01 December 2019

Humble Leadership

"You changed the game, man."

--Coach John Harbaugh to his Baltimore Ravens star quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

Here's the rest of that sideline conversation during a 49-12 blowout of the Cincinnati Bengals.

"And we're going to keep it going," Jackson said. 

(C) PressBoxOnline

Then comes this warm message from Coach Harbaugh:

"Do you know how many kids in this country will be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years?"

Lamar Jackson, who became the first quarterback in National Football League history to throw at least 3,000 passing yards and rush for 1,500 yards in his first two NFL seasons, says with a measure of humility:

"I can't wait to see it when I get older, but I got to get to the Super Bowl right now."

The power of relationships

In their book, "Humble Leadership," father/son co-authors Edgar and Peter Schein put a spotlight on the power of relationships, openness, and trust. They turn away from a "superstar" concept and instead consider the positive outcomes when individuals learn and share for the greater good of the business.

Their idea is that a leadership process such as this can occur at any level, in any team or workgroup, in any meeting, and across all cultural boundaries.

Schein defines leadership as "always a relationship where successful leadership thrives in a group culture of high openness and high trust."  

In that sense, leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin, the book suggests.  

An unpretentious posture

I asked Dr. Schein if humbleness and humility are the same things.

"Our key point is that we don't think you have humility as a personality trait but as a situational feeling on the part of the would-be leader. An appropriate response would be--'I don't know enough to solve this complex problem I am facing; I am, in fact, dependent on my direct reports and team members; therefore, I must create a climate in which they will feel safe to speak up and collectively help to solve the problem.'"

He adds, "The goal is to know when leaders know enough to direct others and when they don't know enough, therefore seeking and accepting help."

According to executive placement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, maybe organizations are ready for a "humble" approach as more than 1,300 CEOs have left their positions in 2019.  

Closer to home in Central Florida, one of those CEO departures is Tricia Stitzel, who is stepping down as Chair and CEO of Tupperware Brands. Stitzel exits with a nearly $2 million severance and a $125,000 consultant deal even though Tupperware's stock has fallen 75% from the start of 2019 and November 26th. 


Schein's introduces us to a new word, "personization," and defines it as:

Building a working relationship with fellow employees, teammates, bosses, subordinates, or colleagues is based on trying to see that person as a whole, not just in a role that he or she may occupy at the moment.

In case you're worried about having to be too nice, relax. The authors state that "personization is about building relationships that get the job done and that avoid the indifference, manipulation, or worse, lying and concealing that often arise in the workplace."

Image result for images of lamar jackson and teammates
Lamar Jackson and Ravens' teammates celebrate a win
over New England Patriots, November 13th, 2019.
(C) Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Quoting from the book:  "We don't need to become friends and learn all about each other's  private lives, but we have to learn to be open and honest around the work issues."

Is humility proven?

In The Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kassel says humble leaders do not always inspire confidence among financial analysts. "While humble CEOs aren't any more or less capable than their brash peers, they tend to benefit from an "expectation discount," Kassel notes.  

This leadership style doesn't appear strong at first but delivers better results, perhaps as much as a 7% increase in total return annually, according to recent studies on the subject.

More research is needed, but there's something to be said about the positive track record of contemplative leadership.  

Maturity counts 

I watched the Baltimore Raven's run over the Los Angeles Rams 45-6 at the Coliseum on ESPN's Monday Night Football (November 25th, 2019). On display was an exciting second-year quarterback building relationships around openness and trust.  

Lamar Jackson is dependent on his coaches and a highly-skilled offensive and defensive roster. They are more familiar with the ins and outs of professional football and the toll a long season takes on everyone. That explains the necessity of older talent in the mix.

The Ravens v. Rams game was a visible reminder that if Baltimore made it to the Super Bowl in South Florida (Miami) in February 2020, it would be a combination of gameplan execution, staying healthy, and, as the book concludes, "personal cooperation and trusting relationships; the kind that makes for friendships and effective teams." 

