Don’t Give Advice, Offer Experience

Leaders – Don’t Give Advice When Asked!

How executive coaching can help you in your business

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Advice - at your own riskLeaders and managers often need to give feedback to their teams and staff. Usually it is in the form of advice rather than feedback. Why is this? Advice can be packaged more easily, especially when you are dealing with a sensitive situation and/or individual, rather than feedback which is often perceived as being more critical in its nature. So how can we improve.

The Pixar Story

Virtually everyone knows Pixar , the animation studio that made Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, A Bug’s Life, and which grossed more than $6 billion, and has won 24 Academy Awards. Here is the question for you – how many flops has Pixar produced? The answer is none!

One reason for it is that within Pixar they give brutally honest feedback.

Brutally honest feedback

At Pixar, when a director hits a snag on a film, they immediately call in the “brain trust.” This is a group of brilliant senior filmmakers who come in, look at the film in progress and give brutally honest feedback for about two hours.

Normally this is an uncomfortable process and, at best, only partially effective. But it works for two reasons:

  1. No authority – the “brains trust” has no authority over the person to whom they are giving feedback. It is up to the recipient of the feedback to do something or not. As such they are not under any obligation to take the feedback, and because of that they often do.
  2. No advice – people do not tell others what to do, they don’t offer advice; they offer experience. As such the recipient can learn from others, and can choose what to do or not.

As such, the less authority and power you have the greater the influence you can bring to bear. And the lower the requirement to act on the experience shared, the more likely people are to do so. This creates the opportunity for learning, development and innovation. Counter-intuitive? Yes, but it works. Share your experience – but remember we don’t have to learn from it, but then we probably will!

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Starting With Your Purpose Wins!

What is the difference between an average leader and a great leader – the answer is WHY?

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

In a TED presentation by Simon Sinek a key question was asked – “How can some companies achieve things that others do not, when they have access to the same talent, resources, markets etcetera?”

The answer is to this lies in a question.  Great leaders focus on the Why?, and not the What? they start from the inside and work outwards.  Let’s look at the picture below, the “Golden Circle”.

It explains why some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t.

The “Golden Circle”

Golden Circle

Everybody knows “what” they do 100%. Some know how they do it. But very, very few people or organizations know WHY they do it.  The “Why” is the why you do it, why you get out of bed in the morning, and why people should care.  It is not about making a profit – that is a result, not the why.

If you are inspired you begin with the why in mind. Inspired organizations and people all think, act, and communicate from the inside out.

There is an important point here – people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

This reflects an important point about when people make decisions.  When a person makes any decision they always make an emotional decision, and then follow it up with a rationalisation.  As such emotion makes people act, and logic makes people think.

So if you lead with the ‘what’, you lead with information, features and benefits and facts and figures  it can drive understanding, but it doesn’t  drive behaviour.  To drive behaviour you lead with the ‘why’, you lead with emotion which attracts and stimulates people to make a decision.

But if you don’t’ know why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to buy into it, and be loyal, or want to be a part of what it is that you do.

Let’s look at how this ‘Golden Circle’ can be applied, using Apple as an example.

The Uninspiring – Outside-In Approach

WHAT: We make great computers

HOW: We make beautifully designed, easy to use and user friendly computers

WHY: Want to buy one?

This is uninspiring and it typical of what most businesses do.  We tell people what we do, how we are different and then expect some kind of desired behaviour to happen.

The Inspiring – Inside-Out Approach

WHY: Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently.

HOW: The way that we challenge the status quo is that we design beautiful computers that simple to use and user-friendly.

WHAT: Want to buy one?

Here we have said the same things, we have just reversed the order – and you can feel the impact.

Ramifications for Leaders – Leading with ‘Why?’

As leaders,  the goal is not just to get people to buy that need what you have, but to believe what you believe. The goal is not just to hire people who need a job, but who believe what you believe. If you hire people who just need a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people that believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.

