Archive for 2010

In 100 Words: Time to Reflect

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

The end of the year is a natural time to pause and reflect – both as individuals and as organizations. Yet, many don’t take full advantage of the opportunity.

Reflection is slightly different than real-time course correction; it’s a conscious effort to identify the gaps between plans and reality. Did you meet your goals? If not, why not? What factors define your current environment? Which of your assumptions are no longer valid? What do you need to do differently?

Give yourself a dose of reality and let it drive your actions in the coming year…until it’s time to reflect again.

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
(Winston Churchill)


In 100 Words: Strategic Retreat? More Like Strategic Advance.

Monday, November 1st, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

This is the time for annual planning sessions, and many business leaders are pulling their teams together for a strategic retreat. But why do we call it a retreat? Retreat is a negative word synonymous with withdraw, relinquish, and concede. Is that your frame of mind as your organization plans the coming year? I don’t think so.

Forget the retreat. Lead your organization on a strategic advance. Plan how to advance your purpose and achieve your goals. Assess your current position, identify the target, and push forward. That’s what you really hope to do, so call it what it is.

“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” (John F. Kennedy)


In 100 Words: Don’t Buy Answers. Build Disciplines.

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

During times of significant change, leaders are often tempted to “buy answers.” It’s the search for the proverbial “silver bullet.”

Resist this temptation. Don’t outsource your thinking to someone else. You know your organization and industry better than any outsider, so you probably already know what you need to do. Instead, invest in building the right disciplines. It might seem more difficult at first, but in the long run, you will reap the rewards of an organization that systematically generates its own solutions.

Silver bullets don’t exist. The best long-term investment of your resources is in building the right disciplines.

“There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.” (Ronald Reagan )


Advisor Power Question: “What’s the Next Action?”

Friday, August 20th, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

A CEO recently contacted me to learn more about our strategy execution system. Early in the conversation, I realized that he was actually looking for a system to manage his own time, projects, and work flow. Of course, the disciplines of our strategy execution process are as applicable to individuals as they are to organizations: long-term, quarterly, weekly, and daily priorities. (Read more about setting daily priorities.) Having established that, I recommended this CEO read Getting Things Done by David Allen.

If you’re not familiar with this book, read it. Allen lays out a 5-stage system for managing workflow. I have clients who have used this book to completely change the information storage systems throughout their organizations with great results.

In addition to that system, Allen drills the importance of the phrase, “What’s the next action?” I have found this to be a powerful question for driving clarity in strategic conversations with my clients. Allen writes:

“I am frequently asked to facilitate meetings. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter where we are in the conversation, twenty minutes before the agreed end-time of the discussion I must force the question: “So what’s the next action here?” In my experience, there is usually twenty minutes’ worth of clarifying (and sometimes tough decisions) still required to come up with an answer.”

As you work with clients, ask yourself two questions: (1) Is there a decision to come out of this conversation? and (2) What’s the next action? My own experience confirms that of David Allen; there is at least twenty minutes worth of conversation yet to take place.


In 100 Words: Inviting Dissent

Friday, August 20th, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

According to Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

The natural response to criticism is to fight back. The effective response is to pause and consider. You are not always right; don’t you want to know when you’re wrong so you can correct your course?

Disagreement is good. Discipline yourself and your team to invite criticism and respond productively.

Choose to pursue the truth rather than defend your turf. As with any discipline, it takes practice.

“The effective decision-maker, therefore, organizes disagreement.” (Peter F. Drucker)


Nothing New

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, my grandpa and his brother built and exited a number of different business ventures. They began by helping their dad with his cattle business and launched into a full-scale dairy operation. (I have a photo circa 1930s of a delivery van with “Schrock Dairy” and “Natural Milk & Cream” written in fancy lettering across the sides and back.) From there, they launched a full-scale apple orchard business. Then, with the full-gut commitment unique to entrepreneurs, they tore down all of their orchards and started a hybrid seed corn growing business. They later added a fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia) business with multiple plants and distribution facilities across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. This business was eventually sold to Standard Oil of Indiana. (I guess anhydrous ammonia was the rage those days.)

