12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Powerhouse

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

The Secret to Higher Profits in a Digitized World

people shock

The Decline of Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is going down, not up.

How can that be in a world with unprecedented technological progress?

 

“A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, and the off strategy.” –Scott Bedbury

 

Tema Frank founded Web Mystery Shoppers International, the world’s first company to test omnichannel customer service. Her new book, People Shock: The Path to Profits When Customers Rule , shows off both her decades of business experience and the research from interviewing over 150 business leaders. She developed a formula to help businesses improve the customer experience in the midst of a digitized world.

I recently asked her about her research.

 

“The key to getting work done on time is to stop wearing a watch.” –Ricard Semler

 

What is PeopleShock?

As we automate more and artificial intelligence wipes out jobs, the smaller amount that is left for human to human interaction becomes critical. Companies that are people-focused (while using technology to support those people) are the ones that will win in an era of increasing competition and social media power. If you get the people side right, PeopleShock is your key to success. Ignore it and your company will soon be history.

 

“If you’re too busy to build good systems, then you’ll always be too busy.” –Brian Logue

 

Get the 3Ps of Profit Right

Please share your 3P Profit Formula with our audience.

Customers are cranky, and they’ve got more choices than ever before. So you’ve got to keep them happy, and that means getting all of the 3 Ps of Profit right:

Promise – Having a clear aspirational, inspirational and memorable reason for doing what you do inspires staff and customers. It also gives staff a filter for decision-making: Would their action be consistent with the company’s promise?

People – Business success comes from connecting effectively at a human level with people inside (staff) and outside your organization. Outsiders include not only prospects and customers, but people we sometimes overlook, like suppliers, distributors, lenders, investors, media and the public.

Process – As time goes by, some of the processes that got you to where you are stop making sense.  To deliver consistently great customer experiences, you have to regularly re-assess how you’ve been doing things. Start by looking at processes from a customer point of view. What do they experience? Then look at how that lines up with what you do internally.

 

“CEOs are the ones who must conduct the corporate orchestra.” –Tema Frank

 

How does this translate into higher profits?

3 Powerful Lessons from 5 Years of Blogging

Five Years of Blogging

It was five years ago when I launched this blog, Leadership Insights.

At the time, I had several people encouraging me to do it, but many more were against it.

 


“Success is the pull against the current of mediocrity.” -Skip Prichard

 

Overcome Negative Voices

The list of negative sentiments kept coming at me:

  • The blogging craze is over.
  • It’s too hard to start now.
  • Starting is easy, getting anyone to read a blog is difficult.
  • Do you have the time?
  • Are you going to burn out?
  • Why do you want to share all of this for free?
  • You want to do this without a business model?
  • The technical side of it is more challenging than you know.
  • How long can you keep this up?
  • What’s the best way to promote a new blog?
  • You just joined Twitter a month ago. Learn that before doing something bigger.

I’ve now been blogging for five years. After millions of hits, you’d think the naysayers would stop. Maybe they’ve been silenced a bit, but every now and then I hear something that reminds me that success is the pull against the current of mediocrity. Somehow my brain uses negativity and difficulty as fuel to propel me higher. Truth be told, it’s not others who may cause me to pause. It’s my own thoughts. I think negative thoughts from inside us are the worst offenders because it’s much harder to tune out the voice within.

 


“Believing in negative thoughts is the single greatest obstruction to success.” -Charles Glassman

 

Stay the Course

And, yes, I’ve often asked myself whether I should continue, whether it matters, and whether I will keep blogging. I’ve never promised that I wouldn’t quit, but instead I just plod along, writing the next post, interviewing another author, sharing a story that uplifts or a quote that inspires. Discipline wears down any obstacle in the way water seeks its own level. Often the biggest successes come after powering through the most challenging times.

 


“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” -Vince Lombardi

 

There are many things that I’ve learned in my five years of blogging:

  • How to focus on the reader
  • How to write faster
  • How to ignore critics
  • How to write better headlines
  • How to utilize a good outline
  • How to write more succinctly

Understand that People Are Most Important

5 Phases of Simple Leadership

Simple Leadership

You may read the title of this post and think, “Leadership seems to be anything but simple!”

 

“The way to have a great future is to have a lot of great todays.” -Michael Nichols

 

My friend Dr. Michael Nichols developed a model for simple leadership that you may find particularly effective. Dr. Nichols is an executive coach who helps teams develop a vision and strategy to achieve their goals. The author of Creating Your Business Vision, he also helps individuals pursue intentional growth.