Leaders are those who hold a position of power or authority. But being a leader is not a noun, its a verb – leading. Those who lead are those who inspire us. Whether within organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. Not for them, but for ourselves.

And it’s those who start with why, who have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.

Tell them why you do what you do

Don’t tell people what you do, tell them why you do what you do.

Let me give you an example using my business, Growth & Profit Solutions.

WHY: Why do I what I do?  I help people to grow, realise their potential and to enable them to do that for others!  I get up every day and work with people to realise their potential, to help them realise that of others and to create a virtuous cycle in doing so.

HOW: I partner with clients to design customised development programmes that develop the peoples’ skills and capabilities in helping them to grow and raise their performance, to share their learnings and experience with others in resolving challenges and capitalising on opportunities, and to bring passion into what they do.

WHAT: Would you like to make such a difference for yourself, for others, and for your company?

For me, the thought that what I do can positively affect people far over and beyond those who I work with – someone else I may never know, and even four, five or six times removed – is exciting, rewarding and deeply satisfying.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life (Confucius) – I am truly fortunate to be in this position, and even more fortunate because I can help other people to choose for themselves.

So the question here is not what do you, but why do you do what you do?

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

The Key Differences Between Management & Leadership


A business needs to have both effective managers and effective leaders; it cannot operate without one of them. Leadership and management are different roles, not different people.  As such, all leaders are managers but not all managers are leaders.  Let me explain further.

There are many in management positions – those who control or administer part of the business who have a title such as “manager”, or “supervisor” or  “director” – who have the necessary management skills (for example, being able to plan, schedule time effectively, manage budgets etcetera). But titles do not make leaders.  To be a leader you need to have people who will willingly follow you.  This has two implications:

  • If no one is following you then you are just a manager.
  • You can have no formal title or authority but, because people follow you, you can be a leader.

As such, leadership is not a noun, it is a verb. But leadership is not just about having followers, and management is not just about control – there are differences that collectively make management and leadership very different but complementary. Kotter concisely defines management and leadership as the following:

“In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on the budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous and it’s a recipe for failure.”

The essence of the difference between management and leadership can be summarized in one sentence: Management is about coping with Complexity; Leadership is about coping with Change.  As such, Management is about Resources, Leadership is about People.  Let’s explore this further in the table below which highlights some of the key differences.

Key differences between management and leadership

Management Leadership
Doing things right… Doing the right things…
Efficiency Effectiveness
Transactional Transformational
Speed Direction
Practices Principles
Things People
Manage complexity Manage change
Drive stability, efficiency, and order Drive innovation, adaptability and change
Task-focused People-focused
Operational role Situational role
Content is important Context is important

As you can see from this list there is a tension between management and leadership which, if you achieve the right balance between the two, can be highly productive and beneficial.

However, if you have management with weak leadership or leadership with weak management you will have an imbalance. We explore this in the leadership/management matrix.

The Leadership/Management Matrix

So which is more important, management or leadership? This is not the right question to ask, rather the question to ask what is the balance between management and leadership that you need to have? To answer this, you need to at what role each plays. Management ensures the stability and efficiency necessary to run today’s business reliably. Leadership creates the change needed to take advantage of new opportunities, to avoid serious threats, and to create and execute new strategies. The point is that management and leadership are very different, and when organizations are of any size and exist in environments which are volatile, both are essential to helping them win.

