Tag Archives: Doug Williamson

do you know what the future holds?

Neither do we – but we do have some thoughts about three emerging trends you would be wise to keep an eye on as we enter 2016.

1. The gap between the truly great, the merely good and the boringly average will widen further.

Differences in the level of both organizational and individual ambition, competence and capability will become even more pronounced. This will make it impossible for the unprepared and the complacent to just hang on. Simple survival won’t cut it. The ramifications will be obvious, the consequences predictable and the costs inevitable.

2. The leadership talent you will need to remain relevant in the future will become even harder to locate and attract.

The very best organizations will quickly come to appreciate that the mindsets, skill sets and competencies of the future are very different from those of the past. Retooling leadership, at all levels, will not be an option – it will be a necessity. Sadly, far too many organizations will ignore the signals and fall victim to the natural consequences of the talent scarcity gap.

3. Organizational culture will matter more to your success than ever before.

Dysfunctional cultures punish the guilty by placing a harsh, hidden “tax” on organizational performance. The cost of that “tax” will go up even further in 2016. To boost overall effectiveness, you must lower the tax rate. You do that by creating a culture which boosts the level of discretionary investment by your people by removing the man-made barriers to collaboration, innovation and accountability.

The new year will bring new challenges – it always does. It will generously layer them on top of those you are already facing. Some will find that burden too overwhelming, but others will be wise enough to get ahead of the curve. They will adjust to the signals the future is already sending our way.

It is a choice. There are solid options and better alternatives.

Are you set?

how to win the game by changing the rules

When Seattle based outdoor recreation retailer REI announced they were giving employees a paid day off, and closing their stores on Black Friday, my immediate reaction was how BOLD, and how BRILLIANT!!
Even before their #optoutside campaign went viral. Even before their decision whipped media outlets into a frenzy. Even before I had a chance to read even one of the many articles that were subsequently published analyzing the what’s and whys of REI’s decision to abandon one of the most profitable retail sales days of the year, I knew that REI was doing something I respect and value very much…
They were winning the game by changing the rules!
If winning in retail is determined solely by profitability, then the numbers aren’t yet in to determine whether REI will take an overall hit, or get a longer term financial bump by their decision to close. My guess is that it will be the latter, however, their decision was a win for the company in more ways than just the bottom line and here’s why.
In every competitive endeavour, there is an underlying basic assumption that you win by doing the same thing as your competitors, just better. In sports you run faster, jump higher, score more, and, in retail it has become about opening earlier, closing later, and charging less and less in order to compete.
Then, every once in a while, someone competes in a different way – they develop a new way to land the high jump, a new underwater kick, or new materials that allow equipment improvements which provide competitive advantage. In the most basic of terms, I respect REI’s decision to say, “Hey we’re not going to try to compete by doing the same thing as everyone else, just better. In fact, we’re going to compete by not competing at all!” Balls. Disruption. I like it!
Next year, other retailers might follow suit, or they won’t, but REI won this year by being the first major retailer to have the boldness to go against the competition, against conventional logic, and make a stir and a statement while they were at it. The decision worked for REI because it was perceived as authentic and not contrived. It was in keeping with their message and culture, a kind gesture towards its employees for sure, but also an effective reinforcement of their collaborative brand, and a way to grow both employee and customer loyalty, while getting some amazing positive press while they were at it.
I tip my hat to REI for their decision to close their doors on Black Friday this year, and challenge us all to seize more opportunities to make bold decisions in 2016!

CEOS with daughters run more socially responsibly firms

As a father of 3 daughters (I know, I know… and 3 sons!), this HBR article caught my eye, partially for business reasons, but even more so because it piqued my personal interest. Could it actually be true, as the title states, that the gender of our children impacts us as business people and as CEOS? The answer appears to be a resounding yes.
The article reports on interviews with researchers from the University of Miami and CEIBS, who analyzed information on the offspring of S&P 500 Company CEOs, and the differences between those companies in terms of social responsibility ratings and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) investments. The researchers found that firms led by a CEO with at least one daughter, scored an average of 11.9% higher on CSR metrics, and spent 13.4% more of their net income on CSR than the median, thus indicating a definite correlation between executives having female children and increased investment in socially responsible activities.
As with any finding, this conclusion led to other questions such as; is the impact different on female CEOS than male? (Short answer: being a woman has a far greater impact, in and of itself, than just having a daughter) and, does having a son impact different business factors? (Short answer: an interesting question for additional research). The researchers also answer questions regarding the impact of the daughters’ ages, whether having multiple daughters magnifies the effect, and whether wives and sisters have any impact at all, as well as cultural differences.
As CEOS and business people, we like to view ourselves as objective creatures who make decisions based squarely on impartiality and logic. I found this article to be a valuable reminder of how (often for good) all of our decisions are unconsciously shaped by our personal experiences and life circumstances. This certainly doesn’t make us irresponsible leaders or decision makers. It makes us human.

read here

why CEO’s fail

why CEO's fail

I recently revisited an article written by Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin entitled “Why CEOs Fail”. It popped into my head one afternoon at the cottage, and after a quick Google search I was able to locate it in the Fortune Magazine archives at the link below. When I looked at the original publish date, I was shocked to realize that it had been published over 16 years ago, in June of 1999. Once I recovered from that, I reread it only to be even more stricken by how absolutely applicable every single word of it is today.

