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Business Well Done™

On the challenges faced by leaders of established businesses.

What Are We Doing Here?

A new CEO takes the helm at a famous organization after a multi-year downturn.  His challenge: restore it to greatness.  His starting point: alignment.

The CEO in this case is a coach, Tom Herman, and the organization is Football at The University of Texas at Austin.  Football (the oblong kind) is a big deal in the state of Texas, and UT-Austin is the biggest college program in the state.  But the Longhorns have been mediocre for several years, and it's Herman's job to turn it around.

At his introductory press conference, according to ESPN, Herman identified alignment as the most critical principle for success.  But why would that be worth his focus?  Everyone knows that success at Texas looks like lots of wins every year.  Isn't "alignment" that simple?

Everyone knows at your company that success looks like plenty of revenue and profit every year.  Does that make you aligned?

Here's the problem: winning is not something we can do.  Winning is an outcome, whether it's wins on the field or wins in the market.  Our job is to help the organization do the things that are more likely to lead to wins.  And there are infinite options for what those might be.

That's why Herman, quoting a mentor, defined alignment as a unified culture, strategy and purpose.  Alignment is critical in who we will be (culture), and what approach we will take (strategy), in order to reach our goals (purpose). 

Too often companies are aligned around the outcome, winning, but disjointed when it comes to how they expect to win.  One team member thinks they're trying to build the best mousetrap, another thinks they're competing for mousetrap business at the lowest price.  The head of Sales thinks they're pushing full speed into overseas markets, while the CFO is not so sure they want to go there.  HR thinks they're building a collaborative culture for the long haul, but the CEO likes the idea of internal competition, and frankly sees the long term as less important than the profit metrics he promised to hit this year and next.

No wonder we don't make the progress we want.  We're all trying to "win," but our ideas for how to win - and sometimes even our definition of a win - are different.

If your team doesn't discuss this out loud and regularly, it almost certainly isn't aligned.  It doesn't happen by accident.

So if your key players and coaches can't tell you off the cuff, in their own words, who you are, your team is not trying to build the same culture.  If they can't tell you what you're trying to accomplish, your team is not striving for the same goals.  And if they can't tell you how they're going to get there, your team is not pursuing the same strategy.

Does that sound like a formula for winning?


LINK: First step In Tom Herman's takeover of Texas: alignment (

Paul SchwadaComment
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Break Through

For leaders, relationships are not always easy.  When people are genuinely striving together, friction happens.  And it often seems that you, the leader, are the cause of the friction.

You push for change.  You push for better.  You push for faster.  In general, you can be associated with discomfort, because most folks are most comfortable where they are today.  And to lead, you're trying to take them to a new place: tomorrow.

In the striving, sometimes distrust develops.  Your people may wonder whether you actually care about them, or see them as simply a means to an end.  This week is a good time to counteract that.

In the US and Canada, we have this handy little holiday called Thanksgiving.  (It's a minor blip that must be a nuisance for retailers hellbent on making the second half of the year into one big Hallow-Christmas.)  But it's the perfect excuse to break through. 

It gives us a reason to talk about things we're thankful for... without seeming too weird.  And what if one of those "things" was a person you work with?  Who works for you?

It's a powerful thing to be told, "Hey, I don't say it much, but I really am grateful for the chance to work with you." And it allows for all kinds of deeper connection without necessarily resolving the friction.

"I know we really can rub each other the wrong way, but I see how much you care about this stuff, and I'm glad for it."

"I was thinking about how much you do that we don't have to worry about, and I'm grateful for that."

"You're pushing me to be better, you're pushing us all to be better.  I'm thankful for that."

If you're elsewhere in the world, there are other days for giving thanks.  Take advantage.  In fact, any day could be the right day to make that connection with someone.  It might just carry you both through the next year of striving.

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Three Circumstances

Let me tell you about three leaders who find themselves in three different places.   All are real leaders; all are current circumstances.  I will offer no commentary.  Take from their stories what you will.

The first leader is feeling very good.  Not so long ago, she recognized that her successful business needed to change, to grow and mature.  She undertook a process that helped her organization make this change, and it wasn't necessarily fun.  While there were signs of hope along the way, and she believed in what she was doing, much of it was uncomfortable.  It often alternated between nerve-wracking and just plain boring.  But she persevered, and she's glad she did.  Today the business is vastly improved.

The second leader is not feeling very good.  He recognizes that his successful business needs to change, to grow and mature.  He is starting a process designed to help his organization make this change, and it is painful.  The company's methods and expectations, some long-cherished, are under the microscope.  The team has identified some things as areas for improvement, which means some current practices are now implicitly labeled "inferior."  New practices - logical and hopeful but unproven, and therefore scary - will have to take their place.

The third leader is a bit apprehensive.  Every year his organization delivers superior results.  The line on the chart just keeps going up.  But he wonders if they're doing the best they can... or just better than they did.  He is concerned that they could be complacent in their success, and underperform relative to their potential.  He plans to undertake a process to stretch the organization further, to evaluate their practices and expectations in order to identify greater opportunities.  He is aware that discomfort lies ahead.  He believes that any significant change - no matter how good the intent - will feel threatening, or exhausting, or frustrating, or even boring somewhere along the way.

In which of these three circumstances do you find yourself today?  And if you're feeling good, how long until you begin the cycle again?

Paul SchwadaComment
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