That effort is being led by a 22-year-old quarterback from the University of Louisville who provides confident and humble leadership.


Update:  The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Tennessee Titans in the NFL playoffs 28 - 12. Lamar Jackson said afterward--"We just beat ourselves. I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers. That shouldn't happen."  


© Bredholt & Co.

01 November 2019

Avoiding Questionable Behavior

"It is better to be alone than in bad company."

--George Washington

How do leaders go off course? Dartmouth College professor Sydney Finkelstein studied "spectacularly unsuccessful executives" to understand what they did wrong. Here's a list of habits, and personality types, to avoid:

(C) Adobe

1.   Overestimating abilities. These individuals believe so strongly in their abilities that they assume market forces and business fundamentals no longer apply.  

2.   Blurring personal and business interests. Because they believe they are personally responsible for the company's success, these executives mistakenly begin to think, "If it's good for me, it's good for the company."  

3.   Attempting to be all-knowing. Unsuccessful executives believe they must always be correct. When that attitude prevails, dissent is shut down.

4.   Requiring blind allegiance. Those who fall into this category tend to eliminate anyone who dares to contradict them.  

5.   Focusing solely on the image. Because they spend so much time in the public eye, it sometimes seems the main thing is advertising themselves.

6.   Underestimating obstacles. Instead of reevaluating their original plan when they encounter problems, this type of leader pushes back harder.  

--Adapted from Why Smart Executives Fail, Sydney Finkelstein, Portfolio, published by the Penguin Group.


© Bredholt & Co.

01 October 2019

What's the Problem?

"A problem well-stated is a problem half solved.

--John Dewey

I took on a complex restructuring engagement several years ago and needed help. A telephone appointment was arranged with Dr. Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus, Work and Organization Studies, MIT, Cambridge, MA. Dr. Schein, credited with founding the field of organizational culture, is one of my favorite authors. (See "Organizational Culture and Leadership" 5th edition.)

(C) Inc.

He listened politely to the proposition. I said to think about the offer and that I would call back in a week for his response. Thankfully, Dr. Schein signed on and thus began a 36-month professional relationship with one of the great minds in strategic management. 

Dr. Schein's initial advice came in the form of a question--"What's the problem?" Then, he kept probing to ensure the client was thinking carefully and not rushing to find solutions. Why that approach? Because teams, and task forces, under pressure, often try to solve complex problems without proper judgment.  

Or they try to solve a problem when it's a "polarity" to be managed. Sample polarities or tensions include short-term vs. .long-term, centralization vs. decentralization, and growth vs. consolidation. (See "Polarity Management" by Barry Johnson.)

Defining the problem

Regardless of your position or the nature of the enterprise, problems are ever-present. They vary in degree and form and come from all directions. Some are resolved quickly by drawing on previous experiences. Others require more time and study.  

Since problem-solving and decision-making go together, what can we do to improve the process? 

For an intricate, unsettled question involving corporate strategy, you could begin by asking--

"What prevents us from reaching our goal?"

You may need to state the problem broadly since the exact problem may not be obvious. This is due to a lack of information to define it, or you confuse symptoms with underlying causes. 

Prepare a statement of the problem and find someone you trust to review it and talk it over. For example, if the problem is a job situation, check it with your supervisor or another appropriate person.  

Consider these questions

In reflecting on the situation, the right questions are helpful:

o  What's the problem?
o  Is it my problem or someone else's?
o  Can I solve it? Is it worth solving?
o  Is this the real problem, or merely a symptom of a larger one?
o  If this is an old problem, what's wrong with the previous solution?


o  Does it need an immediate solution, or can it wait?
o  Is it likely to go away by itself?
o  Can I risk ignoring it?

o  Does the problem have an ethical dimension?
o  What conditions must the solution satisfy?
o  Will the solution affect something that must remain unchanged?

Restating the problem

Dr. Schein recommends taking your original definition of the problem and periodically updating it with new insights. Seeing intuitively comes by observing a complicated issue from different perspectives. It's also possible to come upon new facts by remaining open-minded and not giving up too soon.  