Over these past 16 years, CEOs have continued to succeed and CEOS have continued to fail, just as often (if not more frequently) than during the time this article was written. The players are different now and the article could be republished with updated examples, but it really isn’t necessary, because the fundamental reasons for success and the fundamental causes of failure remain categorically the same.

Charan and Colvin argued that while strategy matters, it simply isn’t enough. Decisiveness and follow-through, effective execution, and an unwavering commitment to deliverables are the key components to CEO success every time. “So how do CEOs blow it? More than any other way, by failure to put the right people in the right jobs – and the related failure to fix people problems in time. Specifically, failed CEOs are often unable to deal with a few key subordinates whose sustained poor performance deeply harms the company.”

It’s no different now. I see this regularly in our work with clients. Let’s face it, relationships are difficult to experience objectively, they are difficult to manage effectively, and often, in business just as in personal life, people can be late to identify when a relationship fails to add value anymore, or worse, becomes a detriment to success. Employee performance impacts execution. Execution drives the success or failure of an organization. Period. And CEOs who cannot see themselves as accountable not only for their own performance, but for the performance of all players in a position to either drive or compromise organizational success, are not going to make it. Relationship blind spots have been the downfall of more than one potentially great, but ultimately failing leader. This is truly the key.

There is far more insight to be taken from this article in its entirety and, 16 years later or not, I definitely recommend a read (or re-read) of this Forbes magazine classic on why CEOs fail!
read here

the secret to reducing employee productivity

Have you ever seen a child put their hands over both ears and say “blah blah blah” while someone else is speaking so as not to hear them? Have you ever seen a CEO doing the exact same thing, minus the hands on the ears and the “blah blah blah”?

You know what I’m talking about – right? The team member is allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to speak. No one interrupts them. Perhaps there is a small delay to ensure they are finished making their point. And then the CEO / Manager / Team Leader politely thanks them for their contribution, but disagrees, goes back to what they were originally saying, or possibly even takes the conversation in a different direction completely.

When this type of behaviour becomes part of the culture, employees simply stop disagreeing or speaking up, because they have come to feel it is pointless.

The following article brilliantly taps into a couple of the fastest and most effective routes to ensuring employee unproductivity:

1. Having employees that nod and agree with everything you say may feel like “alignment” but, in reality, mandating an “all on the same page” culture, at best stifles autonomous thinking, creativity, innovation and, at worst, sets you up for avoidable mistakes to be made, because employees know that pointing out drawbacks and risks will fall on deaf ears.

2. You may feel, as a leader, that having rigid, well-defined policies will result in a “tidy, well-functioning, and highly productive organization”, however, when the policies you impose on employees are too strict and inflexible, human nature is to retaliate by holding you accountable to the same strict “rule” adherence. For example, don’t expect your unwillingness to allow employees the discretion to leave before 5 “as required”, to be rewarded by having employees who are willing to work past 5 on other days “as required”. At best, this kind of rigidity results in employees who are unwilling to go over and above for you and, at worst, it sets you up for a culture where skirting the rules and lying becomes a common practice to bypass the stifling inflexibility of regulations.
This is not to say that organizations can or should be run without rules, or that every employee idea can or should be incorporated. But, by finding a way to truly value individuals and their contribution to the organization, as well as acknowledging their needs for autonomy and flexibility, according to this author at least, you will have the opportunity to tap into the “90% of each person that is what can make him or her a great employee, partner, team member: the initiative, the questions, the passion, the concerns, the hope, all the quirkiness and joy and excellence that people will bring to their work if you invite them to do so”.
read here

Top Navigate Publications

© Copyright 2014 CorbisCorporation
Somehow, it seems to be that time of year already … back to school and back to business!
While you are ramping up, and tweaking your plans for the remaining months of 2015, allow us to be that little voice that constantly reminds you to step back and take stock. To help you do this, we have selected our three most popular Navigate publications (as determined by our readers), and have provided the links below.
In these issues, you will find important themes such as maintaining perspective and objectivity, anticipating predictable hurdles and keeping pace with rapidly accelerating and unfamiliar changes. If you have read these before, you may want a quick refresher. If you have not had the chance, now might be just the time to shake up your thinking.
Our three top Navigates are:
The Predictable Passages of Organizational Transformation – February 2015 read here
The Devastating Cost of Bias in Leadership – November 2013 read here
Blind Spots, Bias & Bravado – A Toxic Combination – September 2011 read here

5 Minutes Early Is On Time; On Time Is Late; Late Is Unacceptable

Watch --- Image by © Image Source/Corbis

Watch — Image by © Image Source/Corbis

I couldn’t agree more with this author’s take on being late. It feels like running late, and last minute cancellations, have become the rule rather than the exception in business. I can’t stand it. I don’t like it at the doctor’s office, I don’t like it in a meeting, and I don’t like it socially either. No matter how you frame it, being chronically late is a selfish act; you are somehow, whether by accident, time mismanagement, or sheer inconsideration, deeming other people’s time and schedules as less important than your own. And it feels as though it’s becoming more and more acceptable and expected when, in fact, it should be becoming less and less so.

