in that.

As I pushed them to think big and they began to build an exciting and significantly more expansive vision than they started with, fear set in. “How can we do this?” “What if something happens to slow us down?” “It scares me to think about what this means we have to do.”

Then, after they finally agreed on the really big vision they had developed, as I read to them their new targets and vision, excitement set in. Excitement with lingering trepidation…

Now, one year later, as I read aloud once again the target and vision, they began to laugh. They had surpassed the 1-year goals we had set as the first step towards reaching the 10-year target, going farther than they imagined possible. Still chuckling, one of them said “I think we have to make our 10-year target bigger.”

What a change in their thinking and demeanor as they realized their big thinking is paying off!

Too often leadership teams run scared at the idea of setting big goals for a few years out. Meeting big goals requires you to be willing to fail. It requires you and your entire organization to work together seamlessly. To be totally aligned and focused on doing all the things that move you forward, ignoring all the little things that waste your time. It requires you to prune the dead wood…rapidly. Even if outside conditions work to defeat you, you must persevere. And most of all, it requires you to be laser focused on the goals of the organization rather than on your own aggrandizement.

It’s hard work.

But there’s an interesting thing about thinking big. The bigger you think the farther you get. Setting 10-year targets that are based on modest gains and little risk of failure leads to minimal growth and boring results. Setting 10-year targets that boggle everyone’s mind while exciting them about the vision lead to greater achievement and bigger results.

We achieve the results we envision. Think small…achieve small. Think big…achieve big. Envision small…wind up with people who are satisfied working to maintain the status quo. Envision big…wind up with people driven to achieve and only satisfied when they race past the seemingly unattainable.

Thinking big requires vision, guts, a leap of faith and imagination. It also requires careful thinking and planning. In my next missive I’ll address the stages of achieving a “think big” target and vision.

Until then, dream. Think about where you want your company to be in 10 years. Now think bigger. And bigger still.






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Eat From The Same Bowl

There’s something special about sharing a meal with someone. We all know this applies in business as well as with friends and family. But did you ever really think about the benefits of breaking bread with a business prospect? Sitting across the desk from someone for an hour, or even facing each other on a comfortable couch discussing business does not develop the same relationship as spending the same hour having the discussion over lunch.

Same topic, same amount of time, same discussion. Different result. There’s just something about combining speaking and sharing ideas and stories with dining that leads to a better understanding of each other.

Surely you’ve experienced this phenomenon. You’ve spent a morning in intense discussions that were leading nowhere. Then you move on to a restaurant for lunch. Food is ordered and lunch arrives. Suddenly, as you begin to eat, the negotiations are moving along quite nicely. Or maybe you didn’t go out, but had food ordered in. Same effect. A breakthrough is achieved that pleases both parties and results in a win/win situation, smoothing the path to securing a new customer or partner.

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach of the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, are on to this phenomenon that breaking bread together smooths the path to winning friends and influencing people. And good things result.

Their interest in this led to research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, “A Recipe for Friendships: Similar Food Consumption Promotes Trust and Cooperation”.

Not only did they validate our feelings about the power of sharing a meal, they discovered that the closer you get to eating the same thing, the more powerful the impact.

Sharing a meal builds some trust. Ordering the same thing builds a stronger connection. And sharing from the same serving bowl…creates an even stronger bond. Eating from the same bowl is most powerful of all.

On my trips to Africa I sometimes wind up eating in a traditional way, from big serving bowls from which you eat by scooping food up with your fingers…right next to the fingers of everyone else. I dive right in with all the locals while noticing that others from places where people would never think of eating this way hold back. After the meal the hosts always exhibit greater comfort with me than with those squeamish about joining in.

For most of you reading this missive, most business meals do not involve sitting on the ground and using your fingers as utensils. And it’s not necessary for a vegetarian to order a steak just because your prospect is a carnivore. Find something on the menu you can share. If even this proves difficult, ask about the other person’s meal. Get them to share a few thoughts on what they like and express how it connects to something you like. Work hard at bonding over the feelings of good food even if you aren’t digging in with your fingers. And notice how much better the negotiations begin to go.



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Living Your Values – No Matter The Cost


Sustainable Performance

Client Centricity




These are the values of Deutsche Bank. Notice which one is first on their list.

