The First Two Steps in Process Improvement

Most process improvement initiatives fail miserably.  First, they do not improve the processes they were supposed to improve.  Second, they waste managerial and employee time, effort and attention.  Or, third, the process may be improved; but this improvement does not improve our business.

To succeed with any process improvement initiative, we need to start out correctly with the first two steps of elimination and simplification.


Before we begin any improvement initiative, we need to eliminate anything that is not absolutely necessary.  This means evaluating whether the task or activity to be improved is truly needed.  To do this evaluation, we need to look at the ‘why’. 

  • Why are we doing this particular task?  Why is it essential?
  • What is the end result of this task? 
  • Over the last several months what actions have been made or decisions altered as a result of this task?
  • How does this task or process deliver value to the customer? 
  • How does this task or process improve our business?

If the process or task only results in ‘nice to know’ or ‘just in case’ information, then the process or task needs to be eliminated.  European business school professors, Heiche Bruch and Jochen I. Menges, are equally aggressive in their push for elimination:

“Regularly ask yourself, your managers, and the whole company: “Which of our current activities would we start now if they weren’t already under way?” Then eliminate all the others.”

If the result of all these questions is that the task is essential and needed, then we need to go back and ask whether all parts of the task or process are needed. 

Throughout this evaluation process, we need to engage the team that is doing the task and the ‘customer’ (both internal and external) of the task.


Congratulations, we have eliminated the unnecessary tasks and processes and the unnecessary parts of these tasks and processes.  Now, we are on to the next step: simplification.

Simplification is even more difficult than elimination because most of us as managers and leaders (and especially consultants!!) love complexity.  As the author Nassim Taleb writes:

“People who are bred, selected, and compensated to find complicated solutions do not have an incentive to implement simplified ones.”

But, we have to get beyond that and simplify everything that can be simplified:

  1. Look for the simple solution that solves 80% of the problem with 20% of the time and complexity (80 / 20).
  2. Reduce the steps and hand-offs in the process to the absolute minimum
  3. How can the process be done in 1 / 10th or 1 / 100th of the time.  Considering how to get something done extremely quickly, such as in a Nascar pit stop, can lead to radical simplification.
  4. Streamline, shorten and bullet point communication focusing on the 3 – 5 key concepts
    1. Use simple words and simple sentences – seventh grade reading level – to ensure that everyone understands
    1. Avoid synonyms which can cause confusion.  Is the goal the same thing as the objective which is the same thing as the target?  Choose one word, ditch the thesaurus, and ensure that the communication is understood
  5. Summarize reports with the key take-aways (the ‘what?’, ‘so what?’, and ‘now what?’) and put the summary in the body of the E-Mail so that it can be read on the phone.

As the painter, Hans Hofmann, so eloquently put it:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”


By first eliminating and then simplifying, we can focus our improvement initiatives on the processes and tasks (and the parts of these processes and tasks) that add the most value to the customer and to our business. 

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Top Three Things to Do Today to Be a Better Leader

To build a better business, we need to be better leaders.  This does not mean we need to rush out and get more training or education or bring in a consultant (absolutely not!!).  Instead, we need to focus on the basics.  Without further ado, here is my list of the top three things all of us can do today to be better leaders.

Number 3 – Be Positive

As leaders we need to motivate and support our team.  This only comes from sharing our positivity with the team by inspiring them, thanking them, and congratulating them.  Especially in challenging and stressful times, being positive is vital to ensure that we are doing everything possible (within our control) to drive our companies forward and allow for employees to continue to provide for their families.  The Canadian entrepreneur Peter Thomas express well the benefits of being positive:

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.  Keep your words positive because your words become your actions.  Keep your actions positive because your actions become your values.  Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” 

As the writer Herm Albright humorously puts it, there is one additional benefit to being positive:

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”  

Number 2 – Keep it Simple and Clear

The goal of a leader is to inspire the team and help sell to the customer.  But, nobody is inspired and certainly nobody buys if they don’t understand or are confused.  This is especially true in today’s world where everyone seems to thrive on complexity.  As a leader we need to cut through complexity and ambiguity and ensure that everything we do is understood, both the specific directions and the reasons behind what we are doing (the “why”).  We need to keep things short; we need to write and speak in simple and clear language, and we need to keep our team’s priorities to just a critical few.  As General Colin Powell says, insight (even genius) is in seeing and communicating the simplicity amongst all the complexity of our business.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” 

