leadership

In the past month, I have had two unique opportunities: the first was to spend a few days in Boston with one of my clients and Frances Frei from Harvard; the second was a fireside chat with some fellow CEOs and author Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Outliers, What the Dog Saw). There were some great strategic nuggets interwoven into both conversations, and I want to share with you what I learned.

Frei is a professor in Harvard Business School’s technology and operations management unit and the chairwoman of the MBA required curriculum. Because Frei’s work focuses on how organizations can more effectively design service excellence, I was eager to hear her thoughts on organizational strategy. I was not disappointed.

Here are some key points I took away from the conversation.

Choose great over average. When you’re considering your points of differentiation as an organization the key is not to try to become five out of five on all aspects of your client value proposition; by diffusing your efforts as an organization among so many things you end up becoming three out of five (average) on everything.

Really great, standout companies figure out what they can sacrifice (areas where they are at about a one out of five), so they can truly be five out of five on the areas that count most to their customers.

Choose differentiation versus “me-too.” For true differentiation you need to do something that the competition can’t properly replicate. Consider the example of the Heavenly Bed Wars. Once Westin hotels rolled

out its heavenly beds campaign, all their competitors had to do was provide a similar quality of bed – a simple yet costly undertaking, the net result being that consumers now get better beds from all competing hotels. But each is still in the same price-competitive space: higher cost, lower margin and no differentiation. The trick is to focus on providing something to your customer that is difficult for your competitors to replicate.

As a leader if you've waiting for everyone else to start modelling candour and authenticity, it might be a while. Our jobs as leaders is to model the behaviours we'd like to see demonstrated by our boss, our direct reports, and our peers. Being candid and...

A 1997 McKinsey and Company survey coined the phrase “the war for talent.” It forecast a two- decade demographically fuelled net reduction in talent in the workforce due to baby boomers retiring.

The recent recession slowed that war, as boomers planning to retire saw their RRSPs, investments and pensions take a massive hit. As these investments begin to recover to pre-September 2008 levels, it’s again becoming attractive for boomers to consider retirement or early retirement.

"There can be as much as a 10- to 15-year experience gap between retiring leaders and high potentials."

I've spoken to a number of executives lately who are concerned about their corporate culture and who want to know the key areas for leveraging change. Here are four areas that influence culture directly and are in your control as an executive team: What behaviours we...

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Very rarely do I hear from CEO's and executives who are worried they will not be able to plot a strategy that makes sense for their company. More often than not, their greatest challenge lies in execution of the plan. One of the core issues in execution that holds back progress is ineffective decision making systems that result from a limited understanding of how decisions are made, who has the ability and responsibility to make decisions and what criterion is being used to make those decisions.

The ability to make clear, definite decisions in a timely fashion can be the difference between leading and lagging the competition. If key people in your organization are in decision paralysis what effect is that having on overall progress? Can you afford the extra time it’s taking to make decisions in your competitive industry?

So what can you do about it? Take a good look at how your decision-making culture might be slowing down the execution of your strategic plan by starting to understand which of these common blocks may be holding you back from making timely decisions:

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Let me paint the scene: you have a group of executives and senior managers, all well-paid, spending most of their weeks in meetings pretending to be paying attention to mind-numbing updates being read from the document they have sitting in front of them while doing the “Blackberry/iPhone Prayer”: holding their smartphone under the table, replying to email, texting, or furiously working to beat their high score on Angry Birds.

One of the most common complaints I hear from CEOs, Executives, and Senior Managers is that they spend most of their time in meetings, unclear what the purpose is other than the fact that the meeting is supposed to happen once a week, leaving them with little one-on-one time with their teams, desperate to clear out an overflowing inbox, and dreaming about having some whitespace in their calendar so they can actually be innovative and think creatively about the strategic direction of the business, organization, or even simply their division or team.

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Your behaviour as a leader has an enormous impact on your team and your organizational culture. Understanding the effect of your leadership behaviours on the execution of your strategy is the first step in guiding your team in the right direction.

As a leader, the best way to harness momentum and motivation around your strategy is by consistently behaving in ways that you want to see others behave, and exhibit the behaviours that you want to ingrain into your culture and ultimately pass down to everyone in your organization.

Here are a few things you can do to sustain momentum and support the execution of your strategy by being intentional with your leadership behaviours:

Be decisive and take action, however small, towards your goal. When temptation to postpone, cancel or move deadlines presents itself, let people see you take one small step toward the goal – when you can’t do it all, something is better than nothing; if you can’t do all of it, do some of it. When you put a visible emphasis on forward motion in the execution of your plan, chances are others will follow your lead.