The management/leadership matrix show what happens when you have weak or strong leadership interacting with weak or strong management.  The four quadrants are:

  • Doomed – weak management, weak leadership.  Here the business is run inefficiently and with no clear direction to guide and align people’s efforts, decisions and the allocation of resources.  People are not inspired or motivated to achieve high-performance, and the business is losing to its competitors.  The business is unlikely to survive beyond the short-term.
  • Innovative – weak management, strong leadership. Here the business is able to adapt quickly and effectively, but there are insufficient management and associated skills in place to drive stability, efficiency and to create the necessary order to manage the resulting complexity and create order from which to build.
  • Well run but bureaucratic – strong management, weak leadership.  Here the business is well-structured and managed; it works efficiently which is good while the status quo exists.  However, in an environment of change, it finds itself relatively rigid and inflexible with its existing bureaucracy and organization being unable to adapt effectively.  This can expose the business with existing strengths potentially becoming major liabilities, potential competitors going unrecognized or changes in customer need going unmet.
  • Well run and innovative – strong management, strong leadership.  Here there is a healthy balance of management and leadership skills and capacity.  The business has a clear direction around which everyone and all actions is aligned, people are inspired and motivated, and as a result, they work both efficiently and effectively.  They are competitive, adaptive and have the right mix of skills, capacity enabled by a strong business culture which supports the people in their work.

Over-managed and Under-led

A common complaint in most businesses is that they are over-managed and under-led (in the bottom-right quadrant of the matrix, bureaucratic). Those at the top of the hierarchy (note I do not call them leaders) are often more focused on doing things right (management) rather than doing the right things (leadership).

Over recent years the emphasis of senior management has been on having an efficient business (management) rather than an effective business (leadership).  In pursuing this they have focused on getting the business processes (management) right, rather than the people right (leadership).  This focuses senior management on controlling people (management), not on helping them collaborate (leadership).

Part of this problem has been historical in that for many years businesses operated in a relatively static environment and having a management focus made sense. Now we are in an environment of accelerating change. We are experiencing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) at an unprecedented level and rate.

The problem with many businesses being overmanaged and underled is that the business focuses on maintaining the status quo at a time when people need to change to meet the new challenges and opportunities.  This creates an organization that is inflexible, backward-looking and slow to change. We need to change as fast as the world around us to avoid becoming obsolete.

To overcome VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Agility) we need to develop, articulate and drive across the business a clear Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility.  This is all about dealing with change and helping people to embrace that change successfully.  In short, it is the work of a leader and not a manager.  It is a case of the old adage – what got you here won’t get you there! Leadership is more important than ever in these changing times.

If you want to be successful in your career, your business and your life then change always starts with you! You need to adapt and change yourself first before you can help others to do so.  You need to move from being a manager to being a leader.  You need to become agile in what you do, to challenge the status quo and to become comfortable with ambiguity and volatility. If this is uncomfortable for you then you can stay a manager – but be prepared for a life with fewer challenges, fewer options, and fewer opportunities.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

The “Salutary Science of Hierarchiology”

Managing the “Peter Principle” – Developing Key Leadership & Management Skills

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

What are the risks of poor leaders, what are the key skills and capabilities a good leader needs to have, and how can you do this?

Introduction

Effective leadership requires a blend of skills – commercial, relational, managerial and cognitive.  However, many organisations suffer from having leaders who lack these skills in full or part.  Often such leaders are victims of the “Peter Principle”.  It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise, which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology.”

In summary, the Peter Principle assumes that people are promoted because they are competent, and that the tasks higher up in the hierarchy require skills or talents they do not possess. It concludes that due to this, a competent employee will eventually be promoted to, and remain at, a position at which he or she is incompetent.

An alternative version of this is the “Dilbert Principle”, a 1990s satirical observation by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams which, by contrast, assumes that hierarchy just serves as a means for removing the incompetent to “higher” positions where they will be unable to cause damage to the workflow, assuming that the upper echelons of an organization have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder.  This is beautifully illustrated here and below.

The Dilbert Principle - Leadership

What We Need From Leaders

Whichever principle you subscribe to there is an underlying theme – leaders who lack the necessary skills, experience and insights can cause considerable damage to the business. This can happen even if the leader is acting in what he or she believes is the business’ best interests.

