01 December 2011

More Than A Pollster

"You first have to learn to be good. Then learn to be fast."

--George Gallup, Jr.

The first time I met George Gallup Jr., who passed away on November 21, 2011, at the age of 81, was in February of 1983.  I operated a research business at the time and wanted to know if there was any chance of learning from or even working with the Gallup Organization. 

It sounds like a stretch but this is how we came to know some of the mentors in our life--by reaching out to people we admire.  A lesson learned early in life is to let the other person say, "no."

After several attempts to get through by phone, Marie Swirsky, George's executive assistant, suggested an alternative.  Marie asked us to put our introduction on a cassette (no CDs in the early 80s), and the purpose for meeting with George, and she would put the tape in his briefcase so he could listen to it over a weekend.

The tape arrived at the Gallup offices in Princeton, New Jersey on a Friday.  The following Monday I received a call from Marie to set up a meeting in Princeton at my convenience.

It was the beginning of a 21-year professional relationship with George and a friendship that extended until last week.

Of all the trips to Princeton in the ensuing years, the most memorable was the time George took me to meet his mother, Ophelia. It was a warm gesture that became quite an afternoon.  As it turns out Mrs. Gallup played the piano, George played the trumpet and I play the drums.  All three instruments were in her house, so George suggested we have a "jam" session.  

Which we did.

How special that time proved to be.

Most of what I learned from George is what I saw in his life.  His curiosity.  The intellect.  Keen insights.  Ethics.  Compassion for others.  A willingness to share what he knew, not keeping it to himself.  Making time to invest in someone like myself.

Conversations in his office, over lunch, and in our home are memorable. 

Some things worth noting about a man who was more than a pollster:
  • He paid attention when you were talking.  The first thing George did was get out his notepad and start writing things down for future reference.  George focused on the points you were trying to make.  In an age of permanent distractions and inattention in meetings, his disciplined approach to interpersonal communication was instructive.   
  • He chose words carefully.  George's counsel was inside the conversation requiring one to be a good listener.  Like the time he was visiting and getting ready to go to the airport.  He said, "You first have to learn to be good.  Then learn to be fast."  The order was right because George was speaking from experience.  Nearly 25 years later I don't remember the context in which this wisdom was passed along but I recall those specific words as though they were spoken this morning.
  • He knew the relationship between information and ideas.  It wasn't just a matter of conducting surveys.  Adding to data bases doesn't accomplish much.  The real issue was knowing how to act on the findings.  As good as the knowledge might be it's secondary in value to taking the right action, whether personal or corporate.  
  • He was a person of great faith.  The choices were being an Episcopal priest, which he considered at one time, or a pollster. However, the greater calling was living a life of faith.  One of George's favorite questions in religious surveys was, "How have you put your faith into action in the past seven days?"
I am grateful for the privilege of knowing George Gallup, Jr.--and I am thankful to Marie Swirsky for putting that cassette tape in his briefcase many years ago.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 November 2011

Steve Jobs and Buzz Lightyear--BFF

Our grandsons visited some time ago when the youngest of two brothers, Brody Schriver, had a strong attachment to Buzz Lightyear, one of the characters from the Pixar movie, Toy Story.  

We took the boys to lunch one day and upon arriving home, discovered Buzz was missing. 

Unable to deal with the heartbreak I went back to the restaurant to see if, by chance, Buzz was still there.  The staff at the restaurant went so far as to move the booth where we were seated an hour or so earlier just to be sure the toy wasn't lodged between the seat and the wall.  

Another search of the car came up empty as well.

Rather than face a tearful grandson with empty hands, I stopped by a store and purchased a second Buzz Lightyear because that's what grandfathers do. (As it turned out the first Buzz was on the back porch all along).

This incident came to mind while reading backstories to the life of Steve Jobs, including successes at critical moments allowing him to keep going with his creative pursuits.   

What does this have to do with Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and the other characters in Toy Story?  While Apple and NeXT get a lot of attention, Pixar Animation, purchased by Jobs in 1986, put new life into this American icon.

As recounted by Lev Grossman in TIME, Steve Jobs netted almost $260 million when Apple went public in 1980.  However, that financial success was followed by nearly 18 years without producing a successful product.  

