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5 ways to get a return on Executive Coaching

We interviewed Professor Eric B Dent, the Uncommon Friends Endowed Chair in Ethics at the Lutgert College of Business which is the business school at the Florida Gulf Coast University. He has executive experience, a PhD in Management and has also done executive coaching for the Centre for Creative Leadership.

His takeaways? Coaching has a very high ROI; Use evidence-based coaching; try to find a professional coach; beware the “halo effect.” Be very clear when working with teams.

Listen to the world’s best Business Improvement podcast.

I’m an innovation consultant. I sell Innovation Days. But I’m not convinced that every business needs innovation. People like me say: “Innovate or die.” But my car mechanic hasn’t innovated in 20 years and he’s still around. In this episode, Phil McKinney agrees with me — and then tells me what I’m missing.
Here is a two minute preview of the next three episodes of The Skeptical Executive Podcast. Listen here — and subscribe by clicking on the buttons on the right hand side. Leave a voicemail for the podcast — and we can feature you on air.

Do you need to be Creative to be Innovative?

Is this what we mean when we think about ‘Innovation’?[/caption] (Or, how to outperform the your competitors, your industry and yourself) Innovation is associated with heavily-tattooed people, with blue hair and beards. Either that or Steve Jobs who wore black every day because he didn’t want to precious creative time worrying about what to wear. He wanted to spend all his creative energy on being creative. But innovation is different from creativity. Here are some tools that will help.

Believe that innovation is necessary

Most companies don’t innovate because they are in a comfort zone. You’re making money, you’ve got customers, your competitors are stable. Why innovate? That’s what they tell themselves. But if you could go back to the start of their business, you would find a different story. Back then, as the “new kid on the block,” that business was innovating like mad! It was trying to carve a niche in a new market with a better offering at the same or a better price. What that means is that innovation was necessary, once. Back in the beginning. Without innovation nobody would earn a salary. But now? They’ve done the innovation. They’re comfortable. It’s no longer quite as necessary. Every month that goes by, there’s the chance that some upstart will look at your business and decide to come after a part of it. If you don’t think it’s necessary, wait until those new kids on the block come for your lunch! What is your number one reason to innovate? v Believe innovation is doable. Start here.

Of course innovation is possible. But is it doable?

What holds most companies back from innovating is they don’t know where to start. Never mind your products or services. You’ve already probably thought about how to improve those. Let’s think a bit differently: How can you improve your sales experience? Think about your business from a customer’s point of view for a moment. How do they find you? How do they buy from you? How do they receive the product / service? How do they pay you? The idea is to think about the customer’s frustrations with any or all of hose four steps — and eliminate them. Get a sales person, a marketing person and somebody from accounts in the room and spend half an hour thinking about frustrations. Can you think of any improvements? That’s innovation. How can you improve your customer experience (not the product/service itself) How does the customer store the product? How / where does the customer use the product? How does the customer dispose of the product once it’s finished What care or precautions does the customer take in using the product? The idea is to think about what else you could offer the customer. For this brainstorm you need 30-60 minutes and a sales person, a technical person and maybe even a customer!

Take action on the ideas

Once you’ve done your two brainstorms (maybe 90 minutes in total) you will have some clear ideas of a “no-brainer” way of improving your product. You should be excited at this point. Imagine how impressed your customers are going to be! You’re making it easier and better to do business with you, and you’re making it easier and better to use your service! No so fast! You need to make sure you turn those ideas into a project plan! Appoint a team leader — who will make sure these no-brainer ideas get implemented? Set a budget — how much are you going to spend on executing these ideas? Set a follow-up meeting to make sure that the idea got implemented — or to explore what prevented the execution.

Consider a full-day innovation session

Stratervation has 20 years’ experience in implementing different kinds of innovation in businesses small and large across all sorts of industries. Consider asking us about our one-day Innovation for non-creative types. Visit stratervation.com/innovation No blue hair-dye, beards or tattoos necessary.