Among the behaviors Deutsche Bank uses to define Integrity are “we live by the highest standards of integrity in everything we say”, “we do what is right – not just what is allowed”, “we communicate openly; we invite, provide and respect challenging views”.

(Read the definitions of the other Deutsche Bank values here.)

I looked up Deutsche Bank’s values after reading several Financial Times stories about ex-employee Eric Ben-Artzi. He was sacked a year or so after joining the company as a vice-president in the market-risk department. Sacked because he became aware of false accounting at the bank, and was rebuffed by his superiors when he shared his findings. Soon after he wound up a whistle blower to the SEC.

Did I mention Integrity is the first value on Deutsche Bank’s values list? Which, once again, according to the company, means that “we do what is right – not just what is allowed”.

What first drew me to these articles in the Financial Times, was the headline “Deutsche Bank Whistleblower Snubs $8.25m SEC Payout”. You read that correctly. Ben-Artzi refused to accept his share of the third largest award the SEC has ever given to whistleblowers.

Why? Because the way that Deutsche Bank and the SEC work together violates his values. He is outraged that, according to him, the revolving door for senior executives between the two organizations, including during the investigation of his findings, has led to a miscarriage of justice.

Deutsche Bank was levied a $55 million fine for their malfeasance, but guess who’s footing the bill? Not the executives who were responsible for the crime, but the bank’s shareholders. Not a single wrongdoer was prosecuted. Even worse, top executives have retired with “multi-million dollar bonuses based on the misrepresentation of the bank’s balance sheet.”

Ben-Artzi’s values are so strong that even though he is not a wealthy man, especially now that his finances have taken a big hit as a result of his coming forward to the SEC, he refuses to accept the award. As he put it, “I will not join in the looting of the very people I was hired to protect.” He has instead requested that his award “be given to Deutsche Bank and its stakeholders, and the award money be clawed back from the bonuses paid to the Deutsch Bank executives, especially the former top SEC attorneys.”

I am in awe of the strength of Ben-Artzi’s character and willingness to sacrifice so much to follow his values. Would that we had more such people working inside corporations and other organizations making sure that we aren’t the victims of such malfeasance.. Especially within government watchdog organizations supposedly protecting us from those of little moral character only out for themselves.

I’m often in discussions with organizations I work with about the importance and power of corporate values. It’s power that only develops when those at the top hold themselves and the entire organization accountable for exhibiting these values in all that they do.  Values mean nothing if they are only used for marketing purposes, as sayings to be pulled out in interviews to sound impressive rather than as inviolable guides for all actions.

Think about your company values…are they always followed? Or are they brushed aside if a sale depends on it or if a higher profit will result? And you, do you let your values become overridden when a bigger bonus will result?

Or do you and your company have the courage of Eric Ben-Artzi to do what is right no matter the consequences?






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Summer’s End

It’s that time of year again here in Birchrunville Pennsylvania, USA. In a few days, the Labor Day holiday will be upon us and summer will officially end.

The deer I see out my window have fattened up for the coming winter. Trees are beginning to shed their leaves. The few bars and restaurants will be filling up again as people return from wherever they go over the summer.

Many of us take the end of summer as a signal to begin gearing up for a heightened work load, new projects, a return to busy routines. I can’t think of a better way to start to gear up than by dialing down.

The Labor Day holiday weekend provides the perfect time for a long Clarity Break.

As regular readers of this missive know, I’m a huge believer in the power of Clarity Breaks. Clarity Break…a time to ignore your technology and let your mind run free without ongoing interruption. Clarity Break…a time to ignore the work behind you and the work ahead and recharge your batteries. Clarity Break…a time to do whatever it is you like to do that clears your head and sends away all the internal clutter that accumulated since your last Clarity Break, never to be worried about again.

I’m off to Whidbey Island to climb some mountains, wander along the coastline, stare across Puget Sound with a glass of wine in hand, and think deep thoughts about whatever pops into my head.

And you? How will you be spending your Labor Day holiday? Have you planned your own Clarity Break? We all need time to clean out stale thoughts and make room in our minds for new ideas and what is to come. You don’t need to go far. A simple visit to a favorite coffee shop with nothing to do but stare out the window works fine. A long solo walk unencumbered by conversation, a day watching the waves roll in, whatever you like to do to clear your head—go for it.

