How to Transform Promises into Results

Be An Agenda Mover

It’s not enough to have an idea.

Ideas without action, without execution, without forward-momentum don’t matter. To make a difference, you need to have the skills to turn an idea into reality.

Leaders are people who turn ideas into something tangible, turning promises into results.

 

“If you cannot move your agenda, you’re not a leader.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

It’s a skill that anyone can learn. And Samuel B. Bacharach, the author of The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, is an expert in execution. He is also co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group, which focuses on training leaders in the skills of the Agenda Mover, and is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Sam about his newest book and turning ideas into reality.

 

Develop the Qualities of an Agenda Mover

Having a great idea is not enough. You teach a process for taking an idea into actionable reality. Before we go into your process, what leadership qualities are essential to being an effective agenda mover?

First and foremost, Agenda Movers keep their egos in check. They are aware that – no matter how good they think their idea is—there may be other perspectives out there. They understand that confidence is one thing, but they know ego can lead to delusion.

Second, Agenda Movers are deeply empathetic. I use that word in a very specific way, meaning that Agenda Movers are capable of standing in the shoes of other people and are capable of seeing the world from varied perspectives. They can see their agenda not only from their perspective but also from the perspective of others.

Third, Agenda Movers tactically focus. They are mindful of small details and tactics. They understand that charisma, bombastic ideas, and grand promises work only up to a point and that what is really needed to get things done are micro-behavioral skills.

Lastly, Agenda Movers understand that they can’t do it alone. To get anything done they need to have others in their corner. They understand the importance of coalitions, and they are able to adopt a coalition mindset.

If you look at the great Agenda Movers out there—these are the characteristics they all share.

 

“Agenda Movers understand what it takes to move things forward.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

Anticipate Motivations

The first step of your strategic blueprint is to anticipate others’ agendas and know where they’re coming from. I recall one person just totally missing it, oblivious to what seemed to be obvious signs. How do you help aspiring leaders to be more situationally aware of others and their motivations?

I think this is the number one mistake leaders make: They don’t spend enough time focusing on where others are coming from.

I remember years ago a student of mind was asking for advice on defending her dissertation in front of five faculty members I knew. The main advice I gave her was to stop focusing on her dissertation and instead to focus on the dissertations and research that the members of the committee had done. Simply put, I told her, “You know where you’re coming from. Make sure you know where they are coming from.”

Good Agenda Movers do their homework and I mean that literally. They dedicate time to figuring out there others stand, how they think, and what they want. They don’t presume they are born with situational awareness—they develop it and work on it.

Too often we look for shortcuts in trying to figure out the agendas of others. We think that if we understand their background or their personality, we can generalize their motivation and intention. This belief is both lazy and wrong. For most people, whether in organizations or in politics, motivation is determined by the specific agenda, not simply by personality.

An individual may be a staunch traditionalist on one issue and a complete revolutionary on another issue. Leaders who make quick summations about the agendas of others and don’t do their homework are bound to make mistakes.

 

“Leadership is about building a coalition that can turn an innovative idea into reality.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

How to Deal With Resistance

Gaining traction and initial support is crucial. If you’re met with resistance, what do you do?

First of all, resistance should never come as a surprise to anyone. All leaders, all organizational actors, will face resistance—it’s just a question of when and how much.

In our political and organizational systems, resistance is part and parcel of the checks and balances that improve what we’re trying to accomplish.

So for starters, don’t let resistance throw you for a loop. Don’t let it shock you. Don’t let it root you to the ground. Instead, you should expect it and have a plan to deal with it.

I argue in my book that there are only a handful of ways people can resist an idea. To the surprise of my students, this really isn’t a daunting challenge. There are a limited number of ways resistance can argue against any idea and leaders can easily defend against these arguments with a little preparation. Once you’re able to categorize the arguments of resistance, you will be able to apply your counter arguments of justification.

 

Leadership Tip: Know where you want to go and whose support you need to get there.

 

Know the 3 Types of Resistors

What’s the best way to deal with resistors?

The first thing you need to understand is what type of resistance you’re facing.

In my book I look at three main types of resistors in an organizational context: active resistors, passive resistors, and internal resistors.

While I always support leaders building a wide swath of support, they might have the hardest time convincing active resistors to join their coalition. At some point, an Agenda Mover should move on and not waste his or her time.

Good Agenda Movers focus on talking with passive resistors. They are those actors who aren’t actively undermining your efforts, but certainly are not helping them, either. Since they are on the fence, so to speak, a leader can be clever and find ways to incorporate them into his or her coalition by presenting potential benefits to them.

Lastly, there are internal resistors—those who sneak into a coalition in a Trojan Horse. Agenda Movers can prevent them from showing up by monitoring their coalition and making sure they don’t let team traction and momentum slip after an initial surge.

 

“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King

 

How to Sustain Momentum

Once you get going, you need to sustain the momentum. How do you use small victories effectively? Why do some ideas die in this stage?