Today, we are more than a half-century removed from these entrepreneurs, so naturally, we have different business concerns than they did, right? My dad was recently reading through their correspondence and found two consistent themes:

1. Get the right people in the right positions.
2. Cash flow! Cash, Cash, Cash. It was never far from their minds.

OK, so maybe business really isn’t much different today! The key issues facing entrepreneurs 75 years ago are the same for entrepreneurs today, and they will still be the same 75 years from now.


The Most Valuable Thing You Can Do Today

Thursday, July 8th, 2010 by Scott Bahr

I can tell you right now how productive I will be today. It all depends on a simple two-minute exercise: setting my daily priorities. If I did it this morning, this is likely to be a good day. If I did not do it, I will probably finish my workday feeling wasteful and unfulfilled.

Grab an index card and write down the most important thing you need to accomplish today. If you don’t think that item will take all day, record a second priority. Fill out the card with everything you can reasonably expect to accomplish (rarely will this list have more than five items). Once the card is filled out, focus completely on #1 until it’s done. Then mark it off and move on to #2. Repeat this process until your card is full or your day is done – whichever comes first. If it’s time to go home and your list is not done, you either wasted time or planned too much. You be the judge. Either way, you’re learning something that you might not have known had you not recorded your expectations for the day.

Recently, I was speaking to a high school class about the importance of this discipline. One student raised his hand and asked, “So what’s on your card today?” The class laughed, but I applauded him for holding me accountable. Then I read him my priorities (one of which was to speak to his class).

If you don’t already set your daily priorities, start now. And I mean now. It will only take you two minutes. Imagine if all of your employees did this. Imagine if you could randomly ask anyone in the hallway, “What do you need to accomplish today?” and he had a ready answer. Think about how quickly you could move as a company. Think about what you could accomplish.

Like I said, do it now.


In 100 Words: Positive Tension

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

Do you like tension? When it comes to executing your strategy, you should.

Positive tension yields excellent results. The tension of opposing ideas generates the debate that produces a solution. The tension of self-imposed financial/time limits on new projects (what Michael Eisner called “creativity in a box” at Disney) drives efficient innovation. The tension of preserving the core while stimulating progress (Jim Collins in Built to Last) builds great and enduring organizations.

Q2 is almost done, and you have rocks to complete. Push to get them done while exhibiting the patience to get them right.

That’s positive tension. Embrace it.


In 100 Words: A Time to Lead

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

These are the times in which leaders are forged! The last few years have been tough for business leaders, and I don’t expect the uncertainty to wane anytime soon.

So are you excited?! You should be. Great leaders are honed in the crucible of tough markets where fear of the unknown and feelings of insecurity chain ordinary leaders to their seats.

More than ever, you need to make clear, decisive, and tough decisions. More than ever, you must clearly communicate your organization’s vision.

Your employees and others are looking for someone to step up. Now is your time to lead!


Join a Network to Succeed Going Solo

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by AdvisorCatalyst

I’d like to revisit the recent Wall Street Journal article (“How to Succeed in the Age of Going Solo”). It talks about the importance of independent advisors joining a network of people engaged in the same kind of work.

The prospect of being independent is daunting to many. At first, it sounds exciting. After a career of the “daily grind,” the flexibility of working on one’s own seems very enticing. But newly independent workers soon realize that they miss that “daily grind.” They’ve grown so accustomed to the routine of commutes, coworkers, and corporate schedules that their newfound independence presents more of a feeling of “What now?” than “Yippee!” That’s where a network of professional peers serves such a vital purpose. It allows advisors to be independent, but not alone. Furthermore, it gives them a forum in which they can ask questions and share lessons learned.

Over the years, the CEO Advantage advisor peer group has become almost an organization itself in terms of the camaraderie and shared purpose. Our advisors are independent, but they feel a sense of loyalty and friendship toward one another. There’s no question that their association with one another has made them more effective advisors to their own clients.

Whatever you do for a living, if you’re working independently, join a network.