Take a Clarity Break this weekend. Take one regularly. Take some time by yourself with nothing at all to do. Your body and mind will thank you.



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Know What You Don’t Know

“He can’t learn what he doesn’t know because he doesn’t know he doesn’t know it.”

Reading this quote got me thinking how people with less knowledge and expertise in a field tend to be more confident in their opinions about this field than true experts. True experts realize that their knowledge only goes so far. They realize how much more there is for them to know and so become less confident in their opinions and more open to additional information.

Untangling the quote even further led me to a better understanding of a phenomenon in business and other fields that’s been puzzling me. How is it that the leaders of organizations, whether business, non-profit or governmental, with less knowledge, experience, and a narrow view of the world are so often the most forceful about proclaiming their leadership superiority?

Over the years, when I’ve asked successful CEOs what it is that makes them so good at running their business, they tend to say something similar to what Mike Kowalski, the recently retired CEO of Tiffany & Co. once told me. “I’m not so smart. I’ve been lucky and managed to get a great group of managers who really know what they’re doing.” I paraphrase a bit but the sentiment is all his.

This from someone who did a wonderful job successfully leading Tiffany through some extremely difficult economic times. When he was CEO I used to drop in on Tiffany stores I passed and talk to the people working there about the company and Mike. Their eyes lit up as they shared their stories about his inclusive leadership and the people-centric culture he created.

On the other hand, I’ve been asked to “deal with” several CEOs who in spite of all evidence to the contrary are absolutely convinced of their all-encompassing knowledge and expertise. These know-it-alls don’t know what they don’t know. Their false confidence blinds them to their shortcomings and failings, and as a result, they blame and berate others for the results of their own poor leadership abilities and results.

They fall to Nietzche’s dictum that “there are no facts, only interpretations” and their interpretations, based on poor knowledge and narrow view, are way off the mark.

These CEOs are no longer employed…

The odd thing to me is how they got hired in the first place. Clearly the hiring people were won over by their confidence in themselves and didn’t investigate deeply enough to see the blindness behind it. Or perhaps the hiring people themselves suffer from not knowing what they don’t know, making decisions based on interpretations at variance with reality.

The quote up top is from Newt Gingrich, referring to someone you’ve heard a lot from recently. I leave you to identify him and to contemplate the implications.









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Emergency Plan…Pizza and Beer

Many of us watched recently as Delta Airlines cancelled hundreds of flights day after day. Thousands of Delta’s passengers were the victims of these cancellations, waiting stranded, some for days. Delta initially said they grounded flights due to a utility electrical failure. I felt sorry for the passengers and at first I also felt sorry for Delta for experiencing a major problem seemingly beyond their control.

My sympathy for the company disappeared when I read two articles which covered the story in the August 10 Wall Street Journal. They showed that Delta misled us about the reason for the failure and stranded passengers due to their own misguided confidence in the reliability of their operations.

Georgia Power, the utility providing power to Delta’s Atlanta headquarters where the problem occurred, announced that there was no power failure. Delta’s throwing them under the bus understandably made them push back with the facts.

It seems that a module failed in Delta’s system leading to a power surge and cascading system failures. Their emergency back-up systems failed to kick in and the problems intensified.

Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO, finally admitted that in spite of “investing hundreds of millions in technology infrastructure upgrades and systems…the network essentially crashed.”

I understand that incredibly complex systems sometimes break down but don’t understand why the immediate message was “it’s someone else’s fault”. I’m also confused about how you can spend hundreds of million dollars on the system that is the heart of your global operations, and have such poorly designed and tested emergency backup systems. Without additional redundancies in place, just in case.

I do give Bastian credit for rapidly releasing the correct reason for the problem and taking responsibility when they figured out what it was. But about those stranded passengers…

The fiasco uncovered another troubling decision Delta made.

They dropped their interline agreement with American Airlines…the largest US carrier…due to disputes over fees and other matters. Interlining is the agreements airlines have in place with each other to carry other airlines’ passengers when there are flight cancellations and delays. Seems Delta’s executives were so confident in their operations that they didn’t feel the need to keep this interline agreement in place.

Bad decision.

Worse decision: Delta had been celebrating a good streak. They have had “the best operational record among major network airlines over the last few years.”