"It was Buzz Lightyear who saved Jobs' career: after eating money for a decade, Pixar finally produced Toy Story in 1995.  It took in $30 million on its first weekend, and a week later Pixar went public. Jobs' shares were worth $1.2 billion," according to Grossman.

Almost 60 years earlier Walt Disney was looking to expand beyond short subjects to features.  Walt made a big bet on his company's future taking three years to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which premiered in 1937.  

Sometimes referred to as "Disney's Folly," Snow White cost approximately $1.5 million forcing Walt Disney to mortgage his house to finance the film's production.

In its original release, Snow White grossed $3.5 million in the United States and Canada.  Walt Disney received a full-size Oscar and seven miniature ones presented to him by Shirley Temple at the Academy Awards.  This was a huge success making it possible for Disney studios to move into a higher realm of creativity and production. 

There are numerous articles comparing Steve Jobs to Thomas Edison and other inventors.  A better comparison might be with Walt Disney.  Both found a way to combine consistent quality with innovation in order to make their products stand out from the competition. 

It's fitting that Jobs, upon completion of the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar by Walt Disney Company in 2006, would join the company's board of directors and become Disney's largest shareholder.   

What are the lessons to take away from the life and career of Steve Jobs?

What does a wider audience learn in his death that it couldn't know, by design, in his life?  I am thinking now about his family; growing into the role of a corporate leader; his mercurial management style; all the people decisions; the failures and rejections; and a sense of mortality. 

What could you "Apple-ize" (simplify) about your life and business?

What was the driving force for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad? 

What's at the heart of Pixar's success? Maybe creativity and desperation.  

What causes our grandchildren (and yours) to make an emotional connection with a character like Buzz Lightyear?  The answer to that last question is simple. It's because Steve Jobs, like Walt Disney, knew young minds (like older ones) are wired for a good story.

(C)  Bredholt & Co.

01 October 2011

Chiseling of a Leader

"I saw the angel in the marble and I chiseled until I set it free."


Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, celebrates its 70th anniversary on 31 October 2011.   It took the American-born sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, son of Danish immigrants, fourteen years to complete this monumental task. 

While he is also responsible for the carving on the side of Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, Georgia, the head of Abraham Lincoln, which sits in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., and the North Carolina monument at the Gettysburg battlefield, Borglum's most notable work is Mount Rushmore. 

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are displayed in 60-foot granite heads carved mostly with dynamite.

When viewing this edifice I wonder if these leaders were born or made.  Or, was this select group of Americans chiseled over a lifetime?

On the way through life have you ever stopped to think about the importance of strong character and how it develops?  Does it happen by being battle-tested in various assignments?  From life's experiences?  Is a crisis the way in which true character forms?  Or is it from a combination of success and failure?  What is the role of disappointment or rejection?  

And how do you know who anyone is in an age of self-constructed digital images? 

Lincoln once observed that giving someone power was the best way to find out who they really are.

How long did it take Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln to develop as leaders?  Longer than the decade-and-a-half it took Gutzon Borglum to finish sculpting their faces on the side of a mountain.

The outsize display of four great men begs another question.  Why is so much attention given to formal leadership programs and so little to the nonformal, character-building experiences, where people spend the vast majority of their time?

What are the experiences that contribute to shaping and influencing leaders?

The Center for Creative Leadership offers five worth noting:
  • Start something from scratch
  • Fix or turn around something
  • Enlarge your responsibility
  • Take on special projects
  • Endure hardships

It's not enough to have these experiences.  It's what you take away from them that makes this kind of chiseling worthwhile.  

If you are persevering through the economic crisis, what, if anything, will your management team take away from a time of testing and hardship?    

We tend to lose our memory as things improve which explains why the mistakes of the past will likely be repeated in the future. 

All four presidents on Mount Rushmore probably engaged at some point with the experiences on the above list. It wasn't that they went through difficult times.  Many do.  It was how they did so that made a difference in the outcomes.

Something to be mindful of throughout your career is the value of conversations.  Some will be long, and more will be brief.  Under the right circumstances, these exchanges can be a source of insights that are essential to learning, growing, and changing. 