How often do you restate the problem?  

That depends on its nature and urgency. Some research on this topic suggests that in almost all cases, the conditions and constraints affecting the problem and its possible solutions change over time--sometimes dramatically--changing both the problem and the range of options designed to address it.  

And don't forget

As some questions have no answers, specific problems have no solutions.   

*Study Guides and Strategies contributed to this post.


© Bredholt & Co. 

01 September 2019

The Hollowing of an Organization

"How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly."

--Ernest Hemingway, "The Sun Also Rises"

This summer saw the removal of a nearly 100-year-old, 100-foot sassafras tree from a property in Michigan. During a recent inspection of all our trees arborist, John Wardlaw noticed a "cavity" in the side of that particular tree (see picture below) indicating probable damage to the center of the trunk. However, he said the outside could look okay while the inside was deteriorating.

Sassafras tree in Michigan.  

After two very large branches fell this past year we decided to take down the tree. Unfortunately, the
 combination of shade and sassafras fragrance paled compared to the dangers of a falling tree causing bodily harm.

How a tree hollows

Our research into this topic shows that trees suffer injury just as humans do. That was news to me. When limbs break it sometimes creates an opening through the bark exposing the sapwood. Being attacked by fungi and bacteria forms a cavity.  

Stress happens through wind, fire, heat, and lightning. We've had lots of rain this spring in Michigan, which is also a contributing factor.

Can a tree be hollow and still live?

Indeed a hollow tree can be alive--and fruitful.  

Emily Stone, a naturalist, and educator at the Cable Natural History Museum says, "All of the growth and water transport continues in the outer shell of the tree--the sapwood--even as the center rots away.

"In order for a tree to become hollow, though, it must start the process while it is still alive," she added. 

How a business hollows

In the same way trees stay healthy and avoid hollowing out, businesses require the right conditions to grow and be strong.   

A corporate soul (purpose, beliefs, and values) resides inside an "organizational tree."  That core is strategic to the enterprise and therefore needs constant attention.   

Author Lim Lay Hsuan observed, "If leadership fails to nurture the soul, like a deprived garden, it will eventually die."

Nurturing a company begins with nurturing oneself. Leaders who are clear about their own purpose and goals have a head start in that process.  

What else should have our attention?

"Why" the business; hiring decisions; who is the customer; developing associates; the quality of being special; ethics; changing environments; and exemplary performance or execution, not just what's required. 

Those ingredients necessitate maintenance and contribute to a healthy corporate culture, the most overlooked competitive advantage.  


-What's the current condition of your organizational soul? 

-Who are the guardians?  

-Do the company's beliefs and values matter to a new workforce?  

-How do you keep, and strengthen, the soul during periods of significant demographic change?

Circumvent the hollowing

While there are no guarantees it's worth trying to safeguard what's important to an organization. A short checklist suggests ways of impeding the hollowing process--

1. Identify what matters most to your business and communicate it frequently.

2. Apply your beliefs and values consistently, especially in decision-making.

3. Be aware of the stresses that can do long-term damage.

4. Businesses, like trees, need trimming to stay healthy and flourish.

5. Hire for corporate culture. There's nothing like a good fit.  


© Bredholt & Co.


01 August 2019

The State of Your Business

Best and worst states for business in 2019:

(C) World Maps


1. Texas
2. Florida
3. Tennessee
4. North Carolina
5. Indiana
6. Nevada
7. Arizona
8. South Carolina
9. Ohio
10. Georgia
11. Utah
12. Colorado
13. Virginia
14. Wyoming
15. South Dakota
16. Iowa
17. Wisconsin
18. Oklahoma
19. Idaho
20. Nebraska
21. Arkansas
22. Delaware
23. Kentucky
24. Missouri
25. Alabama
26. New Hampshire
27. Montana
28. North Dakota
29. Kansas  
30. Louisiana
31. New Mexico
32. Michigan
33. Pennsylvania
34. Maryland
35. Maine
36. Rhode Island
37. Minnesota
38. Mississippi
39. West Virginia
40. Alaska
41. Vermont
42. Hawaii
43. Washington
44. Oregon
45. Massachusetts
46. Connecticut
47. New Jersey
48. Illinois
49. New York
50. California

Source:  Chief Executive Magazine


  © Bredholt & Co.


