A few years back, a peer saw a copy of a Board of Directors report I submitted as CEO of a company. A Powerpoint presentation accompanied the report, but the report itself had piqued her interest. She specifically wanted to know the reasoning behind the order of topics.
Clarity and precision are paramount when communicating with the Board. The Board is responsible for guiding an organization’s strategic direction, and its decisions are rooted in the information presented. Consequently, the format and order of the reports provided to them should not be an afterthought. Instead, it should narrate a compelling, holistic story of the organization, moving from the future to the present and then reflecting on the past.
The following order seemed obvious to me. I wanted to tell a story with the primary focus on our future. Here are the five points I focused on:
(Note: I am leaving this somewhat generic due to protect the confidentiality of the organization.)
Culture is the cornerstone upon which any organization is built. It shapes the vision, values, and long-term aspirations. By beginning a report with culture, we are essentially starting with the future. Culture informs where a company wants to go and what it hopes to achieve. It outlines the north star that guides decisions and actions. By understanding and cultivating the right culture, organizations set themselves up for future success, making it a natural starting point for any narrative.
Every company’s future hinges on its talent. The people who come in every day bring the culture to life, innovate, and drive success. Presenting talent next positions them as the present-day architects of tomorrow’s achievements. Talent provides a bridge between the aspirational elements of culture and the concrete aspects of operations. They represent the organization’s commitment to the future and indicate the steps being taken in the present to ensure that the future is bright.
Every time I am asked about the future of an organization, I point to talent – who we have building that future and who we are missing. People are the heart of innovation.
Moving into the operational aspect brings the narrative solidly into the present. This is the heartbeat of the day-to-day, where plans meet execution. By understanding operations, the Board can see how effectively the company is running right now. It answers the question, “How are we currently executing our strategies, and are we set up for success?”
Sales, as a reflection of the organization’s current market position, continues the story of the present. It provides real-time data on how products or services are being received, how well the company is competing, and where there might be opportunities or challenges. In many ways, sales are the culmination of the efforts of culture, talent, and operations.
Finances close the report by grounding the narrative in reflecting past decisions and their outcomes. The general financial health, liabilities, and cash flow give a comprehensive view of where the company stands as a result of previous actions. It offers both a look back and a basis for future forecasting.
In essence, this five-point report format tells a cohesive story: We begin by setting the scene with our future aspirations (culture), introduce our main characters and their actions in the present (talent, operations, and sales), and then reflect on how past decisions have shaped the current state (finances). This narrative not only provides a comprehensive view of the organization but also ensures that the Board remains future-focused while being grounded in the realities of the present and lessons from the past.
Breaking the Ice: Bridging Dissent and Loyalty
If you’ve ever found yourself holding back a contrary opinion at work, or biting your tongue during a heated family dinner, you’re not alone. The idea of dissent is often shrouded in fear and misunderstanding. However, when I read Ozan Varol‘s telling of Netflix’s 2011 Qwikster saga regarding the risks of confirmation bias in Awaken Your Genius (A MUST READ!), a fresh perspective emerged as I thought back to my experiences and how I internalized dissent — the concept of dissent as a vibrant expression of loyalty.
Reimagining Loyalty: The Dissent Paradox
We often equate loyalty with quiet compliance and unquestioning agreement. Yet, what if loyalty’s true essence is found in thoughtful dissent? A culture that embraces dissent is one that champions transparency, diverse viewpoints, and continuous improvement. Such an environment instills loyalty among team members, making them feel acknowledged and heard. It also breeds loyalty towards leaders who show openness and commitment to their organization’s betterment. Dissent, when conveyed respectfully and professionally, can send a powerful message: “I care so much about you and this organization that I am willing to be vulnerable to ensure we make the best possible decisions.”
Surely, dissent can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when it means challenging authoritative figures who influence your career. Yet, when an environment that supports dissent is fostered, it can trigger breakthroughs, personal growth, and the formation of a united, robust team.
So, let’s examine Netflix’s story about their 2011 Qwikster debacle and how they transformed from a company where a Vice President later told Hastings, “You’re so intense when you believe in something . . . that I felt you wouldn’t hear me. I should have laid down on the tracks screaming that I thought it would fail. But I didn’t.”
Unpacking Netflix’s Dissent Chronicle
Netflix’s 2011 Qwikster episode serves as a captivating case study of this principle. The announcement of Qwikster, a proposed standalone DVD-by-mail service, ignited a customer backlash and led to a significant dip in the company’s stock price. Netflix later reversed the decision. They also took a more important and long-term critical step. Instead of dismissing this setback, Netflix’s leadership used it as a springboard to create a culture that cherishes dissent.
To ensure that dissent is identified and expressed before a significant decision is taken, Netflix has implemented various systems across the organization. For instance, when a Netflix team member has a proposition, they often circulate a spreadsheet asking colleagues to evaluate the idea on a scale from -10 to +10 and to add comments. This system is not designed to serve as a democratic poll. Rather, it’s a tool aimed at facilitating feedback collection, measuring the magnitude of dissent, and initiating frank discussions.