Our perspective can be limited.  Listening to others, and viewing things through a different lens, has the potential to clarify our vision and improve our options for taking the next steps.

Coaching is quite popular with many--and it has its place.  However, the right mentors coming in and out of your life, along with trusted friendships, may be more important in the longer term.   

Does it feel as though you are currently being chiseled, even with what seems like dynamite?

If so, then you are likely enrolled in the same leadership development program as the four American presidents who grace Mount Rushmore. 


(C)  Bredholt & Co.


30 August 2011

Building a Team

The word "team" is becoming a prominent part of the language and culture of many organizations. Buildings that were once home offices are now referred to as "team headquarters." The Team Disney building in Orlando, Florida comes to mind.

Much has been made over the past decade as to the importance of teams and team building and it’s having a noticeable effect on corporate life.  Like any management idea that comes along (vision, for example), it’s possible to attach ourselves to a word and miss the core concept.

Or simply take a good idea too far.

With all the talk about "teams" we are reminded of something former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said on a different subject.  She offered that if you had to say you were a "lady" too often, you probably weren't.  (This was before being given the title, Lady Thatcher).

We are beginning to think the same thing about leaders who keep talking about getting their people "on the team." In fact, there tends to be more said about the team than the results the team is expected to achieve.

A practical lesson from the book, The Wisdom of Teams, is that leaders foster team performance best by building a strong performance ethic rather than by establishing a "team promoting" environment alone.

"Biases toward individualism exist," says Jon Katzenbach, one of the authors, "but need not get in the way of team performance." He goes on to say that team and individual are two subjects on the opposite ends of a continuum.

It’s essential to provide balance so that the situation is well served by either a person or a group. Believe it or not, sometimes a single person is just what circumstances call for since the task determines the form.

Those who have played on a well-disciplined athletic team know the better coaches use the word "team" carefully. They strive to develop the team by growing individuals focused on a common goal. 

Before the era of celebrity athletics, now at practically all levels of participation, it was a great fan experience to watch a well-coached team perform.  It still is even as most sports are being overtaken by the driving forces of profit and loss.

As in sports a successfully executed idea or plan in organizational life is a thing to behold.

Our observation is that some, not all, may be using "team" in a disciplinary fashion versus a discipline that is required to achieve a common purpose and set of goals. When referring to employee attitudes and behavior supervisors often refer to work associates as either being a "team player" or not.

Based on whose set of rules?  I think most employees know.

Rather than a boss--worker arrangement, Katzenbach notes that teams really come into being when individuals hold themselves mutually accountable.

It might be helpful to review your communication to see how much the "t" word is being used (or overused).  And is it possible, through some form of assessment, to determine if you and others are developing individual strengths as well as building a well-balanced team?

Remember, the best teams know they are. If you have to say it too much, you probably aren't.


(C)  Bredholt & Co. 

15 May 2011

Hidden in Plain View

Nearly every successful business or nonprofit which endures over time begins with a simple yet profound idea.

Such is the case of Charles Edward Merrill, who in 1914, founded what is now known as Merrill Lynch. According to historical sources, Merrill was one of the first New York stockbrokers to realize the importance of selling stocks and bonds to small investors by furnishing them with simple, conservative, and sound financial advice.

Looking to grow his brokerage business, he decides to locate offices closer to potential customers west of New York's Hudson River.

Summarizing Merrill's core idea, he took Wall Street to Main Street.

And did so by looking for external opportunities in an expanding country in the early part of the 20th century.  A lesson here is that change is what you choose to make of it.  What seemed hidden to others in the financial industry, a rising USA middle class became obvious to Merrill. 

His death in 1956 prompted a tribute in the New York Times concerning his "provocative ideas about how to interest the little and often Wall Street-shy man in acquiring a stake in his country's economy. Mr. Merrill was a frequent and firm spokesman for the importance of a free capital market in this nation of free enterprise."

After nearly going out of business during the recent "great recession," Merrill Lynch is now the wealth management division of Bank of America. With over 15,000 financial advisors and $2.2 trillion in client assets, it is the world's largest brokerage.