01 July 2019

Brené Brown--TEDx Talk on Vulnerability

Best-selling author, Brené Brown, studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, and love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research that sent her on a personal quest to know herself and understand humanity. A talk to share.

(C) Cloud Optics
This talk, viewed by over 40 million people, was presented to a local audience at TEDxHouston, an independent event. 
See what you think.


© Bredholt & Co.

01 June 2019

A Nightly Logistics Ballet

"Whatever we hope  to do with ease, we must first do with diligence."

--Samuel Johnson

There's an up-close look at the increasing speed of the logistics business in the May/June issue of Chief Executive magazine featuring FedEx, founded in 1971 as Federal Express by Frederick Smith.    

Rising expectations for immediate commercial gratification, especially among younger households, are pushing logistics and supply chain management to new levels of performance--aided by robots doing repetitive tasks.  


"Organizational culture contributes to FedEx success," Richard Smith, CEO of FedEx Logistics, is quoted as saying. "You must be able to pivot quickly and nimbly shift strategy to delight the customer in the face of inevitable surprises," he added.  

Adapting when necessary

FedEx announced that it would begin Sunday delivery to most U.S. homes this month. That decision comes amid significant changes in online shopping patterns.   

Additionally, FedEx said it planned to hire about 700 flexible part-time Express drivers in 160 residential and rural domestic markets, responding to mounting pressure from Amazon on traditional delivery services such as FedEx and UPS. 

While leadership and strategy get more attention, the daily routine shows what an organization is made of in terms of experience, processes, and results.

The evening sort

The next time you review internal collaboration to see if it's functioning correctly, consider the following operational complexity:

At the FedEx World Hub in Memphis, Tennessee, at what's referred to as the "evening sort," an intricate ballet is performed each evening.  

The sort involves:

-84 miles of conveyor belts

-150 cargo jets

-7,000 employees

-1.5 million packages

The simple goal? Make sure your package and mine get to where it needs to go.

And 24 hours later, FedEx crews do the evening sort all over again.

The next day

According to the FedEx website, the company covers every U. S. street address and services more than 220 countries and territories. In addition, air-ground express service flows through 650 airports worldwide, with just over 600 aircraft in the FedEx fleet.   

In addition to the late-night staff in Memphis, it's up to more than 240,000 team members globally to make the pick-up and delivery cycle work daily. 

What's a key factor for success in prompt delivery? An easy-to-read house or business address on the premises.


Ballet dancers make what they do look easy when it's one of the most challenging tasks. Just ask any associate working the night shift at FedEx.*

*No doubt similar efforts are put forth by United Parcel Service (UPS) employees and the United States Postal Service (USPS).

© Bredholt & Co.

01 May 2019

A Mind That Is Still

"Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought."


It was announced recently that James A. Forese, current president of Citigroup, will retire. After 34 years at Citigroup, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Forese, age 56, and head of the bank's Institutional Client Group, was leaving after spending nearly a decade helping clean up from the spending crisis that contributed to the Great Recession.

(C) Inc.
Tributes to the man

What caught our attention is how some of Mr. Forese's colleagues described the man who had risen to the No. 2 position at the 3rd largest bank in the U.S.  

Keep in mind the context of the mid-2000s--it felt as though the business world, as we knew it, was coming to an end. The housing bubble burst. Credit markets froze. Big companies like General Motors, Lehman Brothers, and Washington Mutual went bankrupt. Nearly 700 hundred thousand people a month were losing their jobs.  

So how did Mr. Forese perform in a time of extreme duress?

"We would not be the company we are without his stewardship," Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said in a company-wide memo.

Another person added, "He (Jamie Forese) is known for being even-keeled and willing to speak his mind."  