7 ways diversity helps your business

Search for "On a Plate" by Toby Morris for the full comic.

How diversity helps your business

(Doing an inclusive and diverse culture is hard. Executives sometimes worry that diversity can polarize a culture, rather than unifying it. Find some tips on how to do it right, at the end of this article.)

Good software engineers are hard to find. So if you need them for your business, it makes sense hire women as well as men. Why cut yourself off from half the population, right? In June 2017, just a month before this column appeared, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had to step down from the company he founded. Why? Because of his toxic, homogenous culture. A culture with not enough diversity, which made women unsafe. Women engineers were sexually harassed at work. Susan Fowler said it started on her very first day on her new team. Her new manager sent her chat messages suggesting they start a sexual relationship. On her very first day! When good engineers leave it’s hard to replace them. It’s expensive to replace them. And it drives up the cost of your staff. Most of those valuable engineers (who happened to be women) left without saying very much. But when Susan Fowler left, she told everybody about it. A month later, Kalanick admitted he had inculcated and fostered that culture, and he stepped away from Uber.
Is “lack of diversity” really the problem here? Or was it just an aggressive culture in general that was the problem?
To answer that question, let’s look at what “diversity” is. What kinds of diversity are there, and are diverse organizations *really* a good idea? Because, and I don’t know about you, but I much prefer dealing with people “like me” than people unlike me. And I’m not alone. The HR professionals say: “People hire in their own image.” Which is bad news for diversity. There are biological reasons for this. As social primates we are hard-wired to divide people into “us” and “them.” In South Africa it’s usually Black / White, or Xhosa / Pedi. Studies have shown how White Americans immediately see a Black face as one of “Them.” Unless the Black person is wearing a baseball cap with the White Person’s favourite sports team on it. Then it doesn’t matter what your color is. “Us” is people who like “our” team; and “them” is people who support the other team.

Here are seven kinds of diversity:

  1. Racial / ethnic diversity. In South Africa we see this as a Black/White issue. But I speak passable Zulu which means I’ve been exposed to some pro- and anti-Zulu prejudice. Let me tell you there is as much difference culturally between the broad Sotho and Zulu cultures as there is between Bavarian Germans and, say, the Swedes.
  2. Gender / sexual orientation diversity. Having daughters has really opened my eyes into the way it’s still very much a “man’s” world. Heterosexual men just fit in effortlessly into the culture. In most fields, a women’s opinions count less, their safety counts less, their experience counts less than a man’s. And if you’re gay or bi, your ability to get ahead in life is often dependent on your ability to integrate into male heterosexual culture.
  3. Demographic diversity. As I approach my 50th birthday, I still feel as young as I ever was. The reality is that the world keeps moving forward. It’s useful to have younger people to show us how they see the future. I also can’t see as well as I used to, and my hearing is also going. Having teams blind or deaf or other disabilities helps us be clearer.
  4. Intro/extroversion and thinking styles. Some people solve problems mechanistically; others solve them creatively. We crafted an innovation workshop recently and the presence of a salesperson in the team who had an advertising background helped us strengthen the offering. You need people with different skills and approaches to make sure you cover all the bases.
  5. Geographic diversity. Having managed cross-border teams I can tell you Zimbabweans, Zambians and Capetonians have very different cultures. We’ve had German, French, Swiss and American clients and suppliers. It’s useful to have that cultural and geographic diversity to make sure you’re appealing to universal humanity, rather than something culture-specific. It’s easy to assume Canadians are just like Americans because they have similar accents. Not so!
  6. Linguistic diversity. Useful in a country where more than 80% of your customers have a language other than English as a mother tongue.
  7. Economic status. It’s hard for young, middle-class marketers to have real empathy for the life of of a rural customer with limited access to bandwidth or good coffee. In the same way, millionaires value different things from mere thousandaires. And if you can’t have empathy, you can’t offer value.

What are some of the benefits of diversity?

