Execution planning, Discipline, The mundanity of excellence, & Instagram deal
27th September 2020 Evolution Partners Newsletter
“The most overlooked and underappreciated growth strategy is patience. (More specifically, consistently producing great work over a long time horizon.)” – James Clear
Hope you’re Thriving!
I’ve had a good productive week, I hope you have also.
Several interviews for my new book this week as well as a quarterly planning workshop which was really interesting. For this team, the strategy is reasonably sound, but they’ve struggled with getting the right people on the bus over the past few years and now have finally stripped down to the right, bare-bones leadership structure and can build upward from there. And that means everyone’s really busy executing so we spent all of our time on execution, getting all departments to flesh out the issues and identify the right 90-day priorities. Sometimes you need to put strategy to one side and focus on execution planning as I outlined in this article First Survive and then Thrive.
But I feel the real sense of achievement for me this past week that makes me say I’ve had a productive week was completing the concept for the ‘inciting incident’ in my book about onboarding. I’ve known what it is for a year or two, and I’ve been focussed on trying to document it simply and clearly, and I completed that on Friday. I’m not too proud to say that it was really, really hard for me to articulate this in the past few weeks, and I lost count of how many times I re-wrote it and built new models, sometimes just needing to walk away from it. Then after that on Friday, I was interviewing a leader from Vancouver about the book to gain his insights and explained the concept to him, and he said it’s so simple and impactful he is going to start a book club about it at his company. ‘Phew, it makes sense to someone else!’ I thought. I’ll keep you posted on updates.
An interesting insight this week was that four times, at four separate meetings I had with Perth based leaders people raised the issue of staff shortages or the labour market tightening up. I’ve heard before about casual labour being a problem in the rural areas, for jobs like fruit pickers, but these issues were for city-based roles. A recent Australia wide survey from the National Skills Commission showed that 47% of businesses contacted were having difficulty getting workers, and this report from online Job board Seek.com shows the top 20 in-demand jobs and how they’ve changed since February, with for example plant and machinery operators jumping 20 spots and systems analysts dropping 8 spots.
Why coaching creates excellence
Finally, this week I had a meeting with the owner of a funds management business who was investigating the source of success of some of his clients and is trying to write a book, or guidance note to share with his clients. This is a trend I noticed several years ago in North America where many investors started only committing to invest in businesses who had a reputable coach or advisor maintaining the discipline for the leadership team. If they didn’t already have a coach, they would only invest in a business if the business agreed to get one, as part of the deal. It was a good meeting for me because the person was genuinely trying to understand what was the difference that created success when I worked with clients and my perspective on that. Here’s a bit of paper napkin wisdom from that meeting I thought you might be interested in.
The freedom-discipline doom loop
- People who have a job, then start or buy a business. This gives them autonomy and freedom they haven’t had before to ultimately do what they want when they want. This wasn’t present when they had a job as they had the discipline of someone telling them what to do.
- Without the discipline of someone telling them what to do, they chase the ‘shiny objects’ or things that are interesting and don’t focus the business on the right things.
- This leads to a crisis or poor results.
- In the midst of these poor results, the person doesn’t have the required discipline to maintain focus on the right things, and they then execute the wrong things and the loop continues around and around sustaining poor results.
How does a coach or advisor help?
I’m going to frame this by saying that no elite athlete or sports team has ever achieved excellence without the help of a coach. It’s the external discipline and framework that matters, and how it’s applied.
The freedom-discipline flywheel
- People who have a job, start or buy a business. A coach is engaged and applies external discipline, a structured framework with the team to ensure they are accountable to one another and identify the right things to work on
- This leads to the team executing the right things
- This leads to the team achieving the right results
- In the midst of these right results, the team goes back to the external discipline, the coach to help identify the right things within a disciplined, structured framework and the loop continues around and around generating ever-greater results.
It’s the catalytic effect of the coach/advisor on the leadership team that really makes the difference.
The Mundanity of Excellence
The problem above is that entrepreneurs are distracted by ‘shiny objects’, or things that are interesting and don’t focus the business on the right things. I know I was for many years, always starting a new business and bringing in new products, and I think that’s more about human nature than it is about the nature of an entrepreneur. The human mind simply craves creativity and dislikes discipline.
So what’s the recipe for excellence, how can excellence be broken down?
Even with a coach, how can one achieve excellence?
