How To Win With A Design-Focused Strategy

As described in my earlier article on What It Takes To Accelerate Through A Strategic Inflection Point, if there is a change in your situation or your ambitions, you need to jump-shift your strategy, organization and operations all together, all at the same time. There are four primary areas of strategic focus: design, produce, deliver, and service. The choice of which of those areas on which to focus dictates your organizational and operational choices.
This article is the first of four and will take you through how to win with a design-focused strategy. The other three focus on production, delivery and service.

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The Difference Between Executive Onboarding And Performance Failure

While there is certainly an overlap, there are important differences between executive onboarding and performance failures. The vast majority of people that fail in jobs fail for one of three reasons: poor fit, poor delivery, or poor adjustment to a change down the road.
Poor fit is always a failure of selection, due diligence or attitude during onboarding.
Poor delivery is an onboarding failure if it’s caused by getting up to speed too slowing and a performance failure later on.
Poor adjustment is an onboarding failure if it’s rooted in not yet having built a network of trusted advisors to point out the need to adjust or how to adjust. It’s a performance failure if it’s rooted in a fundamental inability to see changes or listen to others.
The heart of executive onboarding well is converging into the team before trying to evolve it. This requires getting a head start, managing the message and then setting direction and building the team leading up to and through your first 100-days or so. Follow this with sustaining momentum and adjusting to change and your risk of onboarding failure is greatly decreased.
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Are Business Pivots Harder Than Football Pivots? Learn from the Steeler’s

Have you ever experienced challenges in your business that you resigned yourself to missing your financial plan?  Teams in the National Football League encounter the moment where they are playing to make the playoffs or “playing for next year”.   For them, throwing in the towel delivers higher draft capital for the next year.  For the rest of us, though, we need to find a way to pivot and win and not accept mediocrity.  One NFL team did just that at a moment of despair…they pivoted.
You’re not as competitive…now what?
The most important position in all of sports is the quarterback of an NFL football team.  The teams that make the playoffs each year – particularly those that progress to championship games –  have all-league quarterbacks that are destined to be members of the hall of fame.  Simply put, when you have a hall-of-fame quarterback, you will be competitive.  When you don’t, your path to success is very challenging.  So, when your hall-of-fame quarterback gets hurt in the second game of your season and is replaced by a novice quarterback, do you lower your expectations?  Most say ‘yes’.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are saying ‘no’.
As the quarterback of the Steelers, Big Ben Roethlisberger has led the team to three Super Bowls.  His game two injury led to the promotion of Mason Rudolph – a quarterback that had never started a game in his young career.  Rudolph lacks Roethlisberger’s ability and, more importantly, his experience. Steeler fans prepared themselves for the inevitable losing. But, something surprising happened after the Steelers started 0-3, they pivoted – and doubled-down – to a new strategy to win games in a new way.  They would win via defense.
Shrivel or Pivot
Many businesses find themselves in the same situation as the Ben-less Steelers.  With a weak competitive position, they meander along with low expectations and resign themselves to being inferior to competitors.  Have you ever had a competitor that launched a significantly better product or innovated their customer experience in a way that you questioned your ability to compete?  Have you ever lost talented people that carried institutional knowledge and skill out the door?  Its tough to swallow but you can accept defeat and do your best, or, you can pivot to compete differently.
The Steelers pivoted.  Their offensive game plan became more conservative to accommodate the novice QB.  Their defensive game plan became more aggressive to capitalize on a young and promising defensive group.  And then, the Steelers doubled down to get an early win with this new strategy and convince their fans, and themselves, that they could be a playoff team without Big Ben.
BRAVE leadership:  ATTITUDE matters a lot
In our book Point of Inflection, we talk about the BRAVE leadership framework where the letter “A” stands for Attitude.  Attitude speaks to the choices driving leaders and how their teams will win with strategy, priorities, and culture.  The Steelers shifted their strategy from offensively-driven to defensively-driven, they allocated their resources (best players) to reinforce the strategy, and they rallied the team to energetically execute.  Coach Tomlin deserves a lot of praise for the culture of this team.   His leadership and attitude got them to believe in the new direction, and each other, in an impressive feat of leadership.
Most NFL coaches these days are hired for technical skill – innovative offensive minds, quarterback whisperers, and defensive gurus – yet should a case be made that good leaders and positive cultures are the most sustainable advantage for a franchise?  Can the same be said for businesses?  It is no coincidence that the coaches with the most tenure in the NFL – Bill Belichick (19 years), Sean Payton (13), Mike Tomlin (12), and John Harbaugh (11) – are leaders of teams with sustained high levels of performance and team cultures that are considered rock solid?  Leadership and attitude mean a lot.
Are Business Pivots Harder Than Football Pivots?
NFL pivots are high profile but it is really just a game, right?  Business pivots aren’t quite so easy.
Or are they?  The need to pivot can be prompted by a strong competitor, changing customer behaviors, a recent acquisition, or simply lackluster performance.  Ask yourself whether you can envision these types of pivots below – pivots that can change the trajectory of your business as they have for other successful businesses:
Over invest in a customer service model that materially advances satisfaction
Change your pricing and packaging to dilute a competitor advantage
Build a customer buying experience that makes it much easier to buy with you
Develop a channel marketing and sales strategy that minimizes sales advantages at your competitor
If you believe in your strategy, establish a prioritization process that over-invests in the resources most in line with your strategy
Ensure you are inspiring and co-creating with your team vs telling them what to do
The list of options is long.  Pivots require a good plan and a genuine belief in the future but they are possible in all areas of our business and personal lives.  Don’t accept defeat…find a way to win.
Learn more about our current best thinking at business transformations