  1. Better performance: In a 2011 analysis by insurance firm Credit Suisse of 2,400 companies, with men and women on the board outperformed companies that had no gender diversity. Mostly mixed teams looked over each others’ shoulders more. Consulting firm McKinsey found companies in the top most diverse organization — that’s just ethnic and racial diversity — had better than average returns more than a third (35%) of the time. Companies with more gender diversity had higher than average returns 15% of the time. Because of how averages work, that necessarily means that the less diverse a company was, the worse it did, on average.
  2. Better innovation for more customers. The more diverse your teams are, the more robust your products, services and offerings will be. That was a finding from Deloitte. When people think “their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity and they feel included,” there’s an 83% increase in their ability to innovate.
  3. More effective teamwork. In our experience running teams using using Meredith Belbin’s work, we’ve realized diversity makes teams more effective. More points of view lead to better decisions. More thinking styles lead to better insights. You need all sorts of people for a team.
  4. Attracting the best talent. Think of it this way: if you’re looking for the best people, you should look everywhere. If you ignore people who are different from you, you exclude a huge section of the population from your talent search. A more diverse organization is an organization that attracts more people, strengthening your organization.
  5. Avoid litigation. This is a bit of a negative “benefit” but the truth is, it matters. Litigation is expensive and distracting and destroys reputational and shareholder value.
  6. Reduce staff turnover. If a culture is too homogenous, it becomes toxic to minorities. That edges them out, and you have to replace them. This is what happened to Uber — it’s white, heterosexual, macho culture was very toxic to women, and caused their founder and CEO to have to step away from the company.
  7. Better conflict resolution. As I said earlier, it’s uncomfortable to deal with people we think of as “them” instead of “us.” A study by Northwestern University put it this way: “The mere presence of diversity in a group creates awkwardness, and the need to diffuse this tension leads to better group problem solving.”