In the late 1990's André Briend, a French pediatric nutritionist walks into the kitchen of his home one morning where the children are eating breakfast. On the table is a jar of the chocolate spread, Nutella.

For some time Briend and a host of others had been looking for practical solutions to the problem of malnutrition, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Milk spoils. Water is often contaminated. A mother leaving her children to find food in other villages poses safety problems for those left behind.

What to do?

For Briend, the answer to these challenges could be in the Nutella sitting on the table, in plain view. From this "aha" moment, watching his kids eat breakfast, would come a product with a funny name, Plumpy’nut.

Plumpy’nut consists of a peanut-based paste, with sugar, vegetable fat, and skimmed milk powder, enriched with vitamins and minerals. It is available in 92g foil wrappers which provide 500 calories. The product can be used for up to 24 months after the date of manufacture without refrigeration.

As a ready-to-use food, Plumpy’nut requires no preparation, no dilution in water before use, and no cooking, and it can be consumed directly from the wrapper. A daily dose cost $1 and is manufactured in several African countries including Niger, Mozambique, and Malawi. It is also being produced in Rhode Island under the name, Edesia Global Nutrition Solutions.

From the manufacturer, Nutriset, we learn that the product can be used at home without any preparation, under the supervision of the mother or another member of the family. Plumpy’nut makes it possible to treat the majority of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition without them needing to be hospitalized. More malnourished children can be treated with regularity thereby improving the recovery rate.

In 2005 Doctors Without Borders distributed Plumpy’nut to 60,000 children with severe acute malnutrition during the famine in Niger. Ninety percent completely recovered and only 3 percent died. Unfortunately, according to the United Nations, the product reaches only 10 to 15 percent of those who need it due to logistics and budgets.

Where are you looking for opportunities? Customers? Non-customers? Business networks? Your employees?  Are you giving time to new ideas?  Or improving current operations?  Where could you do good and do well at the same time?

Perhaps the next profitable idea is just over the river or on the kitchen table hidden in plain view.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

20 April 2011

What's Missing?

"Missing pieces do more than complete the puzzle. They fill in an empty space."

--Luanne Rice

Is it possible that organizations of all types have fewer of the right kind of leaders today than nearly 20 years ago? I'm referring to those individuals who exhibit a good balance of experience, personal depth, emotional strength, and administrative discipline.

If this is true, why?

To begin, is there too much attention paid to the latest fads and not enough to the discipline of leadership itself? Being a leader is meaningful but hard work no matter the situation.

Another possible answer to our original question lies in the failure of leaders to learn from their experiences. Someone once said that those who are not open to counsel can’t be helped. Often development programs are offset when individual responsibility to keep learning disappears.

The person most responsible for development is the leader, not the educator or trainer.

What’s missing that often undermines well-intended people?

The first absent piece tends to be …


It’s difficult if not impossible for people to follow someone whom they don’t trust.

You have to offer reasonable grounds for belief. This is true in your first assignment or as a seasoned executive. Relationships are built on trust. Call it authenticity or transparency if you like. But substance is a must.

Are people sometimes misled by leadership?


To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Weakness in character is revealed at some point, often in a crisis. Sometimes the damage is not repairable.

Maybe a coach is what you need. Timely interventions by trusted individuals may be more important than formal reviews separated by long intervals. Few, however, change their behavior with coaching alone. It takes self-discipline and practice to reverse course. Even then it's an uphill climb. 

One way to understand credibility or trust is to think about what impresses you. 

Those with measured words and consistent behavior are impressive. Why? Because the combination of these two qualities is rare.

Another missing piece is …


Here we are referring to interpersonal or social communication, not necessarily oratory or elocution. Most of a leader’s communication is one-on-one or in small groups. Businesses are social systems. An overlooked tool is conversation.

The writer, Alan Barker, put it this way:

“Conversation is your primary management tool. It’s how you build relationships with colleagues and others. It's how you come to understand what people think and how they feel. The conversation is the way you influence others and are influenced by them. It’s how you solve problems, cooperate with others, and create new opportunities.”

That's good advice.

Two-thirds of any conversation is listening and listening is hard work.