Leaders need to be able to listen and respond, be flexible, adaptive, and be able to develop innovative solutions whilst handling multiple and conflicting priorities.  The speed and complexity of business is becoming faster as is the rate of change in the business environment.  This means that important and significant decisions have to be made quickly, often with incomplete information, which can carry significant risks.  Leaders need to be able to handle this and more, they cannot rely on the skills that got them to their current position to keep them there – they need to grow themselves and develop new skills and capabilities on a continual basis.

From this it is clear that leaders and managers need a broad general management development that focuses on commercial, relational, managerial and cognitive capabilities. We need to ask some tough questions about how our organization is training its leaders and managers to develop these vital elements. Those responsible for commissioning, designing and/or delivering leadership and management training must ensure that programs move beyond task-related knowledge and skills and emphasize a fuller range of general management competencies that are needed to manage increasingly complex markets and business relationships.

Critical Leadership & Managerial Skills & Capabilities

We have identified four categories of skills and capabilities that leaders and managers need in this new environment: Commercial, Relational, Managerial, and Cognitive.  These comprise of 10 specific yet integrated skill sets that exist.  These are listed and detailed below:

Summary of Business Development Skills & Capabilities

Commercial Skills & Capabilities Financial Insight
Business Acumen
Customer Insight
Relational Skills & Capabilities Managing Relationships
Inspiring Trust
Managerial Skills & Capabilities People Management Skills
Openness to Change & Adaptability
Influencing Skills
Cognitive Skills & Capabilities Innovative Problem-Solving
Ability to Identify Opportunities

Commercial Skills & Capabilities

Financial Insight

This includes understanding the implications of the proposed work for the company – revenue, margins, profitability, cash flows and risks associated with the work and the associated opportunity costs.  It also includes the ability to forecast and analyse client work, budgeting and prioritizing the work accordingly. The leader needs to be able to identify, uncover and anticipate the financial aspects of current and proposed work in terms of being able to assess the costs associated with the status quo, the benefits and associated value of the work, and its impact and implications on the achieving key financial metrics and objectives.

Business Acumen

This is the ability to understand the implications of the technical/specialist work and how it applies to the client’s business at both the level of the work being done, and how it impacts other areas of the business and the business as a whole.  This includes being able to translate technical outcomes and benefits to those of the business, and to align them with the business’ objectives and goals and those of the economic buyer(s) within the client (the individual(s) who have the authority and budget for the work and who have a vested interest and responsibility for the outcomes of the work).

Customer Insight

The ability to understand the client and to adopt their perspective, ensuring that current and proposed work is aligned with the clients’ needs and requirements.  This includes having a good understanding of the client’s company, industry, competition and key trends.  This allows the company to orientate its positioning and work around the client, and ensure that the outcomes are aligned with the client’s needs.  This ensures the company is not focused what it does, but it focused on the outcomes the client needs (these are often not what the client wants).

Relational Skills & Capabilities

Managing Relationships

In complex business situations there is a need to be able to manage multi-level, multi-functional relationships to uncover, identify, develop and manage business opportunities.  Externally, the company needs to identify and address the economic buyer, key decision-makers and influencers and to understand their respective roles, interactions and what they need to progress the relationship, and how to build it according to their personal preferences. There is a need to ensure that the right people with the right technical and commercial skills are matched appropriately with their peers in the client’s organisation to ensure a proper communication flow, and for the company to integrate itself into the client organisation at multiple levels.  Furthermore, how to manage and influence stakeholders is key.

Inspiring Trust

Trust is the essential component to being able to uncover and win opportunities with clients, as well as maintaining and developing key stakeholder relationships.  This takes time and effort, and requires creating rapport, understanding and establishing common areas of interest where the individuals in the company can demonstrate and prove themselves as helpful, relevant and of use.

Managerial Skills & Capabilities

People Management Skills

Much of business-to-business selling is done via teams and cross-functionality.  There is a need to manage the demands on the company in internally managing the resources and people required in winning client business, and the ability to handle people and deal with conflict in doing so. Business is based on relationships, and the ability to both manage the people and the associated relationships is important.