One former Citigroup executive, Tom Obermaier, offered that Jamie Forese was a "voice of calm" during the 2008 financial crisis."When everybody in many respects was in the classic Citi game of pointing fingers, Jamie got everybody in line, calmed everybody down," Mr. Obermaier said.

How executives are described in their departure says much about who they are, not just their accomplishments.    

When your time is up, what will they say about you?

How we think

Mr. Forese's response to such a difficult moment reminds us of the writings of James Allen and the idea that inner thoughts determine outward behaviors. Here is what Allen says:

1. The calmness of the mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence indicates ripened experience and a more than ordinary knowledge of laws and operations of thought.

2. A person becomes calm in understanding themselves as a thought-evolving being. Knowledge necessitates the understanding of others. When we see the internal relations of things more clearly, we cease to fuss, fume, worry, grieve, and remain poised, steadfast, and serene.

3. Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought. Self-control is strength; Right thought is mastery; Calmness is power. 

Connected with reality

A measure of one's temperament often overlooked in the hiring process contributes significantly to a leader's success. With dissolving behavioral norms and markets upended by technology and demographics, it's essential to have at least one person with a non-anxious presence in the room.

To underscore that point--amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Citigroup seems to have significantly benefited from Jamie Forese's experience and a mind that is still.     

© Bredholt & Co.

01 April 2019

Uncommon Friends

"One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives."


No matter where we lived growing up in Michigan, our home was filled with conversations, mainly around the dinner table. Even after the arrival of a black and white Silvertone television from Sears, Roebuck, and Company in the late 1950s, talking face-to-face was a priority for our family.  

My mother had culinary gifts, a draw for a host of friends, neighbors, and dad's parishioners, around an oft-crowded mahogany dining room table (which now sits in our Florida home). On those special occasions, time stood still.     

That table talk can best be described as story-filled exchanges among older adults who enjoyed politics, religion, and sports. Those same topics still show up when three generations of our family gather during the holiday.     

From our early years, we learned the value of carefully sharing ideas among close friends.  

Sitting on the porch. 

In March, long-time friends and high school classmates Dave and Linda Johnson took Chris and me to the Edison-Ford winter estates. Nearly 25 years have passed since we were in Ft. Myers, Florida, in that beautifully landscaped setting on palm tree-lined McGregor Boulevard next to the Caloosahatchee River. 

Thomas A. Edison first visited this part of the Southeastern U.S. in 1885 and, while there, purchased the site that would become his winter home and laboratory. 

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, purchased the adjoining property in 1916.  

Image result for images edison ford and firestone in color
(L-R) Henry Ford, Thomas A. Edison, Harvey S. Firestone
on the front porch of the Edison laboratory in
Ft. Myers, Florida Circa 1930 (C) Edison Estate

Edison, Ford, and Harvey S. Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., whose winter home was in Palm Beach, Florida, became "uncommon friends" spending time together in sunny Florida. Their f
avorite places to sit and talk were the Edison and Ford-covered porches.  

Our tour guide pointed out that none of the three great minds were "inventors," something I had not thought about. Innovators, not inventors, maybe a better word to describe these seasonal friends, the guide offered.   

To illustrate--

o In 1800, Alessandro Volta developed the first practical method for generating electricity--the battery. English chemist, Humphry Davy, produced the first electric lamp that same year. What Thomas Edison did in 1879 was surpass his competition by creating a practical and inexpensive carbon-filament light bulb.  

o Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile--that was probably Karl Benz in 1885 or 1886. Nevertheless, Ford found a way to mass produce the Model T car and sell 11,000 in 1908-09, raising $9 million to secure and expand the business.   

o John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish inventor, first patented the air-filled tire in 1887. Harvey Firestone saw the potential for marketing tires to automobile companies and started a company in 1890.

One conversation during World War I led Edison to partner with Ford and Firestone to find a rubber tree plant that could proliferate in the U.S., removing dependence on foreign rubber. They each contributed $25,000 ($630,000 in current dollars) to organize the Edison Botanic Research Corporation and create a domestic rubber supply. 