While someone else is talking we often keep our brain in gear waiting for just the right time to speak again. By this posture, we hear little of what the other person has to say. Many gain leadership positions despite being poor listeners. How this happens is a mystery. 

When is the last time you really paid attention to colleagues, staff, customers, or board members?

Is two-way communication a missing piece? Then consider asking good questions to find out what interests others. It’s one thing to know about your people. It’s another to know your people. Understanding that difference improves and strengthens relationships.

There there's …


The buzzword is "collaboration" but associates value someone who is cooperative. 

If you're trying to build a great enterprise it’s going to take the right people laboring together to achieve common goals. Are you comfortable with strong and gifted associates?

While the task determines the form of cooperation here's a practical way to begin. 
Start by asking people what you can do to help them. Learn to cooperate with others, first. Then see if there's a difference when asking for their help in getting something done on your list.

And finally ...


Author, Jordan Mitchell, sums it up this way: "Good behavior, etiquette, and simply being polite positively impact everyone around you, and the advantages of that are countless.

It takes self-awareness, but just one missing piece can fill an empty space and make a significant difference in your life.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

15 April 2011

Leadership Agenda: Best Buy Co.

It seemed like the best of all worlds for Best Buy stores. There was good news in a slow economy.  Circuit City, its chief competitor, was going out of business. The conditions were right for Best Buy to continue expanding, now with its major competitor gone from the scene.

However, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

While the competitive retail landscape was changing so was the consumer and their options for purchasing electronic equipment. Households have increasing confidence to purchase big ticket items from their computer screens, Pads, and smartphones.

What happened?

The Internet remains a potentially destructive force for nearly all companies, even those with a strong physical presence. Note the closing of 200 Border's Book Stores. Amazon.com Inc. is getting stronger by offering an increasing number of products while collecting limited sales tax. 

Its shipping options are also more attractive.

What was a plus yesterday (large stores nearby) now appears to be a liability (overhead).

It was announced recently that Best Buy will "shrink" its "big-box" strategy.

What will the new design look like? Here is CEO Brian Dunn's revised leadership agenda:
  • Position Best Buy to aggressively compete against Amazon.com
  • Rapidly escalate opening smaller stores focusing on smartphones (having 600 to 800 Best Buy Mobile stores in five years)
  • Close some existing stores thereby reducing square footage costs
  • Negotiate smaller leases with landlords
  • Lobby for change in U.S. tax laws forcing online retailers to collect sales taxes.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

05 April 2011

Leadership Agenda: Estée Lauder Companies

Here is a look at the "leadership agenda" for Fabrizio Freda, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Estée Lauder Companies, a position he assumed on July 1, 2009.  

In this role, he is responsible for developing and achieving the Company’s overall vision, strategy, financial objectives, and investment priorities. Mr. Freda is a member of the Company’s Board of Directors.

The company website says that "Mr. Freda was a key architect of the Company’s long-term strategic plan, which is focused on gaining market share in the global prestige beauty industry and generating sustainable, profitable growth."

Mr. Freda's Leadership Agenda:
  • Prioritizing resources to the most promising opportunities
  • Making further investments in consumer knowledge
  • Driving innovation and creativity through products and services
  • Expanding the Company’s distribution and geographic penetration 
  • Greater integration across the Company’s brands, regions, and functions to create cost efficiencies and leverage scale


(C) Bredholt & Co.

08 March 2011

Learning to Say "No"

A note recently came from a friend who is taking on a new assignment.  He asked for any advice we might have to help him get off to a good start.  Our standard response to this type of inquiry is generally three-fold: 
  • Understand the limitations of the job
  • Take time to listen
  • Learn to say "no" most of the time
We were reminded of this last point about saying "no" while reading the 2010 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders from its Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett.  (Mr. Buffett is one of those rare individuals whose persona is greater than any title).     

People often think of successful leaders as those who are capable of doing almost anything.  But this is where the publicity gets in the way of reality. In fact, those at the top who achieve something significant in corporate life get there by deciding what their companies will not do.

Early in my management career, I learned the hard way that not every opportunity is strategic.  I went after things that were not always a good fit for the goals and culture of the businesses in my portfolio.  Saying "yes" too often was counter-productive.    

