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Help – We Have Two Visionaries!

Having a Visionary is an essential part of successfully launching any new venture. But what happens when you have more than one Visionary on your team?

I lay out the (sometimes painful) answer below:

Click here to read the transcript

Please leave your comments below!

The Icarus Syndrome: 3 Warning Signs Every Leader Should See

By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
The Icarus SyndromeCall it the Icarus Syndrome: A once high-flying business leader finds they can’t get a break – at least not until their board hands them an enforced break, by way of a firing or a sabbatical.

How can it be that so many previously stellar CEOs suddenly can’t deliver the goods? Is it the rest of the world (or the rest of their organization) that is suddenly out of step?
More often than not, no – the person who is newly out of step is almost always the now-flailing CEO. And beware, you’re no less exempt from the Icarus Syndrome than were any of those celebrity CEOs.

The Warning Signs

Here’s how it happens: You build a business. You master it. You know every wrinkle, every nuance, every employee. You are personally involved in every major decision, and nothing of any significance happens without your say so. It’s as if you live in a zone of laser-like awareness about every aspect of your business. Until one day, none of this is any longer so – and the only person who doesn’t know it, is you.

Put it down to complexity. Complexity (or rather, to be precise, the aggregation of complexity over time) is a leadership killer. Like a frog slowly boiling to death in a pot of water, ever-increasing complexity takes you slowly, incrementally, but inexorably further and further from that ‘zone of awareness’ you lived in for so long. Over time you know less than you think you know, see less than you think you see, understand less than you think you understand.

And the kicker? You almost certainly don’t realize that any of this is happening. You still think you’re the font of all knowledge, the best person to make every decision.

There are three specific areas where your decision-making is impacted by the Icarus Syndrome:

1. What you know may still be right, but what you don’t know is how it connects with and impacts everything else.
So maybe you are still the best judge of how a new product, say, will land with your target demographic. After the growth of complexity, however, what you don’t know is (say) what the alternatives are for your customers out in the marketplace; or how difficult it is now (compared to ‘the early days’) to adapt a product after beta-testing; or how much your vaunted new product is cannibalizing your existing market.

Think of this as the ‘What you don’t know about what you do know’ category.

2. There’s tons of important stuff no one is telling you.

Then there’s the somewhat simpler category of ‘What you think you know, but you don’t’. This can be particularly dangerous. For example, you may well think that important Project Y is being headed up by Jo Soap, a stellar middle manager who you entirely trust to execute well, when in fact, that project was taken over by the untried and therefore high-risk Jim Colander weeks or months ago.

3. Your gut doesn’t work right any more.

If you’re in denial about whether or not you’re slipping in to the Icarus Syndrome, here’s a litmus test: How many recent decisions that you just ‘knew’ were right, didn’t work out? If the answer is more than one or two, then complexity is almost certainly rendering your visceral decision-making less and less effective. (This would be the ‘What you think you can intuit, but you can’t any longer’ category.)

That can’t-miss hire you made that flamed out? Icarus Syndrome. The product launch you dreamt up over a weekend in a flash of genius, but which died a death in the marketplace? Icarus. The big meeting with the potential customer you thought you’d wing easily, but which went south? You get the idea.

Complexity screws with the ability to manage viscerally. Don’t leave your gut behind, but put more of your brain in the mix to process all the new data you need to master in complexity.

How to Stop It

So, if you feel you’re drifting toward your own Icarus-like fall from grace because of the increase in complexity, what should you do to stop the drift and regain control? Start with these three imperatives:

1. Delegate (but verify).

It’s time for you to start passing off decision-making authority to the folks who really do have the information needed to make high-quality decisions. Use this phrase as your mantra: “Only make the decisions that only you can make.”

