Suspend your disbelief

I have blogged about this concept before, and I’ll do it again. It’s an issue resulting from human nature, and exacerbated by corporate culture. Here it is: We are predisposed to ignoring information that conflicts with our current beliefs.

Your big beautiful brain holds beliefs. You naturally and subconsciously look for information that supports your beliefs. This mechanism helps maintain your sanity. However, this has the potential to become a significant risk if teams / departments / organizations don’t establish cultural and leadership norms that mitigate this tendency.

Fact 1: We look for information that supports our existing beliefs, and reject information that conflicts with it.
Fact 2: When we hold two conflicting beliefs, our subconscious goes into overtime to resolve this.
Fact 3: Self-esteem plays a significant role in our ability to objectively assess and accept our own shortcomings, especially if our identity is wrapped up in our professional performance.

From a risk management and strategy perspective, this plays a big role in whether your organization is likely to adapt and stay ahead of emerging risks. By creating a culture where mitigating behaviours are the “norm”, you will be much more likely to:
1) Accept the possibility that blind spots exist, and the value of finding them
2) Look for new information that has the potential to position leaders to make the best decisions possible
3) Increase your clarity and acuity of environmental awareness
4) Be able to extrapolate accurately, because your base assumptions are more accurate than they would be

The solution: Or at least part of it:
• Recognize this inherent tendency, purpose to give outlier data a fair shake. When information challenges your assumptions, or suggests new risks, don’t just write it off. It’s not always valid, but if a strategic blind spot starts to present itself, be the first to shine a light on it. You can’t manage what you won’t acknowledge.
• Maintain a culture of continuous improvement, where finding and solving “the next gap” is seen as positive and desirable.
• Build a culture of strategy and change, where operations and finance doesn’t drive the whole business. Leadership, vision, and strategy should be dominant forces in your management.
• Maintain processes that are likely to identify new gaps on an ongoing basis, but will also provide an opportunity for assessment. Building this into your strategy reviews using a well-crafted research process will help you avoid operational dominance, group-think and environmental ignorance.

This happens all the time. There is always an organization who be the last one to turn the lights out on an industry or market. And we rely on those who are the first.

Which one will you be?

Be a 1%-er

Decades ago, like many other young lads, I was inspired by the heroes of my time. The incredible sagas of those great men and women who, like mythical giants, maximized shareholder value … well, they were never far from my imagination. Wait, what?! Actually, that never crossed my mind. Yeah, not even close and I’m guessing the same is true for you.

Flash

One of the most powerful engines in the business world is the creative and discretionary energy that your people can give you when they fully engage in a compelling vision. Read back to the stories of when industry titans were busy shaping our economic landscape; their vision statements were big and raw. They weren’t sterilized.

Honda 1970’s: “We will destroy Yamaha” (hilarious, yet crystal clear)
Nike 1960’s: “Crush Adidas”
Anheuser-Busch: “Be the world’s beer company”

Here’s what I have learned:
– People don’t just want stability; they also want to be a part of a team that is going to accomplish something significant (it’s a hierarchy of needs thing)
– Nothing motivates like trustworthy leadership with a vision for something profound
– If you hire well, most of your people are willing to go above and beyond when they feel that you deserve their best
– Companies that give back to employees when they’re not obligated to are more likely to receive a reciprocal response

Engage people in something worth their best efforts. Don’t stop wrestling with a vision until you have a vision that viscerally grabs people. You’ll probably have to wrestle with some of your own insecurities before being willing to say it out loud. Yes, there is risk for your career in being visionary.

Is it worth the risk? Only if you’re willing to step up and be the kind of leader it will take to bring it to life. Badass bikers identify as 1%-ers, because of something the American Motorcycle Association said to that effect 40 years ago (only 1% live outside the law). I would say that the same is true for those incredibly visionary leaders who are really out to change the world.

And the ball is in your court now…

Polarize your statements with vehement specificity

Companies approach selecting core values quite differently. Many organizations choose attributes that are fairly common, and miss the opportunity to describe the differentiation in their strategy. After all, if your strategy is truly likely to create a competitive advantage, there should be something unique about how you get there.

On a similar but supporting topic, Dr. Michael Treacy suggests that companies mind the growth “formula” that caused them to get where they are today. Quite often this winning approach is something that can be replicated in the future by simply acquiring awareness of it and being purposeful as you proceed. After all, that’s what allowed you to achieve the current measure of success.

This also aligns with the approach the companies like Google are taking. Rather than rattling off a few words that seem to fit reasonably well with the mandate, they articulate “things we’ve learned to be true.” This seems to reflect a heightened level of awareness around what makes the organization successful. And it carries forward tried and true paradigms and business approaches. To that end, we should avoid “run-of-the-mill” values that everyone else uses. If our values don’t define how we are unique, then they’re simply not worth paying attention to.

If your statements don’t polarize the stakeholder / employee / shareholder / reader to create some kind of positive or negative response, have you written something worth reading or paying attention to?

Polarize your statements with vehement specificity!!! Or, you know, say something boring… that no one cares about.

Vision and values: The critical nature of being unique

When you think about the vision and values statements your organization uses, what portion of your employees get charged up by hearing them? Is there a sense of an overall epic saga or journey? And deep inside your mind, you may even now be thinking “is it really worth the effort to re-write?”

YES!!! If yours are “okay” and you have the leadership to do something with them, then yes it is.

Chances are that most of the organizations you have worked for in the past have been more driven by mandate rather than by vision. You have done your job and done it well, but the sense of overall corporate momentum toward a strategy has been weak. You have read about better leadership than you have seen with your own eyes. All of this is the case in point that you may not have learned what vision is supposed to do for an organization. If so, be open that our own experiences may not be the optimal guide as to the real importance of true vision and strategy.

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So what’s the big deal about vision and values? They’re not just statements that you drop into a business plan to satisfy governance requirements, they are the blueprint for the incredible accomplishments your organization will achieve. Does that sound like your business plan? Again, you can’t accomplish what you can’t describe. So, it all begins with wrestling through what the organization will envision.

Take the time to do it well. Quite often, not enough time goes into building them, because 1) people just want to get it done 2) it is seen as a marketing exercise 3) people don’t want to commit to what they’re only partially certain they can accomplish.

So as you consider your own situation, I recommend the following:

Do this:
– Spend some time on google, looking at what other companies have done – focus on learning what NOT to do
– Find the best examples of vision statements, and consider/share them only for how big the transformation they signaled at the time was (some of “the best” statements from 50 years ago would have seemed ridiculously grand at the time)
– Think about the exciting shift you have been worried to say out loud
– Don’t worry about the words, think about the world-altering accomplishment
– Think about competitive advantage – how repositioning, changing a market, creating a market would idealize your advantage
– Think about the things you have the unique corporate competencies to be the best at
– Consider what your organization is most passionate about and has built a real following for
– Think about where all of this intersects with what drives your economics – where success fuels profitability
– Engage your top leaders and make them work for it, take your time and don’t rush the process
– Make sure the output can be expressed in 100 different ways, it’s a thing you’re all clear on, not a word-smithed catch phrase

Don’t do this:
– Don’t replicate anything you find, these statements are supposed to describe what you are MORE of than anyone else (the central concept of competitive advantage)
– Use the words “to be the preferred…”
– Don’t plan to “bang it out” over 90 minutes with your board on a weekend
– Don’t be tied to a certain number of words, it’s about what works for your organization

Your vision is your DNA. It is what makes your organization unique. If you have a seriously bold vision, with seriously effective leadership, there’s really no limit to what you can do. Make sure your vision statement is the thing that opens up potential as opposed to limiting it.