One of my favourite quotes from the following Forbes article, listing the realities of what being late really means, is the following.

“Megalomaniacal. While most grow out of this by the age of eight, some genuinely believe they are the center of the universe. It’s not attractive. Note, this is also called Donald Trump Syndrome. Do you want to be compared to Donald Trump?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

The next time you are booking that 11:00 am meeting uptown, on the back of a 10:00 am meeting downtown, and thinking to yourself “I’m sure I can make it on time”, take a moment to consider the impact on other people’s schedules if you don’t.

read the article here



In the days leading up to their 20th Anniversary extravaganza sale, “Prime Day”, Amazon hyped an event that they declared would have “more deals than Black Friday”. They teased about major savings on electronics, home appliances and baby products. By all accounts this event would be huge!

Just hours into the sale, however, Prime Day was being widely condemned by consumers. By midday the hashtag #PrimeDayFail was trending on Twitter and the sale offerings, which included such items as a 55 gallon tub of water-based lubricant and 5-pack of brass knuckles, were being mocked across various media platforms.

So how did Amazon respond to their public flogging, given the age-old mantra “the customer is always right”? Well, apparently, the customer was not right in Amazon’s eyes and, in a surprisingly defensive move, the online giant began to publically counter consumer sentiments throughout the event, declaring it to be a runaway success before the sale was even close to being over.

So what really happened?!?!

Well, understandably, Amazon was reporting vastly greater sales than a regular July week day, but that’s hardly impressive. They also declared more units sold than Black Friday, which again makes sense if customers were right and all that was available were lots of random small items, rather than the promised and promoted big-ticket electronics and home appliances. So let’s be realistic. I’m sure that Amazon did make gobs of money during their inaugural Prime Day Sale, however, their attitude towards customer satisfaction left a sour taste in many mouths, including mine, which is something they might want to reconsider prior to marketing their next big celebratory sale.
read it here

rethinking brainstorming

Business people drawing plan during meeting --- Image by © Blue Images/Corbis

Business people drawing plan during meeting — Image by © Blue Images/Corbis

As a paid facilitator, it might seem risky to openly admit to the pitfalls of group brainstorming. The reality is, however, that overused and improperly executed, brainstorming sessions can be a waste of time for everyone involved. Akin to their close cousin, the improperly focused or overly frequent staff meeting, where participants dread attendance and walk away feeling stripped of productive work time, group brainstorming sessions, which have long been lauded as a linchpin of the creative process, do have some real and well-documented drawbacks. These drawbacks are, unfortunately, too often ignored in order to protect the “feel good” communal nature of the process of collaboration and working together.

In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned Susan Cain and the TED Talk in which she spoke about creativity and independent thought. The following HBR article furthers her points, making the argument that group brainstorming has been adopted as the gold standard for creativity, with no real empirical evidence to support it, and plenty of evidence highlighting its drawbacks. Social loafing, social anxiety, regression to the mean, and production blocking, are the four main explanations provided in this article for why brainstorming isn’t always the best approach, all of the time.

So, is the message that we should stop all brainstorming, suspend all meetings, and remain isolated in our offices from 9 to 5 producing independent work? Not at all. But, being aware of the potential drawbacks of group brainstorming, as well as having an understanding of the value of independent creativity and thought, can only help to ensure that the collaboration we do engage in is effective, rather than counterproductive, for both our organizations and our teams.

read the full article here

why culture and leadership matter for disruptive innovation

Global Communications

I came across a short, but very interesting article on smartblogs.com entitled “Why culture and leadership matter for disruptive innovation”, written by James daSilva. It begins with some slightly radical, but excellent advice – daSilva suggests you should bring in “troublemakers and tinkerers”.


When talking to leaders about transformational change in their organizations, or any movement in new directions for that matter, I tell them they have to get comfortable with the concept of creative tension. I encourage them to seek out and embrace people with starkly different views, the deviants as it were, and really fan the sparks of new and creative thinking.

It all reminds me of a book I enjoyed years ago entitled “The Corporate Fool”. The author, David Firth, tells you up front that “one of the premises of this book is that sanity is tremendously limiting”. He proposes that the Fool is the perfect role model for the paradoxical and crazy thinking that is needed, and for being the person who is not afraid to speak up. Might this be the troublemaker or the tinkerer or even the deviant by another name?

click here to check out the blog