How to do Diversity properly

Getting Inclusion and Diversity right is not easy. If you’re not careful, differences can splinter and polarize a culture, rather than heal and unify it.
  • You have to really believe in the whole idea of diversity. If this is just lip service, everybody will see through it and you will do some lasting damage to the culture, your business and the bottom line
  • Try to “check your privilege.” This is an uncomfortable exercise, and very necessary. Racism and sexism is so part of our culture, we’re not even aware of it. If you search the web for “female privilege,” “male privilege”, “white privilege,” and even “privilege based on wealth.” You may find this brilliant example of how privilege can work.
  • Involve more people in the hiring decision. If you get a trusted colleague to help you with the decision — especially if they are very different from you — you’re more likely to get a better decision.
  • If you’re a leader, you know this already: you need excellent conflict resolution skills. Now is the time to invest in upskilling yourself. Try the work of John Gottman or Marshall Rosenburg for starters.
More diversity is good for your teams, for your business and for yourself. If you want to know more about how we can help, please fill in the contact form below.
donald trump
I watched the US Presidential campaigns in 2016 with increasing fascination as it appeared that Donald Trump was gaining support. As a leadership coaches and experienced leaders ourselves (we have led organizations ranging from 20 people to 3,000), we at Stratervation tell our clients that selfless leadership is better than selfish leadership; that inspiration works better than fear; That a leader’s job is to get the best out of their teams and to help those teams succeed. We also believe in authentic leadership — that a leader inspires loyalty by putting his followers ahead of himself, and admitting it when he makes mistakes. We believe the best leaders are reliable and tell the truth. We talk a lot about leaders having self-knowledge. Most of this was the exact opposite of what Trump was doing to get elected. Sure, his vision put the country ahead of himself — it’s make America great again, not make Trump great again; but Trump disregarded facts completely and made stuff up to make himself look good — and his opponents look bad. He attacked and belittled and bullied anybody who wasn’t slavishly loyal to him. And he succeeded! He got elected. Was he going to force us to re-write our Leadership handbook? As I write this, it’s six months into the Trump presidency. I think we have enough data now to start making some conclusions.
  1. Donald beat Clinton on oratory, hands down. His “Make America Great Again” slogan had a strong verb in it: “make.” Clinton’s slogan was “Better Together,” which is meaningless and mealy-mouthed and weak. I watched Clinton’s speech where she declared that she was standing. I can’t remember a single thing about that speech. Say what you like about Trump, he knows how to move a crowd.
  2. Leadership is still misogynistic. For a woman at that level to succeed in a man’s world is very difficult. Clinton’s persona as an intellectual and geek didn’t help against a man who understand how to touch the common person so powerfully.
  3. Fear sells, especially when it’s linked to a clear remedy for that fear. We know this from advertising studies (click here for a 1999 study in the Journal of Business Ethics, or here for how fear persuades, especially when linked with a clear call to action.) By playing into white people’s fear of demographic change, Trump out-played Clinton. Not by much — Clinton won the popular vote; but by enough. The US elected President Trump, not Clinton.
OK so Trump is a compelling (if negative) speaker; the system was stacked against a woman president (and Clinton still came pretty close). The US wanted a break from the past, and Trump offered that clean break. Trump a good leader though? To answer that question, we have to define two concepts. “Good,” and “Leader.” My favorite definition of leadership comes from Mike T Williams, former SA barefoot waterskiing champion. “Leadership is articulating a vision, and then through yourself and others, causing that vision to become a reality.” Has he “articulated a vision?” Certainly! Trump’s vision is “Make America Great Again.” He has other visions for the country as well — building a border wall, repealing universal healthcare and replacing it with something “better.” Removing all illegal immigrants, especially Muslims and Latinos from the US. Is he, “through himself and others” causing that vision to be a reality? French aviator and writer Antoine de St Exupery wrote in his book Wisdom of Sands: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” That’s the power of inspiration, right there, in one quote. In 21st century English that is: “Articulate a vision, and (once you get your teams’ buy in), through yourself and others cause that vision to become a reality.” I’m fond of saying: “You can’t inspire people by criticizing them.” So, how has Trump used his first six months? He loves to criticize and threaten. He has been threatening the Republicans to get them to pass a healthcare bill that is incredibly unpopular in his own party and in the US government as a whole; he criticizes and vilifies the media who don’t report they way he wants them to; he is singling out individuals such as his loyal supporter Jeff Sessions, the Mayor of London, a (woman) Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski on Twitter and heaping scorn on them. As a result, Republicans are beginning to turn on their leader. He accused President Obama of spying on him, and everybody basically ignored that as unhinged ranting. His team members — the Republicans — are defying Trump and rallying around Jeff Sessions. They realize that if Sessions can get it in the neck, they might be next. Here’s a short Stratervation checklist on effective leadership. Does Trump stack up? Selfless leadership is better than selfish leadership? No. Trump has consistently put his family, his businesses, his friends and supporters ahead of the greater good. Inspiration works better than fear? Mixed. His Make America Great Again is an uplifting statement, but his personal style is to attack anybody who he disagrees with. That a leader’s job is to get the best out of their teams and to help those teams succeed. Um. No. Trump fails on this because he is not trying to help his teams succeed. He doesn’t even seem to be engaging on the issues. Authentic leadership — that a leader admits when he makes mistakes? Absolutely not. According to himself, he has never made a mistake. We believe the best leaders are reliable and tell the truth. Again, no. He seems incapable of keeping a promise. Self-knowledge? Again, absolutely not. It’s six months since he was elected. According to Stratervation, he’s not a good leader; according to US opinion polls, he’s  failing dismally, even among his own base. Personally, I’m relieved that Trump didn’t force us here at Stratervation to re-evaluate everything we ever learned about leadership.  
Peter Drucker famously said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So if you really do want to succeed — you need to look after your culture first. Most companies, of course, start with a great strategy, forgetting that it’s PEOPLE who need to implement this strategy. And if the culture of the PEOPLE is to perform badly, then it doesn’t matter what strategy you put in place. Here are some mistakes that people make: “1. The culture needs to change. Please fix it.” This is a mistake because the culture comes from the top. It’s impossible for an outsider to “fix” a culture through a workshop or series of workshops.
If you really want to fix a culture, there are ways to do it; and it needs the enthusiastic participation of everybody in senior management, from the top down. We use research-based methods that have been tested — and really work — out there in the market.
  2. “Please will you do (an event/a team-build/an internal marketing campaign) because people are feeling demoralized.” If your people are feeling demoralized then an event / team-build / internal marketing campaign is like trying to teach a pig to sing. Don’t do that. Because it wastes your time, and annoys the pig! 3. We really need deep culture change. We have been in business for 30 years and we need to hand over to the next generation. We’re tight on budget. Also we’re very busy so we can give you half-a-day at our training room downstairs. Yeah, OK. Half a day to shift a 30-year old culture — half a day even to shift a 30-day old culture is not enough. And at least initially, you need to get out of your environment. You can’t do it in-house. Not in the beginning. And if you don’t have enough money to spring for an external venue, your problems are worse than you think. Bottom line is: Culture change starts at the top. It will take 8-12 weeks to start understanding what the real problems are. And it will take another 9-12 months to really embed the new culture. If you do it properly, it will touch every part of your organisation. Organisational design, reward systems, KPI design, innovation, how you run meetings, how you make decisions — even how you spend money! Everything. It will be profoundly uncomfortable for some people in the business. Very scary and uncomfortable. It will get worse before it gets better.