Is there a right sequence for good decisions?   If so, where do you start?

It begins with a leader being in touch with themselves, first.  Having a sense of purpose and values; being realistic about the situation they face; avoiding any form of self-deception which is the greatest deception of all.  This is a person who is best described as a realistic optimist.

Only after this centeredness is in place can a leader take on the unending demands of an organization (large or small) and pursue the right opportunities--especially those having to do with getting the right people in the right place at the right time.

This describes the brilliant, but imperfect allocator of capital, affectionately known as the "Oracle of Omaha."

After finishing "The Snowball," Buffett's authorized biography by Alice Schroeder, I was struck by the fact that Berkshire Hathaway, and its portfolio of diverse investments, is a reflection of how Mr. Buffett sees the world--not just a value investment philosophy taught by Benjamin Graham, one of his professors at Columbia University.

In the shareholder letter, Mr. Buffett writes that he has "reloaded his elephant gun" with some of the $38 billion in cash and cash equivalents (he prefers keeping at least $20 billion on hand just in case) and is "itchy" to make some big game acquisitions.  

Based on what business criteria?
  1. Big industrial businesses with near monopoly positions and solid sales growth
  2. At least $75 million in pre-tax income
  3. Market values of about $5 billion to $20 billion
Following Buffett in the press or from the scores of lengthy articles and books written about him will lead you to one conclusion:  This three-point filtering mechanism emanates not from a computer or calculator but from his extensive experience with people and business. 

Buffett places a premium on owning businesses where he has a high level of comfort or understanding.  This helps explain why "technology" is not on Berkshire Hathaway's short list of possible acquisitions.

Stating the obvious:

The criteria for future investments listed in the current shareholder letter leave out more than it lets in.

In the 2009 shareholder letter, Mr. Buffett wrote about Berkshire Hathaway's philosophy for making decisions and investments.  This is what he and Charlie Munger, his long-time business partner, try to live by.  It came under the heading, "What We Don't Do:"

Long ago, Charlie laid out his strongest ambition: “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” That bit of wisdom was inspired by Jacobi, the great Prussian mathematician, who counseled “Invert, always invert” as an aid to solving difficult problems. 

Here are a few examples of how we apply Charlie’s thinking at Berkshire... 

• Charlie and I avoid businesses whose futures we can’t evaluate, no matter how exciting their products may be.
• We will never become dependent on the kindness of strangers. Too-big-to-fail is not a fallback position at Berkshire.
• We tend to let our many subsidiaries operate on their own, without our supervising and monitoring them to any degree.
• We make no attempt to woo Wall Street. Investors who buy and sell based on media or analyst commentary are not for us.

This pattern of knowing what to exclude is a key factor in Mr. Buffett's long-term success.

Do you have a list of things the organization won't do?  Are they written down?  Do others know what they are?

Learning to say "no" most of the time is an overlooked practice of high-achieving individuals.  It's a behavior worth considering if success is a personal and corporate goal.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

19 February 2011

Getting a Good Fit

It was announced recently that Time Warner Inc. had forced out Jack Griffin, chief executive of the media company's Time Inc. publishing unit after less than six months on the job.  This is according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The main reason for this separation coming from inside the company seems to be a lack of "fit" between Mr. Griffin and Time.  So Jeff Bewkes, CEO of the parent company, decided to cut his losses and let Mr. Griffin go.

One of the more important things not on any resume' is "chemistry."  This partially explains why companies, even those who take their time in succession, often fail to ask the right questions.  Will this person fit culturally?  Organizationally?  Alongside current management?  With the board?  With our customers? 

Is there such a thing as a perfect fit?  Once in a great while.  Most of the time a more realistic succession goal is a close fit.

Sometimes the situation requires an incoming leader to be different from the current culture, especially in a turnaround situation.  I often think of Lou Gerstner going to IBM in the 1990s amid that crisis.  He was a one-man "counter-culture."