Openness to Change & Adaptability

Businesses are subject to change at an accelerating rate.  This requires the company to be able to adapt and meet these changes to survive and thrive, and to maintain focus and direction as priorities change and create conflicts.  Leaders and managers need to anticipate and to facilitate this. Similarly, the company also has to manage the effect of changes within the client’s organisation (e.g. new key people joining, existing contacts leaving etc) and in its markets and industry (e.g. deferment of projects with a fall in market demand).  This requires leaders to be able to take a holistic view of the company’s opportunities and understanding how and when to address changes or anticipated changes.

Influencing Skills

Complex sales in the business-to-business environment frequently involve working with personnel from the client and third parties over whom the company has no formal authority or control.  The ability to influence and negotiate with such people, as well as with people within the company, is key to dealing with changes and driving successful client outcomes.

Cognitive Skills & Capabilities

Innovative Problem-Solving

More work is won by companies who think in terms of developing a solution to an emerging client problem.  Being able to uncover and anticipate problems, whilst creating an innovative solution which creates real value for the client, whilst avoiding the risks of the status quo, differentiates the company and drives business opportunities.  Being able to put structure to this approach, without compromising the level of innovation, and to leverage this throughout the company’s different departments and other clients provides growth opportunities.  Leaders need to create, build and sustain the environment to foster and develop this.

Ability to Identify Opportunities

With rapid change occurring so there are a plethora of opportunities that can be identified and exploited.  Many more can be identified working in conjunction with the clients.  Being able to identify, capture and prioritize these opportunities in conjunction with innovative problem-solving and excellence in managing relationships and people will strengthen the business.  Leaders need to identify such opportunities, prioritize them and resource them properly to ensure there is the optimal opportunity for success.

Next Steps

Applying the business development diagnostic across the four areas of Commercial, Relational, Managerial, and Cognitive is the start of the process which comprises of three steps.  These include:

1. Understand Your Organisation’s Business Development Skills & Capabilities

Understanding the importance and interdependencies of these 4 areas, and how your organisation’s leaders and managers overall rate in each of the 10 skills and competencies, is the first step to understand what foundation you have to build from and to allow you to address the gaps.

2.  Focus on Developing & Implementing the Required Skills

Once we have determined this we need to prioritise how we leverage and develop this skill base, and to determine which priorities to address first in achieving our business goals and desired outcomes. On-going assistance with actual business development opportunities helps to drive this, and improve both the skill level and understanding.

3. Maintain, Review and Improve

Creating an on-going process of continuous improvement in the area of business development, and extending the skills throughout the organisation helps to deliver better and more sustainable results.  Enabling those who have developed their leadership and management skills to achieve mastery is done by having them coach and mentor others in this area.  This helps to create a common approach to business development, establishes best practices across the organisation, and shared insights and experience.

What has been your experience of this? What issues have you had, and how have you resolved them?  How would you like to raise the performance of your managers and leaders?  Share your ideas, insights and experience here – someone, somewhere has resolved the problems you face, just as you have resolved ones that others face.

Share the knowledge, share the wealth!

To find out how Growth & Profit Solutions can help you in developing your leaders and their critical leadership and managerial skills please contact us as below.

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Why What Got You Here Won’t Get You There!

Why what got you here won’t get you there!

Are any of these scenarios familiar to you?

  • You’ve been recently promoted.
  • You’re in the same job you were in a year ago, but the scope is a lot bigger today than it was then.
  • You’re working in an organization where the performance bar has been raised dramatically.
  • You’re operating in a constantly changing competitive environment.

I expect you are in a position where you could easily pick two, three or four of these options.  The question is, what do they have in common?  The answer is that you are in a different situation in which you need to get different results. You can no longer do what you always did to get what you always got. In short, you need to change.