Number 1 – Follow Up

Successful teamwork and a successful business all result from a group of people working together toward a common goal with each person completing their tasks to accomplish the goal.  Once we have been simple and clear in our directions and goals, we need to follow up relentlessly to ensure that our team completes the tasks and achieves the goals.  As executive coach and author Marshall Goldsmith writes:

“People don’t get better without follow up.  So let’s get better at following up with our people.”

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Selling When We are Not in Sales

No matter what our title is, we are all salespeople. 

Whenever we are trying to…

  • persuade others
  • lobby for our point of view
  • satisfy a disgruntled customer
  • ask for a raise…

we are selling.

Below I offer nine suggestions (from sales training) as reminders on how we can all be better at selling even when we are not in sales.

  • Be Proactive: If there is a problem, issue, or delay, we need to tell the other person before they find out and have to ask us.  In negotiation language, being proactive maximizes our leverage, while asking for or explaining something after the fact weakens our leverage.
  • Keep It Simple: We understand our position or issue; but the person with whom we are communicating likely does not (although they will usually say that they do).  As such, we need to keep it simple and keep it clear so that they can understand us.  A confused person does not buy anything nor change their mind. 
  • Pre-Plan and Prepare: Good pre-planning and preparation ensures that we are keeping our message simple and clear.  In sales training, we first focus on understanding the customer’s hot buttons – what really matters most to the customer and will determine their decision.  We then prepare scripts and do role playing to ensure that we address these hot buttons as succinctly and clearly as possible.  Similarly, when preparing for a persuasive discussion, we need to prepare and practice to ensure that our key points will be understood and that we are addressing the customer’s hot buttons.
  • Be Liked:  The salesperson adage is that customers generally buy from people they like.  So, we need to ensure that we are liked and respected.  This means being kind and respecting the other person. 
  • Provide Compliments: We all like to be complimented.  Providing compliments, even some flattery, to the other person helps them to like us and keeps them in an open frame of mind where they can change their viewpoint to support ours.  If we lead off with negativity, the walls go up and the person will not be convinced.
  • Think Win-Win:  In sales, we teach that the customer is only listening to one radio station, WII – FM (What’s In It For Me).  Similarly in persuading and convincing, we need to look at the customer’s viewpoint and hot buttons, think about what benefit they will gain from supporting us, and present our arguments as Win – Win that will benefit both of us.
  • Be Humble: Despite what we see on television and in films, the arrogant salesperson usually loses.  Humility is far more fruitful.  This includes anticipating the other person’s concerns or issues and proactively addressing them.  This includes being less certain: we can lead with questions; we can present our ideas as a suggestion not a demand or requirement; we can present facts or insights as a reminder of “what they already know.”  Finally, we are humble when we let the other person feel like they offered the solution.  As former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss writes:

Persuasion is about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea.

  • Build Trust: We build trust by fully listening to the other person and respecting their viewpoint.  We build trust by being credible and having a strong history of having done what we had said we were going to do.  We build trust by discussing and admitting weaknesses in our product or argument (and then showing how the positive attributes overwhelm these weaknesses).  And we build trust by setting up a commitment or deliverable and then fulfilling that commitment on-time and with good quality.
  • Recap and Follow up: At the end of the meeting, we need to re-cap what was said, specifically any progress made, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  Then we need to follow up in writing to record and confirm what was said and agreed to in the meeting.

By following these nine suggestions, we all can sell our ideas and ourselves better.  This better selling ensures that our good ideas are adopted and implemented, advances our careers, and moves our companies forward.

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A Time For Everything

“We all have times when we think more effectively, and times when we should not be thinking at all.”  Daniel Cohen

To be effective as leaders, we must do our good work in its proper time. 

  • We need to be aware of when (and where) to do our deep work – writing, preparing a presentation, reviewing a contract, making a sales call, leading a difficult, contentious meeting. 
  • We need to be aware of when (and where) to do our shallower work – catching up on E-Mail, paperwork, managing by walking around, etc.