 

“Obstacles occur to help you determine if you really believe in the vision.” -Michael Nichols

 

His model for simple leadership:

  1. Purpose. What’s most important to me?
  2. Path. Where am I headed?
  3. Plan. What should I be doing?
  4. Prepare. How and when will I do it?
  5. People. Who will live and work with me?

One interesting fact I didn’t realize until this interview:

Over 70% of leaders say they have ZERO close friends.

Zero.

 

Over 70% of leaders say they have ZERO close friends.

 

That was particularly stunning and perhaps a wake-up call for some leaders as to what really matters.

Copyright Dr. Nichols. Used by Permission. Copyright Dr. Nichols. Used by Permission.

If you want to be more deliberate in your goals, strategy, and planning, study the simple leadership model.

 

“You can gain authority and position without connecting with others, but you won’t have many friends.” -Michael Nichols

How to Create Repeatable Success and Endless Encores

Endless Encores Ken Goldstein

Repeating Success

 

Ever feel frozen in place?

Have you seen something take off and then get consumed with worry about what’s next?

How do we create an encore worthy of that success?

 

Ken Goldstein’s new book, Endless Encores: Repeating Success Through People, Products, and Profits, tackles the difficult topic of creating continued, repeatable success. His various corporate roles make him uniquely suited to share his perspective on success. Currently, he is Chairman & CEO of SHOP.COM and previously he was Executive VP of Disney Online and Publisher of Broderbund.

 

“All success resets expectations for what comes next.” -Ken Goldstein

 

How to Create Repeatable Success

You wrote a fictional story about a topic that seems to haunt many: repeating success. Why did you choose this topic?

I think there are two challenges that weigh heavily on our minds at work: first, how do we achieve success, and second, once we achieve some success, is that the last success we are going to have? In many senses, the second challenge is much more haunting than the first. When we’re initially trying to break through the noise and get noticed, we have nothing to lose, so our leaning toward risk is high and our openness to the unusual is ungated. We are open to helping others, and we welcome their help because together we are stronger. Once we have a reputation of any kind, fear starts creeping into the mix. No one wants to be a one-hit wonder, but often we become our own worst enemy and unintentionally box ourselves in. We worry about our next thing being compared to our last thing. That worry can filter our creativity, our bias to action, even our kindness toward others as competitiveness takes over. None of that negativity helps us win again at all, it just clouds the way forward. That’s why I chose this topic. So many people I know are consumed by it, overwhelmed by it, and sometimes frozen in place. The colleagues I’ve helped in person in a leadership capacity have continued to move forward with the new, and I thought if I could capture that spirit of innovation in a story with real characters, I could inspire others to keep looking forward and only forward.

 

“Leadership is earned and recognized, not granted.” -Ken Goldstein

 

Why We Learn More From Failure

Why is success difficult to repeat? After all, if you did it once, you can follow the same process . . . or not?

Ken GoldsteinHere’s what I have discovered repeatedly: You can almost never recreate a success, but it is absolutely predictable that you can recreate a failure. That’s why we learn more from failure than we do from success. In failure, we learn what not to do again. It didn’t work, so put that on your list of things you don’t need to try again. In success, if we do the same thing again, or even a modest alteration, we will not create the same inventiveness or excitement that we did with the original. Something can only be unique once, and success is usually unique. That’s why it is so hard to repeat success, because no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, all that is in the past, and you must start from zero. It’s also why I say you’re not really failing if you’re learning, because the learning is what sends you back to try again. When we embrace the empowerment and humility of starting over, releasing defensiveness and facing the blank canvass with a set of trusted colleagues, we have the best shot at repeat success, which is the same shot we had at first success. Accept that and innovation is all you need to worry about (and that’s plenty).

 

“Offer customers more than what they think they want.” -Ken Goldstein

 

Build a Mission That is More than Words

What’s the best way to have a mission that is “more than words”?

When a company’s mission statement is in a binder on the shelf or buried in the company handbook, it’s dead text — it means nothing and empowers no one. Shared values are what drive people to work together and innovate. A set of shared values allows a mission to be more than words, but only if those around us embrace the values with authenticity and conviction. We live in a cynical world where conflicting data and untested opinions are communicated broadly in real time. If we say “our people are our most valuable asset” and then lay off 20% of our staff because of a bad quarter, was that a shared value? If we say, “We cherish integrity here,” and then our CEO resigns for unexplained reasons around a publicly broadcast compensation scandal, what happened to our commitment to integrity? Walk the walk, lead by example, and you can get the people around you to rally to any cause you share, but you must share it as a set of consistent actions (emphasis on “consistent”), not a slogan.

 

“Long-term leaders spend the majority of their thinking about talent.” -Ken Goldstein

 

3 Steps to Building a Winning Team