Well in 1989, a researcher named Daniel Chambliss published a paper called The Mundanity of Excellence where he tried to categorise the different levels of excellence in Olympic swimmers.
After studying swimmers for three years, he found that three factors separated the top-performing swimmers from the average ones.
- Quality is more important than Quantity. Doing more of the same does not lead to excellence. Changing and perfecting what is being done is more important.
- Talent is a useless concept. Excellence does not seem to be the by-product of an innate feature of individuals.
- Excellence is a compounding effect. The repetition and perfection of ordinary and simple actions will compound over time and lead to extraordinary performance.
Put simply, excellence is very mundane. Think back to the freedom-discipline flywheel above, and how that applies to this list of 3 factors here from Chambliss.
This applies directly to leadership teams as well.
Sure, you may look straight to the talent item and consider the importance of talent to achieve excellence in a leadership team, but these were all Olympic swimmers, so the assumption is that you already have A-players in your leadership team. Then look at all three of these factors, consider the impact of an external coach or advisor on your leadership team, and how these two concepts interweave.
The Unhappiness of Success
People start businesses in order to achieve freedom. This might be freedom in terms of time, or financial freedom, or freedom in terms of not being told what to do by a boss (see freedom-discipline doom loop above).
People want freedom because they want to be happy, but along the way many experience different forms of success. And that success may be addictive and jeopardise what the person really wants. I’ve seen this problem in many friends and entrepreneurs that I know. Leaders and entrepreneurs can fall into a trap where they are addicted to success and sacrifice their marriage, relationships and even their wealth to maintain that success, which is often fleeting or completely arbitrary.
Their addiction to success makes them unhappy.
So what do you really want?
Often in life, it’s the deeply ordinary activities and relationships that make life meaningful. Yet success can be a real trap that’s compelling, addictive and really hard to escape without being thrust out of success addiction at escape velocity after a life-changing event such as divorce or financial loss.
This week I read this interesting article about this subject I thought you might enjoy.
From the article.
“Unfortunately, success is Sisyphean. The goal can’t be satisfied; most people never feel “successful enough.” The high only lasts a day or two, and then it’s on to the next goal. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill, in which satisfaction wears off almost immediately and we must run on to the next reward to avoid the feeling of falling behind. This is why so many studies show that successful people are almost invariably jealous of people who are more successful.”
Read the article here Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy
The $1B Instagram email deal
Speaking of success, on April 9th 2012 Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram along with its 13 employees for $1 Billion from Kevin Systrom. But how does a deal like this happen? How long does it take and who is involved?
This week I came across a PDF copy of the email trail between the two of them, over a period of only a few weeks that led to the deal and it makes for fascinating reading. The Instagram deal email trail
Doing nothing is doing something
Here’s a final thought for this week, we’ve all got issues, problems to deal with. But doing nothing isn’t really doing nothing. In fact, doing nothing is actually doing something. If there is a problem you’ve thought about that you’re not taking action on, that you forget about or let slip and you don’t actually work toward resolving it, you are in fact doing something. You are letting that problem get worse or be at risk of something causing that to get worse.
This week on The Growth Whisperers podcast
On episode 24 of The Growth Whisperers, Kevin Lawrence and I talk about the following.
How do you get a leadership team to think strategically?
This week on The Growth Whisperers Kevin and Brad discuss the challenge of getting leadership team members to think strategically. Perhaps it’s because a team member has always been operational, or because they spend most of their time working in the business, but getting your leadership team to think strategically can be a real challenge for some leaders so that team members come together and don’t talk about the operations of the business, but instead the strategy of the business.
They talk about the tools they use to get teams to think strategically, and provide examples of how they have helped leadership teams to build a strategy in the past.
Listen to The Growth Whisperers
From the vault
How to create a leadership team
One of the most important factors in scaling up a business from a small business to a faster-growing medium-sized business is transitioning from the founder or entrepreneur holding all the accountability, to having a leadership team which meets quarterly and performs strategic thinking and execution planning.
But how do you build a leadership team? How do you make the transition to having a senior management team whom you can trust and will help you to scale the business?
In this vlog, I look at the 3 most important factors to decide before you begin a strategic planning process and whom you should select for the senior leadership team. Also, I discuss the merits of having the CEO facilitate planning session or having an external facilitator perform the role.
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