Golden Hours

Be aware of those ‘golden hours’ in your workday when you are most successful at contacting and meeting with prospects.   Don’t waste this valuable time doing less productive tasks, such as paperwork.”  Roy Chitwood

In leadership as in sales, ‘golden hours’ are the times when we (and the people with whom we may be meeting) are most alert and engaged.  This ensures that the meeting is as productive as possible.  As we all know, tired and hangry people do not make for an effective meeting or sales call.

For most people, mornings are generally their golden hours as the psychologist Martin Seligman explains from his research:

“The basic rest and activity cycle (BRAC) is characteristic of human beings.   On average, we are at our most alert in late morning and midevening.  We are at the bottom of our cycle – tired, grumpy, inattentive, and pessimistic – at midafternoon and in the wee hours of the morning.” 

These golden hours also apply to our own individual deep work.  Our golden hours are the times when we should have that interview, review the 40-page contract, or write the detailed message to the team, the boss or the board.  Mid-afternoons or the times at the bottom of our cycle are the times to catch up on E-Mail, fill out expense reports, and do other shallow or rote work.

Schedule Our Deep and Shallow Time

During the times when we are most active and alert, we need to avoid all distractions and get the most important work done.  This requires the discipline to avoid phone calls, E-Mails, and other distractions and get to work.  For salespeople, this means being in front of a customer and not driving.

However, shallower tasks still need to get done.  We can schedule to catch up on these tasks for those times in the day or occasions when we are naturally less productive: right after lunch, while at an airport waiting for a flight, or even while driving.

I once had a top performing salesperson who had a long drive between customers.  To make the best use of his time, we would conduct our weekly update meetings while he was driving between customers.  I would control the agenda, so that he did not need to read anything while driving, and we would update each other during a time when he would normally be unproductive.

Create Slack

We need to create slack in our schedules for difficult work.  Most importantly, that means that we do not procrastinate and wait until the last minute. 

We might choose the perfect time to review that vital contract (or other deep work) – mid-morning right in the midst of our golden hour just as the caffeine is taking effect.  Perhaps today at that time, it just does not work for us.  We cannot concentrate; we cannot be productive.  If this is the case, we need to re-schedule for a time when we can give the contract the full attention it needs. 

Doing deep thinking and deep work when we are not fully engaged leads to wasted time, poorer quality work, and unneeded stress. 

Know Our Limits

As leaders, we also need to know our limits and know when it is time to go home and rest.  Two quotes from psychological research show well that work – life balance is good for both the individual and the business. 

“Unlike manual laborers, knowledge workers have about six good hours of hard mental labor a day.  Work late for too long and ‘people get dull and stupid…They make mistakes that they’d never make if they were rested; and fixing those mistakes takes longer because they’re fried.'”  Sara Robinson

“Productivity declines so steeply after fifty-five hours that ‘someone who puts in seventy hours produces nothing more with those extra fifteen hours.'”  Stanford University Research Study


By making the best use of both our most productive and least productive times of the day, we can get more effective work done to move our companies forward.  After all, as the author Sidney Madwed says…

“It is not the hours we put in on the job, it is what we put into the hours that counts.”

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A Happy Company

The American Psychologist and Author, Martin Seligman, is a strong promoter of positive psychology and well-being.  His five-part recommendation for increased happiness and life satisfaction consists of:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

This prescription (remembered with the acronym ‘PERMA’) works to make happy and successful individuals; it can work just as well to make happy and successful companies.

Positive Emotion

The first step to having positive emotions in our companies is to eliminate the negative emotions (pessimism, anger, annoyance, frustration, etc.) at our companies.  This often means either changing or parting ways with the cynic, the pessimist, the Debbie and Donald downers in our companies.  Without the negative people, we can focus on reducing everyone’s negative emotions by focusing our teams on taking the initiative to make things better.   As leaders, we then need to lead by example by emphasizing (through our actions and interactions) such positive emotions as support for one another, enthusiasm, laughter, fun, and good humor, all of which are critical to having a happy and productive workplace.