What did Edison find? After testing 17,000 plant samples, he discovered a source in the plentiful Goldenrods, flowering plants in the aster family. 

If around today, these industrial innovators would likely be talking about artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Robotics and new sources of energy. Or the unintended consequences of radial tires (they last too long).  

I doubt their conversations would be considered small talk.  

The wisdom of good friends

Who are your uncommon friends? How often do you discuss things that matter most to each of you?    

Irrespective of Facebook's notion of "friending," real friends are few, and deep conversations are rare.

You may be unable to sit on a porch in a botanical garden like Edison, Ford, and Firestone. Still, in a business culture where individuals tend to over-schedule themselves, there's wisdom in making time to be among exceptional friends. The greater your responsibility, the more you need to be around those who can be trusted, especially when thinking out loud.  

Face-to-face conversations are sources of laughter, meaning, and encouragement in the correct settings. Who knows, under those circumstances, a transformative idea could even emerge. 


©  Bredholt & Co.

01 March 2019

The Portable Bubble

"If you are not being challenged in your thoughts, then you are not aware of what others who are different than you are thinking."   

--Mary Charleson

Larry Culp, the new CEO of General Electric (GE), had a successful run in the same position at Danaher Corp. The market capitalization of Danaher grew to $50 billion from $9.7 billion during his 14-year term. One of the management practices Mr. Culp employed at the global science and technology company was to spend time in the field. Making himself available to workers as he toured various operations was his way of learning about matters firsthand. 

GE laid off 30,000 employees in 2018, so there will be fewer associates for Mr. Culp to talk with as he makes his rounds.

At The Home Depot, members of the Board of Directors "regularly visit stores and engage in the operational review of stores throughout the year," according to the company's website.

Peter Magowan, who headed up Safeway and later purchased the San Francisco Giants along with other investors in 1992, avoided the owners' suite, choosing to sit in the stands to experience the game with fans. He did that while wearing a suit.    

Keep moving

In the 1980s, "Management by Walking (or Wondering) Around," a term coined by Tom Peters, described how Bill Hewlett and David Packard ran their computer company. So the idea of stopping by to talk face-to-face with employees to get a sense of how things are going, and hear what they are thinking, has a lot of value if done correctly.  

That's certainly one way to keep from being enveloped by a corporate echo chamber where everyone thinks alike.  

Bubbles are portable, meaning it's possible to stay in one even while traveling. Direct reports and executive staff often arrange schedules that make leaders visible but unreachable. When out and about, top management must insist on engaging with those who run the business daily.  

Getting fresh air

Hal Gregerson, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, has written extensively about executive bubbles. "The greatest responsibility of a CEO is to recognize whether (the company) requires a major change in direction," Gregerson writes.  

How does one undertake that assessment without a free flow of ideas from different perspectives?  

Dr. Gregerson's interviews with CEOs highlight two disturbing themes: "People telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful of telling you things they believe you don't want to hear."   

Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder of Infosys, says you have to guard against a "good news cocoon."  

What can a CEO do?

Are you insulated from information critical to your work? To find out, ask yourself these questions: 1

  • How many barriers do people have to cross to talk directly with you?
  • How much of your typical workweek is spent outside your office or headquarters?
  • When was the last time you were wrong about something at work?
  • How quickly did you uncover your previous mistake? How fast did you change course?
  • How often do you talk to people who make you uncomfortable?
  • How often do you wait silently for others to answer your questions?
  • How many times this week have you said, "I don't know," in response to a question?

1 Bursting the CEO Bubble


© Bredholt & Co.  

01 February 2019


"There's no such place as far away."