A period of things going well caused them to think their good fortune would go on forever. They figured they’d make some extra money by ending the discounts they were giving other airlines when carrying their stranded passengers. They didn’t do what they needed to do to ensure their emergency backup systems were functioning perfectly…and perhaps put a secondary emergency back-up in place just in case.

Complacency and placing revenue and profits above emergency preparedness hijacked sound business judgment.

The result? Massive global system failure. Hundreds of cancelled flights. Thousands of stranded passengers. A public relations disaster. Millions of dollars lost.

Trust in Delta and those in charge…lost.

One of the most important accountabilities of the CEO and senior management is ensuring preparedness for emergencies. Delta’s emergency plan? Crews ordering pizza and beer for passengers stranded in planes for hours.

Delta headquarters

Update: After scheduling this story but before it was published CEO Bastian issued additional comments also chronicled in the Wall Street Journal.

“There is nothing endemic to make us believe we’re at risk, “he states confidently.” How can he possibly know this within a few days of a global meltdown? Especially since he then says Delta is still investigating what went wrong.

Then he admits that when they rebooted, the system didn’t come back as smoothly as hoped. Hoped? Didn’t they test their emergency procedures and make sure they would work?

And yet, he still confidently tells us he doesn’t believe Delta is at risk for this to happen again. But then, he never thought it could happen this time.

Bastian also mentions that “we realize we’ve let our customers down” and added that the situation took a toll on Delta employees. A toll, I would add, that they bear due to executive complacency.

Bastian deserves credit for almost saying correctly something CEOs these days rarely have the courage to say “This is our responsibility. The buck stops here.” Almost because the best CEOs actually say “I take responsibility. The buck stops with me.”


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Convention Conversation with Robby Mook

The Wall Street Journal invited me to participate in a discussion they sponsored titled “Convention Conversation with Robby Mook.” The main conversationalists were Mook, Campaign Manager of Hillary for America, Gerard Baker, WSJ’s Editor in Chief, and Gerald F. Seib, the paper’s Washington Bureau Chief.

My first thought upon receiving my invitation was “how cool.” My second was “why me.” And my third was “no way am I going to brave the traffic and security to get into the Democratic Convention area for a two hour conversation with these three gentlemen…as cool as it would be.

Upon further thought, and after I realized that the site of the event, the Bellevue Hotel, was far from the actual Convention site, I accepted. After all, how often do you get invited to such things?

I figured I would be witnessing an enlightening discussion from three insiders about the presidential election. Since it was a small gathering, I thought they might get into deep detail about the campaign and possibly share a few things that weren’t splashed across the media already.

While waiting for the discussion to begin, Glenn Hall, the Wall Street Journal’s U.S. editor, and I chatted over lunch about the state of the US economy and the world situation. I was pleased to see that his assessment of how we’re doing in the US and mine are about the same. While there are many having problems, as a country we’re actually doing pretty well with a growing economy and low unemployment.

The discussion itself was interesting, more interesting than most of what I’ve heard this election season, but it was a set piece. Knowledgeable attendees asked great questions that were met with reasoned and detailed answers.

But the questions fell along the same lines they always do. The answers, while somewhat more detailed, offered up the same things I’d heard before. I didn’t hear a single thing that seemed off-key or not right out of the playbook.

I don’t think I learned anything new about Clinton’s ideas or what she and her people think about Trump. However, I did come away with respect and admiration for the professionalism and preparation of the conversationalists.

They were skilled speakers with a strong command of the facts, a sense of humor, and an agility for fielding curve ball questions. Perhaps more importantly, they had a presence that enfolds and draws in their listeners.

As I reflected on their performances, I compared them to similar ones I’d seen from a variety of senior people. Some have done as well, most have done worse, and a few were stellar.

The stellar ones have a confidence, a passion, an inclusiveness, and a self-effacing manner that leaves you wanting to be involved in their cause, be it ending poverty or building a great company.

In the political arena it’s the skill that great statesmen have. In the corporate world it’s the skill that exceptional CEOs have. It’s the skill that great leaders have wherever they sit in their organization. They know how to bring us together for the greater good.

Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be learned. Study the great speakers. Notice how they speak and move. Practice the things you notice. Use them always. Before too long you too will become a more powerful speaker able to enfold your audience and draw them into your ideas and vision.


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