Our companies cannot be all happy, kumbaya, TV sitcom places of business where nobody seems to do any work.  In good companies, good work gets done.   The best work gets done when employees and the team are focused, absorbed, and engaged on tasks that are critically important to the business and that these individuals do well.  This comes about by having our people working at their highest and best use.  This means streamlining process to minimize low-value added and monotonous processes and creating a workplace culture that minimizes unnecessary distractions and disruptions.  When people are engaged and working without needless disruptions, productive work gets done well in less time. 


Positive, constructive relationships are critical to individual and company’s success and happiness.  Survey after survey has shown a direct correlation between having friends at work (even if just work friends) and employee satisfaction and productivity.  We spend 35% of our awake lives at work.  As such, our people and our team’s anxiety and stress is reduced significantly if we are spending this time with people we like and get along with.


The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is quoted as saying: “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”  To weather the daily, weekly, yearly challenges and difficulties in business, all companies need a purpose (a ‘why’) that is more than just to make money.  This meaning can be about serving the customer, making the world a better place through the company’s products or innovations, or providing for the company’s employees to enable their families to have better lives.  In any event, this meaning, this purpose, this why, helps employees get up every morning and come to work ready to do what is needed to make the company successful and to realize their own and the company’s purpose.


A good and happy company also needs to achieve consistently.  This means being profitable, proving good customer service, and accomplishing the company’s goals.  As we see in sports, failing teams are rarely happy teams.  Achievement is fundamental to individual and company happiness because it gives us pride and self-esteem when we accomplish something and are part of a larger, successful, long-lasting entity. 


Martin Seligman’s prescription for a happy, successful, and flourishing life – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement – is valuable for all of us to keep in mind as we strive to make our companies happier and more successful.

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Best Version of Ourselves

The Australian Motivational Speaker and Catholic Author, Matthew Kelly, focus his message on people becoming the best version of themselves.  This message should resonate with all of us as leaders.

As leaders, we have strengths, and we have weaknesses.  We have great success, and we make mistakes and have failures.  To lead by example and to lead our teams effectively, we do not need to be perfect.  We just need to be the best version of a leader that we can be.

To be the best version of ourselves, we first need to banish all negative and childish behaviors from our lives.

A quick list of what we should never do includes:

  • “I Told You So”
  • Gossip
  • Criticizing Other People
  • Talking Behind People’s Backs
  • Being Impatient
  • Not Listening
  • Being the Smartest Person in the Room
  • Bragging
  • Taking Too Much Credit
  • Passing the Buck and Not Taking Responsibility
  • Not Admitting Mistakes
  • Being Unethical
  • Getting Angry
  • Being Ungrateful
  • Not Caring
  • Not Trying

By avoiding these and other similar bad behaviors, we become closer to being the best version of ourselves.  We become better people. And we become better leaders.

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What To Think About

Studies from social psychologists have concluded that the media (contrary to common opinion) is not effective at changing how we think.  Instead, it is quite effective in determining what we think about.

As leaders, it can be helpful to focus less on trying to change how our employees think and more on changing what they are thinking about.

As countless others have remarked, getting our employees to change is difficult.  We usually try to change how they think.  This works only rarely because our employees’ current modes of thinking have been well-honed over many years, and they resist change.

The more effective method is to change what they are thinking about, keeping front of mind what we, as leaders, want them to be thinking about on a daily basis.

Keeping Front of Mind

As leaders, we need to use goals, reminders, best practices, training, and a cadence of regular follow up so that the employee knows what topics are important and need to be addressed regularly.

In one organization where I worked, the team focused on profitability alone with little attention on collecting the money and cash management.  Several leaders commented that our cash management was as good as the competition and that it could not get any better due to the industry and customer dynamics. 

At first, we tried to change their thinking to convince them that cash management could be significantly improved.  Alas, this did not work.

Instead, we changed what they were thinking about by keeping cash management front of mind.  We…

  • Created goals related to cash management
  • Instituted training on effective cash management
  • Shared best practices about effective management
  • Followed up weekly about cash
  • Evaluated and compared (a little healthy competition) the cash management performance of different divisions

As a result, we were able to reduce dramatically the cash requirement in the business making the business much stronger and capable of greater growth.