Some leaders are great at mobilizing political support for their agenda. They’re great at convincing people of the need for innovation and change. They’re great at getting others to join them. But they drop the ball once they mobilize support. It’s sort of like the politician who gets elected but doesn’t deliver.The Agenda Mover Book Jacket

These leaders stop doing their homework. They stop thinking about the team. They lose their focus and start looking toward the horizon for another big project or a big career move. As a result, they leave it to their coalition to work out the day-to-day details of implementing a new idea.

Agenda Movers can’t relax once they start building some traction. If anything, they need to work harder to drive momentum by not only celebrating small victories but also by providing the right resources and maintaining optimism. They have to supplement the prudent political competence they have used to gain support with a managerial capacity to make sure that things keep on moving. Like I said, it is one thing to gain support and it is another to deliver.

 

“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard

 

Is there one step in the agenda moving process where most leaders fail? 

33 Innovation Quotes to Inspire Your Next Idea

The Power of Innovation

There’s no telling where your next idea will come from. One of the many reasons I love to share quotes is that they often inspire us or cause us to think differently. Here are some quotes about innovation for the next time you need a spark.

 

“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” –Tom Freston

 

“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.” – Simon Sinek

 

“Innovation is created as a result of constructive conflict.” -Jeff DeGraff

 

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs

 

“Finding opportunity is a matter of believing it’s there.” –Barbara Corcoran

 

“There’s a way to do it better—find it.” –Thomas Edison

 

“Innovation comes from saying NO to 1,000 things.” –Steve Jobs

 

“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” –Jonathan Swift

 

“Innovation only survives when people believe in their own ideas.” –Levo League

 

“Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” –Michael Porter

 

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” –Nelson Mandela

 

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” –Maya Angelou

 

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” –Henry David Thoreau

 

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

 

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” –Albert Einstein

 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” –Socrates

 

“Exploration is the engine that drives innovation. Innovation drives economic growth. So let’s all go exploring.” –Edith Widder

 

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” –Chinese Proverb

 

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all what the world needs most are dreamers that do.” –Sarah Ban Breathnach

Consider: Harness the Power of Reflective Thinking

Breathe. Reflect. Consider.

Not a day goes by when I don’t hear, “I’m so busy!” or, “I don’t have any time.” It seems that in our overconnected, overscheduled, overcommitted world we have lost all sense of margin. Time to breathe?  Maybe, if it’s a scheduled yoga class or meditation session. Otherwise, on to the next task!

What happens when we don’t have time to reflect? Why is it so critical to spend time on reflective thinking?

 

“$650 billion is lost each year because we don’t give ourselves time for reflection.” -DP Forrester

 

Daniel Patrick Forrester is the founder and CEO of THRUUE. He’s a management consultant who has worked with some of the biggest organizations ranging from Verizon to Xerox.  His work on reflection and its power had me doing some reflecting of my own.  I recently had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his book Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization.

 

3 Benefits of Reflection 

What are the top 3 benefits of reflection and reflective thinking?

 

1. Getting the big ideas right

CEOs, COOs, business leaders, and leadership boards have no shortage of ideas that must get done. They drive high-performing teams and cultures to implement their best ideas. Now, more than ever, organizations are in the midst of a tumultuous business market, facing questions of relevancy and sustainability. Only through reflective thinking can leaders know if their big ideas will work and if the organizational culture can support idea implementation. Reflective leaders embrace the questions: What would make this idea fail, what could we do differently, and how can we solve this problem?

 

2. Finding meaning

We live in a world where data and meaning fight for our attention all day. Emails, text messages, social media updates, and other information are constantly bombarding us. We can’t process one piece of data before we are confronted with another. There’s simply no way to comprehend the meaning of all of this data unless we make time to think.

This Basex study breaks down how the typical leader spends his or her time each day:

  • 28% — Interruptions by things that aren’t urgent or important, like unnecessary email messages and the time it takes to get back on track
  • 25% — Productive content creation, including writing email messages
  • 20% — Meetings (in person, by phone, by video, and online)
  • 15% — Searching through content, like the Web, digital communications, and paperwork
  • ONLY 5% — Reflecting on all of the information

Nearly a third of the time is spent in interruptions, while a mere 5% is left for think time. How can leaders make effective decisions with such a balance?  The answer is simple: they can’t.

Leaders must understand the meaning behind information and the implications of their decisions before they act.  Meaning is what leaders bring to their organizations. When meaning is found, intention is found.

 

“When meaning is found, intention is found.” -Daniel Patrick Forrester

 

3. Reconnecting with control and intention

When we take time to think and reflect, we find ourselves in control rather than subservient to the Pavlovian urges that so often drive us to choose technology and connectedness rather than reflection.  This past September, I spoke at a conference called BoardSource in Washington, D.C. BoardSource is the nation’s largest annual convening of nonprofit leaders, board members, and chief executives.  In my speech to the 850 executive leaders in attendance, I explained why boards and leadership teams should act with intention and focus on becoming greater than the sum of their individual parts, which can only be achieved through continuous reflection.

 

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” –Mark Twain

 

Today’s Frenzied Pace

Often it seems we think that the frenzied pace is simply required in today’s society.  Is it? 

Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity


Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

 

Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.

 

Embracing Change

 

You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.

 

“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman

 

Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!

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Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!

 

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming

 

You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).

 

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett

 

In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.

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One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.

 

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker

 

Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?