--Richard Bach

There are 
10 years and 11 months  (3,987 days ) between 1 February 2019 and 1 January 2030. While that may seem like a great distance, it really isn't. The year 2030 is closer than you think.  
Since we perceive time speeding up as we age, take a moment to consider the following:


1. How old are you now?

2. How old will you be in 2030?

3. Who is likely to be leading the business in 2030?

4. What is the current average age of your management team?

5. What is likely to be the average age of your management team in 2030?


6. What is the average age of your workforce now?

7. What is likely to be the average age of your workforce in 2030?

8. What is the primary source of your employees today?

9. What is likely to be the primary source of employees in 2030?


10. What is the average age of your best customers, members, or donors?

11. What is likely the average age of your best customers, members, or donors in 2030?

12. What are the sources of your best customers, members, or donors?

13. How long did it take to develop those relationships?

14. Where will your best customers, members, or donors likely come from in 2030?

Paying too much attention to technological innovation and not enough to relationships tends to obscure the importance of demographics. Fortunately, consistencies in behavior are more traceable than differences. At the deepest levels of the human spirit, people are predictable.  

Therefore, in some ways, 2030 is already here.          

© Bredholt & Co.  

01 January 2019

Creating a Corporate Strategy

"The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do."

--Dr. Michael Porter, Harvard Business School

Here's something to think about as a new year gets underway:

Does your business have a corporate strategy, defined as the desired future and a way to make it happen? Is that idea clearly communicated and understood? Do the assumptions on which the system is based fit current reality? 


And is there congruency between the corporate and business unit strategies? Units need their own design, as do staffs. However, corporate should go first.    

The goal is aligning the corporate, unit, and staff, without which results are substantially lessened. 

Getting started with the process can be challenging but having the right people involved is critical to the outcome. With no one way to create a strategy (looking ahead and reasoning back), there are options to consider:

Option A (Predictive Strategy)


The world is going to look like this--frame the corporate strategy for that future. 2
  • A message, theme, or direction (20%)  
  • Implementation (80%)
Option B (Non-predictive strategy)


We don't know what the world is going to look like. Therefore we need a strategy or set of methods that can be successful almost irrespective of what the world looks like. 3
  • A message, theme, or direction (20%)  
  • Implementation (80%)  
Center of the earth

Sometimes corporate strategies are rushed into creation, often bypassing the "core."  

If we begin at the center or with the purpose (why?), there's a better chance the blank spaces get filled in with what makes sense.    

So what's a core idea?

It's a simple articulation of the original purpose or innermost reason for being. It forms the basis of an organization's culture. 

A core idea is central to what you're about. It's not a mission statement; it's what you want to accomplish, a positive goal that can be realized at any time.

Some illustrations:  

o   Taking Wall Street to Main Street--Merrill Lynch
o   Technology married with liberal arts--Apple
o   Developing leaders of character--West Point

The right way to communicate a core is to embody and live it.

No organization should assume current employees or management teams know what's in the core. That means conversations, development programs, and onboarding should include references to an organization's history and a unique sense of purpose.   

A neglected idea

Borrowing from game theory, we consider an overlooked but valuable concept--having a dominant strategy. 

"In general, someone has a dominant strategy when they have one course of action that outperforms all others no matter what competitors do. If someone has such a strategy, their decisions become very simple; they can choose the dominant plan without worrying about a rival's moves.  

Therefore, it is the first thing one should seek." 4

We learn that dominance in the term "dominant strategy" is superiority over another of your potential strategies (make a list), not of your business over a competitor.   

Avoiding common errors

After nearly five decades of observation, experience, and study, we note the following recurring problems facing CEOs when it comes to corporate strategy:

-Not being clear.

-Giving up too soon.  

-Building an easily reversible strategy.  

-Utterances and actions that don't match.

-Failing to have the right people in the right places at the correct times.

(See our 1 April 2017 post, The Struggle with Strategy.)

The speed of light

A year goes by quickly.  

What will you pay attention to over the next 12 months to ensure the business under your watch is moving in the right direction? If it is, how to maintain momentum. If not, how to adapt to regain momentum.  

No matter the analytics, the rare corporate strategy that works at any time is ultimately a series of judgment calls. When it comes to thinking strategically, quoting Thoreau, "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."         

1 Benjamin B. Tregoe and John W. Zimmerman

2 Philippe Silberzahn
3 Ibid
4 Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff


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