The successful strategy was not to change how they think about cash management.  Rather, it was to keep the idea of cash management in their heads so consistently that they knew they had to focus on cash management.  This unrelenting attention to cash management led to the improved results.

The irony of focusing on what our teams are thinking about (rather than how they think) is that once our teams are continuously thinking about something and keeping it front of mind, that something become more important and becomes ingrained in their way of thinking.  In the end, we have changed how our employees think.

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Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds

Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds, written by Steve Casner, is an excellent discussion of safety in our lives, both at home and at work.  It is a straightforward read, and I highly recommend it.  Below I share some of the key take-aways that can help all of us improve safety at our companies and in our employees’ lives.

A good safety program focus on our employees lives at both work and home:

  • The safest place in nearly all of our lives is at work.  In the U.S., we spend 50% of the hours that we are awake at home, and 50% of our unintentional injury fatalities occur at home.  By contrast, 35% of our awake hours are spent at work, but only 2.9% of our unintentional injury fatalities occur at work.

To be safer, each of us needs to do the basics every day:

  • Pay attention to what we are doing
    • The challenges to paying attention are that we can’t pay attention to two things at once, we get distracted, and our mind wanders
    • To conquer this, we need to stop multitasking, to pay attention to what is most important, and we need help at times (a co-pilot or someone who is watching out for us).
  • Avoid making errors through using reminders and checklists, and by having someone else check our work
    • In addition, we need to ensure that the errors we do make (and we will make them) are not fatal and that we have a plan in place to survive them if they do happen.
  • Know the odds when we take a risk
    • We need to understand the relative risk of our actions; texting while driving and jaywalking (especially at night) are far more likely to get us killed than turbulence on a flight or shark attacks.
    • Get a second opinion when we are about to take a risk
    • Think through the consequences of things going wrong and (as above) ensure that the risks will not be fatal
  • Think ahead to the consequences of our actions
    • Listen to our “spidey sense” when we feel that there is a danger
    • Before acting, consider the basic safety questions:
      • How could this go wrong?
      • Should I really do this?
      • What can I do to prevent this from going wrong?
      • What would I do if it did go wrong?
  • Look out for one another
    • In thinking ahead, we need to see the consequences of our actions on other people
    • We need to “read minds” of other people to predict their actions
    • We ourselves need to be predictable (especially while driving, walking or biking) so that other people can predict our actions
    • We need to intervene and help others (when appropriate) and realize that being in a hurry will always bias us away from helping
  • Be willing to take and give advice
    • We need to swallow our pride and be more open to listening, especially to those with experience
    • When giving advice, we need to explain why we may be qualified to give that advice (our experience and our expertise) so that it is more likely to be listened to

We need to be particularly aware of the most common ways that we get injured or killed at home and at work:

  • Driving (especially while speeding, texting, drunk, drugged, drowsy or distracted)
  • Falling
  • Using the wrong tool for the job
  • Using the right tool the wrong way
  • Hurrying
  • Not following rules, processes and good practice (through ignorance or complacency)
  • Medical errors (patient noncompliance, medical and medication errors, mis-diagnosis, errors from hand-offs)
  • Over-doing it and not knowing our limits.  This often occurs while we are denying our cognitive and physical decline from aging


The book delivers three key messages:

  1. Despite all the attention to and advancement of safety in the last 30 years, we, as a country, are no safer.  In fact, the rate of unintentional injury deaths has rebounded from its low in the early 1990’s.
  2. Yet, workplaces have gotten safer to become just about the safest place during our day with an unintentional injury rate that is one-tenth the rate experienced outside of work.  As such we leaders need to continue to work to improve safety and the safety culture in our companies, while also reminding and cajoling our employees to be safer at home
  3. Finally, we need to remember that nearly all accidents (outside of the occasional meteorite that lands on our heads) are preventable.  As the author, Steve Casner, concludes:

“We stopped using the word ‘accident’ many years ago and replaced it with the words ‘preventable injury.’”

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Three Cheers for Foresight

To be successful, leaders need to develop and hone their business foresight.  Used effectively, foresight focuses our attention on the time and space between the immediate, day to day tactical execution and the long-term strategic vision and planning.