The problem with change is that we don’t always like to or want to change. Also, if we have been successful in the past then it can be difficult to change our behavior as we believe it is our past behavior that has made us successful. However, these same behaviors can now be an impediment to us with our being successful in spite of our behavior rather than because of our behavior.

In dealing with this are two things to identify:

  • What behaviors do you need to stop?
  • What behaviors do you need to change to be a more effective leader?

In doing this you cannot depend on your own intuition.  An interesting piece of research found that leaders, when comparing themselves to their peers, consistently over-rated their contribution with 80% of all leaders surveyed seeing themselves in the top 20% of performers, and 70% seeing themselves in the top 10% of all performers.  To get a realistic understanding of what you need to improve on as a leader you need to objective input from your stakeholders. These are the people who are involved with you and impacted by your behavior – your boss, your peers and your reports.

To find out more how you can do this email Andrew Cooke and find out more about the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centred Coaching process for executive coaches and successful leaders.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

3 Ways to Help Change the Perceptions of Others

Perceptions of Business Growth – What is REALLY happening?

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Is your business growing or not? Do you share the same view as your staff, your manager or your leaders?  How do you know if you do?  This article highlights the differences that exist, examines why they exist, and suggests ways to create a common understanding of the business’ growth potential and opportunity.

ImageA recent Australian study by Leadership Management Australia (June 2012) of over 2000 participants including Leaders, Managers and Non-Managerial Employees highlighted a major problem and disconnect facing business.  The perception as to whether their businesses were growing or not.

The Non-Managerial Employees firmly believed that their businesses were growing (71%) whereas Leaders and Managers have a considerably different outlook – with the belief that growth is declining. Only 47% of Leaders perceived their businesses as growing and 45% of Managers.  So what does this mean for business in dealing with the future?

An individual’s perception of a situation is their reality, no matter what you think.  It is how they ascribe meaning to a situation and is based on their beliefs, feelings, ideas and experience.  As such we are looking at how to overcome a clear difference of opinion and belief. Failure to do so can cause major problems between these groups.

So what can we do?

Firstly, the differences may be due to the time-scale that the respective groups look at the work of the business – employees focusing more on the immediate and short-term, managers for the mid- and short-term, and leaders for the mid- and long-term.  The longer the time-scale that you are working to the greater the level of uncertainty that you need to incorporate into your forecasts and plans.  We need to understand this.

Uncertainty comes from a variety of sources.  Externally to Australia there is growing uncertainty in relation to economic, environmental and even political conditions in a number of countries, whose ripples are being felt on Australia’s shores.  Within Australia there are internal uncertainties including the carbon tax and the mining tax which is exacerbated by a government suffering in the polls.

Secondly, employees need to understand the perspective of managers and leaders.  To do this the leaders and managers need to clearly and consistently communicate what the issues, opportunities and risks are and in doing so create trust.

Trust creates high-performing organisations (HPOs) and helps the business to achieve high revenues, profits and market share than low-performing organisations where trust is low.  These HPOs are also more effective at accomplishing their goals in critical areas including customer loyalty and retention; achieving predictable results; business agility and practicing innovation and creativity.

Thirdly, the business needs to actively engage employees in coping and dealing with these changes and engendering trust.  Key to this is establishing clear priorities and being able to cascade them to people so that they are meaningful, relevant and measurable; and building these priorities into their work creates alignment, traction and results.

To enable the business to grow requires more than leadership and good management.  It requires good communication, developing trust across and throughout the business, and the establishment of a commonly shared and understood perception of the business and its future growth. Creating this enables the business, holistically and at all levels, to engage proactively and develop opportunities and options for business growth.

Do you know how perceptions vary across your business and why?  What perception do you want to create for your business and how will you do it?  Share your ideas, experiences and examples of what has worked and what has not – ask your questions and let’s see what answers we can come up with.

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How to Find & Challenge Assumptions

How to benefit from making mistakes and challenging your assumptions.