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Why Closure Is So Important For Moving On After Losing A Job

We’ve heard it a million times in a million different ways. You can’t embrace the future with one foot stuck in the past. You can’t go forward if you’re looking in the rearview mirror. You can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created the problems in the first place. The common theme is about the need to close out one chapter in order to embrace the next one.
There are three parts to this:
1) Accepting the need to close out a chapter
2) Closing out the old chapter
3) Moving on.

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Why Subordinates Should Not Interview Potential Bosses

First impressions are indelible. If a new leader’s first encounter with a future direct report is when they are being interviewed for a job, the balance of power is inverted. The subordinate has more power in the interview. The new boss is going to have more power later. The issue is not about power per se, but about how that inverted balance of power complicates an already potentially stressful meeting. Net, don’t do it. Don’t have subordinates meet their new boss until the new boss has been offered the job.
What about informal, non-interview meetings before the boss is offered the job?
They don’t exist. Until someone has been offered a job, everything is an interview – every conversation, and every casual interaction with anyone associated with the hiring firm has the potential to produce information that could impact the hiring decision. Everything communicates. So, there are no informal, non-interview meetings before someone is offered a job.

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How Great Leaders Bring Out Others’ Self-Confidence

Leaders inspire and enable others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. Great leaders add bringing out others’ self-confidence by emphasizing confidence-building in their approach to the direction, authority, resource, and accountability aspects of delegation.
“They can because they think they can.” – Virgil
Think in terms of why people follow you, what you do, and how you help those following you.
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Take The Nike Approach To A Job Search To Get An Unfair Advantage

Over its history, Nike approached expansion by minimizing the variables it changed. Do the same in your job search, changing only what you must across your job and function, industry, geography, personal brand. and relationships. That focused approach will give you an unfair advantage over those trying to be everything to everybody.
Nike tackled expansion by changing only one variable at a time. For example, their first entry into any international market was with running shoes branded Nike.
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As An Executive Onboarding Into A New Role, Engage Intellectually, Emotionally And Practically – In That Order

40% of new leaders fail in their first 18 months because of poor fit, poor delivery or a poor ability to adjust to a change down the road. Often the underlying root cause is that they instinctively think that what made them successful before will make them successful in their new job. Wrong. Instead, as an executive onboarding into a new role, you need to apply deliberate thinking to lock down an intellectual framework for your new situation, carefully choose the stories that will help you connect emotionally, and then evolve processes to embed new ways of thinking, feeling and practical action.
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The Lesson For All Leaders From Boris Johnson’s Bare Minimum Brexit Compliance

Last evening Boris Johnson did what the UK Parliament had legally mandated he do. He sent the EU a letter requesting a Brexit delay. This is, of course, just one step in the UK Brexit story. At the same time, it’s a classic lesson in the bare minimum compliance. Yes, he complied with the law and sent that letter. He also sent another letting telling the EU that any further delay was a bad idea. And no one knows what he’s saying behind the scenes. But we can imagine. The lesson for all leaders is that compliance may not be enough. You need contribution or commitment.
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Why Where To Play Must Be Your First Choice

We keep learning the same lesson over and over again – or not. Porter told us that strategy is choosing what not to do. Choosing not to focus is choosing to be average at everything. And average does not win. Marakon’s Neal Kissel just sent me their latest research showing yet again that “the path to superior performance is determined by management’s decisions about where to focus the firm’s strategic resources (time, people and capital).”
Pay attention to the five BRAVE questions. Answer them outside-in in order:
Where to play? (Environment – context)
What matters and why? (Values – purpose)
How to win? (Attitude – strategy)
How to connect? (Relationships – communication)
What impact? (Behaviors – implementation)
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