Foresight in Action

Foresight involves thinking through our actions and behaviors and planning ahead to see the potential short-term, medium-term and long-term problems or consequences of these actions.  In simple terms: we need to think twice before doing once.

When we use foresight effectively, we:

  • Think through all the implications and complications of an issue
  • Consider how employees or customers will react to an action, today and over time
  • Think through competitor reactions
  • Reflect on the possible unintended consequence of our actions or behaviors

The Benefits of Foresight

  • Better Execution: As the cartoon shows, by using foresight and planning ahead, we can better get the job done.
  • Seeing a Problem Before It Becomes a Problem: If we see a problem before it is a problem, we are able to modify our course of action or we could focus on…
  • Nipping the Problem in the Bud: With foresight, we can defuse issues before they become issues.  This usually involves proactive communication to address issues before they fester and/or magnify.
  • Discovering an Opportunity: With foresight, we may be able to detect a business opportunity before our competition.

How to Develop Foresight

Developing foresight comes from experience and learning.  Full stop. 

Before any course of action or important conversation, we just need to spend the time to:

  • Think through the issues and possible unintended consequences that might occur in the short, medium and long term
  • Consider the possible reaction of stakeholders (employees, other leaders, suppliers, competitors, the press)
  • Role play (in our heads or with a fellow employee or supervisor) different scenarios that might arise due to the course of action
  • Develop a plan to avoid or mitigate the issues and consequences and to address the concerns of stakeholders


Developing strong business foresight is a crucial step in leadership development.  As leaders progress from front line managers to CEO’s, our attention shifts from what is happening today to what will happen in one week, in one month, in one year, and then finally at the most senior level, to what might happen in five years.  Without effective foresight, leaders will not be able to make this shift in attention.  Instead, we will remain focused on the day to day problems, limiting our career advancement and the potential and success of our businesses.

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The Curse of Knowledge

As leaders we are bedeviled by the Curse of Knowledge:

The Curse of Knowledge is the difficulty we have in imagining that another person does not know what we know.

The Curse of Knowledge rears its ugly head in three vital areas: communication, training, and sales.

Why are We Cursed?

Leaders are cursed because of the high level of our knowledge.  We usually have deep and specific knowledge and insight that has been honed over years of learning and experience.  Many complicated issues related to our business seem simple and easy to us because we know these issues so well.  As such, we cannot relate or understand when someone does not understand what to us is obvious.

Combatting the Curse

To combat our curse of knowledge, we need to do a better job when communicating, training and selling by keeping the following in mind:

Know That We Are Cursed:  We need to be aware that we are the experts and that others do not have the level of understanding that we have.  In the cartoon, Dilbert clearly does not have that awareness; he blames the other person for their inability to understand rather than looking critically at his inability to explain.

Know the audience: We need to know the capability of our audience and communicate in a way and at a level that the audience would understand.  In sales, we need to avoid the mistake that too many salespeople make in assuming that our customers understand our products and services.  Our customers are experts on their life or their business; they are not experts on our products or services.

Keep It Simple and Short: The simpler that we can make our communication the better.  As non-experts, our audience will have limited understanding and may have limited interest in what we are communicating.  So we need to be attentive to the limits of their attention span and their limits in understanding more than a few key points.

Use Understandable Language: We need to avoid technical language, jargon, abbreviations, and complex words in order to communicate clearly.

Plan Ahead:  Whether communicating orally or in writing, we need to plan ahead to organize the material in a way that is simple and easy for a non-expert to make connections with and understand.

Edit and Revise: We need to continuously improve our communication to ensure that we are understood.  This starts with critiquing and editing our own work: if the communication is written, we should go back after some time and re-read (aloud if at all possible) to ensure that our writing is clear; if the communication is oral, we should reflect and critique our presentation and improve. 

Get Feedback: We should get second opinions on our work.  For written work, this involves having another person read what we have written.  In a presentation or selling situation, we get feedback by reading the body language of the audience or asking questions to ensure that we have been understood.