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Make Mistakes

A common view is that failure is a bad thing.  It implies a lack of success, personal weakness and it makes you vulnerable.  None of these things are comfortable, enjoyable or desired and, as such, failure is to be avoided.

The problem with this is that the only way you can learn and grow is to fail.  It is a natural part of our way of life.  How many parents proudly remember their baby standing up for the first time, and walking without falling down?  Exactly, it doesn’t happen.  Yet we insist that as we get older so we must always know better, and so we must not fail or be seen to fail.

So let’s plan to fail.  Plan to fail by making deliberate mistakes.

If we are looking to make deliberate mistakes we are better prepared for the eventuality than if we make a mistake unexpectedly.  By looking to make a deliberate mistake you are immediately putting yourself in a mindset of testing, learning and developing.  If you make an unexpected mistake you are more focused on avoiding making the same mistake than learning from it.  One way helps you grow, develop and to focus on the upside; the other can make you more insular, reactive and focused on the downside.

“Consider the Opposite”

Psychologists use this technique, “consider the opposite”, to stop ourselves from drawing premature conclusions and, instead, ponder whether we might be misinterpreting the evidence. For example, “I think my partner is selfish–but, wait, maybe I’m just ignoring all the times he’s looking out for me.” Or, at work: “I think my colleague is being rude and abrupt–but what if he’s not being abrupt and is just trying to respect my time?

If there is such a potential upside to making decisions, then why not take control of the process and try to deliberately make mistakes which can learn or benefit from?  In their recent book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of a company called DSI–Decision Strategies International, a management consulting firm.

The CEO at DSI, Paul Schoemaker wanted his colleagues to help him plan and execute a deliberate mistake, as a way of testing their assumptions about DSI’s business.

They approached this in 5 steps:

  1. Challenge the Conventional Wisdom – they listed the 10 key assumptions underlying their business.  Conventional wisdom is rarely articulated and even more rarely questioned.
  2. Identify Low Confidence & High Payoff Alternatives – they identified and focused on the three assumptions that they were least confident about and that, if proven wrong
  3. Select the option with the having the highest potential of benefiting from a strategy of deliberate mistakes.
  4. Plan to make the mistake
  5. Review results and identify results asking:

What was the difference between what we expected and what we got?

What changed or happened for this result to occur?

How can we replicate this or avoid this outcome?

What are the key leanings from this?

How should our underlying assumption be changed, modified or removed?

The three assumptions that DSI came up with were:

  1. Young MBAs don’t work well for us. We need experienced consultants on the team.
  2. The firm can be successfully run by a president who is not a major billing senior consultant.
  3. It is not worthwhile to respond to RFPs. Clients who use RFPs are usually price shopping or are going through the motions to justify a choice they have already made. (RFPs are requests for proposals. Customers send out RFPs to attract vendors to bid on their business.)

A further round of assessment led them to select number 3 as the one in which they had the least confidence, and which could have the greatest payoff. Now they were ready to make their mistake.

The firm’s policy had been never to respond to an RFP, but they resolved to respond to the next one that came over the transom, which, as it happened, came from a regional electric utility. The DSI team submitted a proposal with a budget of about $200,000, a price that reflected their normal fees but that they suspected would be well out of the client’s league. Schoemaker said, “To our surprise, the electric utility invited our firm to visit with the CEO and the senior management team to explore not only the project in question but others as well.”

Eventually, DIS earned over $1 million in fees from the client. Not bad for making a mistake.

But let’s be clear here, most of your “deliberate mistakes” will fail, and in the fact that failure should be encouraging because it means you’ve been making the right assumptions all along. Beyond the mistake itself, the willingness to test your assumptions has its own value. It signals to your colleagues that your work will be conducted based on evidence, not folklore or politics.

So where are you looking to make a mistake?

Excerpted from Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Copyright 2013 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Published by arrangement with Crown Business, a division of Randomhouse, Inc.

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