The upside is you will infuse your organization with a new sense of urgency and purpose. Your customer service will improve dramatically. Your profitability will improve dramatically. Your morale will improve dramatically.

And you will start attracting to your business people who really want to work there. So if you want to tweak your culture, let’s talk. It’s exciting, transformational and rewarding.
It’s a tool that’s 50 years old — but still, PESTEL remains the gold standard of environmental scanning.
The dimensions are:
– Politics
– Economics
– Society
– Technology
– Environment
– Legislation
I reckon in 5-8 years, cars will be 50% electric vehicles. So in 10 years…
* No bumper bashing (or any accidents really)
* No insurance claims. (what will happen to short-term insurance?)
* No need for tow trucks.
* No need for a mechanic at all — the cars will be electric!
So what does that mean for society? What does that mean for YOUR business? This is a future that’s only 5-10 years away. And if somebody like I can see it, you can bet your bottom dollar other people can see it too.
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Are you the “lemon” in your “lemonade?”

This is not a new or groundbreaking idea, any more than fire is a revolutionary idea, or cheese on pizza. Still it’s a good idea, like fire, or cheese on pizza. One of the things that sets your business apart from your competitors is Scale. The most successful businesses are the ones that have it; less successful businesses, not so much. I remember working with an events company once, run by the two founders. They articulated it perfectly: “we’re the lemon in the lemonade,” they said. Take out the founders, and all you’ve got is fizzy water. Put the founders back in, and voilà! Lemonade! It’s a thorny problem, and one that you absolutely need to solve, if you want to see the kind of explosive growth you desire. For more, watch our video, shot at our recent seminar:

What is Innovation? And why does it even matter?

Whenever we talk about Innovation, people ask the same question: “What is innovation.” It’s an important question because companies really do want to innovate. If you don’t know what “innovation” even is, how do you do it? And if you don’t know how to do it, how do you measure it? And if you can’t measure it, how do you manage it? And if you can’t manage it, then how do you even know you’re doing it in the first place?   Professor Rias van Wyk says Innovation is “created capability.” So it’s “created” meaning it’s not naturally occurring; and it’s “capable,” meaning, it has some functional benefit. Another definition (one that Brenton prefers) is “the commercialisation of creativity.” In other words, something is created that you can make some money out of. This little skit is a humorous look at what Innovation means to different people.