This system and, thus, the leadership recognized that averting future blunders required an environment conducive to voicing concerns and challenging decisions. This ‘dissent-farming’ culture nudged team members to express their views, even when these contradicted leadership decisions. This dissent, in turn, embodied an intense loyalty towards the company’s mission and vision.
A key point is that this dissent collection occurs before a decision or course of action. Doing such after can often be destructive and cowardice.
Hyper Loyalty: The Dissent Evolution
Netflix’s adoption of dissent reshaped its organizational culture and redefined the meaning of loyalty. By nurturing dissent, the leadership demonstrated their commitment to the company’s progress, thereby winning their team’s loyalty. Team members, by articulating dissent, displayed their unwavering dedication to the company’s success, symbolizing a paradoxical form of loyalty.
Netflix has gone from a culture where a VP did not feel he would be heard to one where Hastings stated, “To disagree silently is disloyal.”
The Last Word: Welcoming Dissent
In conclusion, dissent, when encouraged, appreciated, and constructively employed, can transform into a beacon of hyper loyalty. It underscores a commitment to shared goals, respects the multiplicity of perspectives, and cultivates a conducive atmosphere for growth and progress. Loyalty, therefore, is no longer synonymous with passive compliance; it is about caring enough to express disagreement, defy the status quo, and advocate for improvement.
The next time you encounter dissent, whether at work or over a meal with your family, don’t view it as a challenge. Instead, recognize it as a profound act of loyalty and a deep-seated expression of care.
Every year, the holiday season rolls around, and with it often comes the daunting task of annual strategic planning. Traditionally conducted in December, this practice, upon closer examination, may be less than ideal.
Let’s dive into why a rethink may be in order (aka. Why I hate this practice and your team probably does, too.)
December is holiday season, a time when employees are either on vacation or mentally preparing for festivities. The period is rife with distractions, making it challenging to focus on annual planning. Consequently, strategic initiatives and long-term goals may be rushed, rather than thoroughly considered.
Despite its portrayal as a time of joy, the holiday season can be emotionally taxing. Family pressures, feelings of loneliness, or memories of lost loved ones can complicate this time of year for many. Add these to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD affecting nearly 3 million people annually, peaks during the darker months of December and January.
Demanding tasks like annual planning during this period can exacerbate these emotional challenges, potentially leading to a decline in mental health and productivity. Moreover, this could create a pressure-cooker environment where employees feel they must suppress personal feelings for professional obligations. This approach not only undermines individual well-being, but also the creation of a supportive, empathetic workplace culture.
Frankly, many people are just trying to get through the holiday season without a blow-up with their inappropriate uncle who goes on random political rants or their crazy cousin who believes birds aren’t real. I don’t like contributing to the craziness.
By December, most are winding down and looking forward to a break. After a year of hard work, employees are often mentally and emotionally exhausted. This fatigue can negatively impact the quality of annual planning, with critical thinking and creativity suffering.
Annual planning relies on data from the current year. However, in December, this data set is incomplete. Planning without the full picture can lead to unrealistic goals or misguided strategies for the upcoming year.
The time constraints of December often result in rushed decisions. Annual planning—a comprehensive process that includes reviewing the past year’s performance, setting new goals, and developing strategies to achieve these goals—requires time. If compressed into a short timeframe, the quality of decisions may be compromised.
December annual planning leaves little room for flexibility. Once the plan is set, it becomes the roadmap for the following year. However, business environments are dynamic, and rigid plans made in December might not be adaptable enough to accommodate unforeseen changes.
Finally, it lacks intellectual honesty to believe we will get the best of people during December. Why would we want anything less when planning the important work for the next 12 months?
I am putting out this post now as we enter summer here in the northern hemisphere. These months will zip by with vacations and jam packed weekends. Before we let December sneak upon us, it’s worth reconsidering this practice given its potential drawbacks. Now would be the moment to adjust the timing or approach to annual strategic planning to improve the quality of strategic decisions and pave the way for greater success in the years to come.
One thing I love about suburbia is Chick-Fil-A. Thankfully, one recently opened up near our house which has led to a trip 1-2 times per week. We are not the only ones hitting the new addition to the neighborhood. It is slaughtering my predominantly vegetarian diet. This place is always busy… except Sunday (of course).
During the last visit, I noticed something interesting. The manager was not sitting in an office watching the staff from behind glass. He was not at the register directly helping customers and ringing up sales. He was not behind the grill making food. I would like to say that this is a good thing.
So, where was the manager? He was focused on two things – his employees and his customers. He was actively involved in ensuring both of these parties were having a successful experience.
For the customers, he was greeting them, welcoming them to restaurant, and ensuring the experience was a clean and professional one. I watched the presumably highest paid employee empty the trash from bin to dumpster twice in less than 15 minutes. This was not merely a detail. It was important because it helps ensure the customers have a clean place and the remaining staff could also drive this mission behind the registers and grills and on the dining floor.
For the employees, he was not micro-managing. He was checking in repeatedly to see what if anything they needed – from additional change for registers to food for the grills to lemons for the their awesome diet lemonade. He wanted them to succeed at their mission of helping the customer and taking care of them. There were no excuses about rank or politics about position.
The lesson here is that good managers do the same. They pay attention to the employees and customers. They get the right people, give them the right tools, help where necessary, and know when to get the hell out of the way.