With the help of a lot of people in the company, Mr. Gerstner led one of the great recoveries in the history of business.  The inside story is told with clarity in his book, "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?"  http://www.amazon.com/

From press reports, it sounds as though Mr. Griffin had a mixed bag of things going against him:

  • He succeeds a long-time executive, Ann Moore, who was there for more than 30 years.
  • His behavior is described as "imperious."
  • Early meetings were called, some starting at 7:30 a.m.
  • There was a clash of personalities and styles.
  • An over-reliance on outside consultants.
  • A refashioning of sales and marketing to reflect his former company, Meredith Corp.

We look forward to hearing his side of the story, and there are always two sides.

Short-tenures often follow long ones like Ms. Moore.  Why?  It is primarily due to a period of transition.  Businesses need to work their way through the process of changing leaders. The price for this transition is often paid by the person willing to take on an assignment of this kind.  That is why "interims" are appropriate in certain circumstances.

Some of the blame for Mr. Griffin not working out belongs to Time Warner.   What were the expectations?  How thorough was the vetting process?   Who signed off on the hire?   

The biggest predictor of future behavior is frequent past behavior--so an "imperious" nature should not have been a surprise.   

This termination shows how even big corporations with all the right HR resources can come up short. 

The takeaway is how quickly Time Warner moved to correct the mistake--six months.  Failing to deal directly with problem executives is the number one reason for CEO failure according to best-selling author and consultant, Ram Charan.  Mr. Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, decided Mr. Griffin was not a good fit, decided not to provide coaching, and acted promptly to change course.

What's the application for your organization?



(C) Bredholt & Co.

09 February 2011

What Strategy Is

"...If you are not genuinely pained by the risk involved in your strategic choices, it's not much of a strategy."  --Reed Hastings, CEO, Netflix 

Strategy is about making choices. 

The above quote from Reed Hastings puts an important qualifier on what it requires when it comes time to make strategic decisions inside your organization--you have to feel some "pain" in the process.

If it is little or no pain then maybe the choices being made are not all that strategic. 

Two individuals who helped me think about this subject over the years are Ram Charan and Michel Robert.  Both narrowed strategy down to choices or building blocks--what to be, whom to serve, what to offer, etc. Often led by something that becomes a driving force (customer service), but is complemented by other things (quality products and distribution).

The decision by Apple to focus on design and technology.   Southwest Airlines chose to fly one type of aircraft--the B 737 (although this is likely to change with the acquisition of Air Tran Airways).  McDonalds saying "no" to pizza.  The company bought Donatos Pizza in 1999 and sold it back to the founders in 2003.   

So what else is strategy?

It is about choices plus a mixture of other things. It’s a term that, as someone noted, “weaves a complex web of ideas, insights, experiences, goals, expertise, memories, perceptions and expectations all of which provide general guidance to specific actions in pursuit of particular ends.”

An easy way to remember this concept is to think of strategy as what the organization wants to be—a picture of how the organization could look at some point in the future.  Therefore communication plays a central role in this process.

The strategy includes the framework (criteria) for making choices that determine the nature and direction of the organization.

The pre-condition of formulating a strategy is a clear understanding of the goal. No amount of strategizing or planning compensates for an idea of the end sought. 

No amount of strategizing or planning compensates for the absence of a clear and widespread understanding of the ends sought. 

When in doubt, think “results.”

The risk of not being clear includes missed opportunities, fragmented and wasted effort, and working at cross purposes.

How an organization gets to where it wants to go is integral to the process.  More time should be spent on implementation than on strategy formulation.  Strategy is successful execution.

There also needs to be congruence between corporate strategy and the strategies of others within the organization. Congruence does not mean that business units are pre-empted from having their own strategy.   A large organization is too complex, and too diversified to be a monolith.

While others within the organization require their own strategies these must complement one another and be supportive of the corporate strategy.

I read once that staffs tend to be the "wild card." Without direction and accountability, they can go off in their own direction—and will without clear expectations.   Without this congruence among staff, resources are often misaligned and results postponed or lessened.

The highest arc of strategy belongs to the CEO. Everything flows from this position.

The most overlooked aspects of the strategy are people and the allocation of financial resources. Get the right people first and they will identify the right strategy and hopefully make it a reality. The wrong people aren’t likely to do either very well.

Do you feel any pain in the choices being made?


(C) Bredholt & Co.