The Curse of Knowledge muddies the waters and prevents us from communicating effectively; our written messages, our training, our sales presentations are not easily understood and are thus less effective.  Through combatting the Curse of Knowledge, our communication will become clear and understood.  And, as Marcus Buckingham writes, being clear is fundamental to being an effective leader:

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant…They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear.

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Four Ways to Overcome Confirmation Bias

overwhelming-disproof-confirmation-bias-1The biggest decision-making bias for all of us is the confirmation bias.

Wikipedia explains it well:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. It is an important type of cognitive bias that has a significant effect on the proper functioning of society by distorting evidence-based decision-making.

As a leader, we are tasked with making effective decisions for both the long and short term.  To do this, we need to base our decisions on the evidence available to us.  As such, we need to overcome our natural confirmation bias.

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Avoid Fair Fights (But Fight Fair)

Whether we are competing in our core business, starting a new business venture, or looking to win a new, large job or project, we need to focus our energies on areas where we have a competitive advantage.

We need to dispassionately assess the competitive landscape and determine where our competitive advantage lies and whether it will truly differentiate us from the competition in the eyes of our customers.

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The Necessity of a Good Cadence

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, cadence is defined as “the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or action.”

In the business context, cadence is used to describe regularly scheduled activities, specifically regularly scheduled meetings, follow-ups, visits or other actions.

As leaders, we need to set up a cadence of activities with our team to ensure that we are following up, checking in on them, assisting them, and holding them accountable.

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Use the ‘Base Rate’ for Better Decisions

Data - Base RateThe IT project took twice as long as planned.  The construction project to expand the plant went over budget.

Why does this always happen?

Too many decisions are made with too much self-confidence and too much optimism.  As a result, poor decisions are made and objectives are not realized.  The decision-making flaw in all these situations is that we do not consider the ‘base rate.’

The base rate represents the statistical average of what happened previously – what were the actual results for people who made similar decisions in the past.

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Flexible“Predictions are difficult – especially about the future.”

This quote from Yogi Berra sums up the challenges we all face in today’s dynamic and fast-changing world.

None of us has a crystal ball that allows us to predict the future and the rapid changes in our business environment that the future will bring.

The best response to an uncertain future is to build a culture of flexibility and rapid adaptability in our organizations.

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10 Fundamentals of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvementWhen continuous improvement is a fundamental part of our company culture, our business gets better every day and will soon out-run and out-perform the competition.  Over 100 years ago, Henry Ford wrote:

The competitor to be feared is the one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is difficult.  This is especially true for currently profitable and high performing organizations who are content and follow the old adage of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Crisis Leadership

Uncertain WorldAs I write this blog, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Each day brings changes to how and where we can conduct business; we have little visibility into what the next month, three months, or six months will bring; and many of our employees are fearful.

To help those leaders during this and other crises, I offer some suggestions to how we can lead our businesses in uncertain times.


Keep Calm

First of all, we need to keep calm and project an image of calm and confidence.  Our employees look to us for guidance.  The calm and confidence comes from the certainty that we will survive this.  We do not know what will happen tomorrow and we do not know when this uncertainty will end.  But, we do know that (with the collective efforts of our great team), we will do everything to make it through.

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To Improve Our Meetings, We Need to Do Our Homework

Homework 2The consultant, Stan Sipes, once commented:

“The most common weakness I see in organizations is the lack of work that is done in a meeting.” 

Today, more than ever, so little work is done in meetings because no one has done their homework to actually prepare for the meetings.

As a result, a meeting with the objective to discuss and make a decision morphs into a meeting that is 95% informational (getting everyone up to speed) and 5% decision-making (which usually becomes just a rubber stamp because we have run out of time and attention).

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Be Opportunistic

Opportunities“There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? Jim Collins (Great by Choice)

Being opportunistic means that we take advantage of those opportunities that unexpectedly cross our paths.  To best position ourselves to capitalize opportunities, we need to:


Be Prepared

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11 Keys to Better Decision-Making

Decision1Successful leaders make good decisions… consistently.

Good decision-making is dependent on a number of factors: understanding, experience, intelligence, foresight, and just plain luck.  There is no guide that will tell you how to make the perfect decision.  But, there are some keys to better decision-making that, when followed, will help to improve the quality and consistency of your decisions.

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