Take an objectively hard look at the decisions you’re still making yourself, and you’ll almost certainly find that there are many that you should not be making anymore. (To get even better feedback on this, ask your colleagues, peers and direct reports, “What am I keeping hold of that I should really be delegating to someone else?” Then stand back.) Oh, and make sure you institute a fail-safe accountability process to give you regular feedback, so you don’t go crazy with worry in the early days that things aren’t getting done.

2. Slow down and do the work.
In our business, we have something we label a ‘drive-by review’– it’s where someone has been asked to review a document, or read some stuff ahead of a meeting, and they give it a cursory glance and email it back with ‘Works for me’ or something similar. Drive-bys are the on-ramps on the road to a full-fledged Icarus syndrome.

Do the work. Read stuff – with your full attention. Sit in on information-sharing meetings. Go meet your people and ask hard questions. Listen to long answers.

3. Make remaining decisions in teams.

After you’ve effectively delegated much of your decision-making (see 1 above), run whatever decisions are left through this prism: “What’s the best (i.e., optimal, most efficient and effective) team to make this decision?” If the genuinely truthful answer is “Just me, on my own”, then fine, make the decision on your own. If it isn’t (and I can guarantee that the honest answer in 80% of the cases won’t be ‘Just me’), then find an effective way to get that team together.

At root, complexity in organizations is the primary contributor to the Icarus Syndrome (read: Getting yourself fired out of your own job). Don’t let it happen to you.

Learn the decision-making strategies your business needs to beat growing complexity!

Amazon and Whole Foods: Why No Strategy Is Sometimes the Best Strategy

By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success

Amazon’s just-announced purchase of Whole Foods reminded me of the time, years ago, when I started writing articles like these. Back then, I faced the same challenge every wanna-be regular writer faces – what the heck do I write about week after week?

There’s a plethora of advice out there on just that topic, but my favorite idea-generating device was one I came up with myself (and subsequently discovered wasn’t so original after all – many other writers use it, too): Grab two seemingly unconnected subjects and try to find a way to connect them. (See, for example, ‘What app would your business be‘.)

I found that even if that off-kilter noodling didn’t in itself generate something helpful and useable, I’d almost always find myself in some business-growth thought pattern that would. (See, for example, this series on leadership styles.)

Find that Next Growth Step

Sometimes when you’re in Predictable Success, the next step – the right way forward, the right next growth strategy – isn’t just sitting there in plain sight. A cool, logical process won’t always deliver what’s needed to keep alive that exquisite tension between entrepreneurial vision and scalable systems and processes. Building Heroic Leadership on top of High-Quality Team-Based Decision-Making (HQTBDM) isn’t always a result of taking an obvious next step.

Sometimes, like a business-model version of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, you’ve just got to take two seemingly unconnected things and smash them together. Sometimes it works – like when a fringe computer maker with tiny market share decides to make a…phone. Oftentimes, it doesn’t.
By all accounts, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos made the decision to acquire Whole Foods – and executed the deal – in about six weeks. That’s a nanosecond in corporate planning time for most large organizations. It’s clear he has some idea of what he wants to do with the chain, but has far from worked out the details.

Boost Your Odds of Success

In these ‘WTH, let’s do it and work the details out later’ deals, the difference between success and failure lies – I believe – in the Most Senior Executive (MSE)’s ability to first seize an opportunity, then execute on the basis of an already-built, robust growth platform.
I’ve written in the past about Mr. Bezos’s splendid intuition, and although Amazon doesn’t get everything right, I believe Bezos will intuit himself (and Amazon) to increased Predictable Success with this acquisition.

For the rest of us, it’s great to have railroad tracks to run on.

21 Signs Your Team is Engaging Effectively

Each day, employees throughout your organization are meeting and making decisions that will impact your bottom line. The question is, do they know how to interact and engage effectively? Is the company culture conducive to making (and implementing) good team-based decisions, at every level?

Here’s a checklist that we use to help organizations to assess this key quality. While it isn’t all-encompassing, it’ll give you a good start.

How do you rank with each of these?

1. Meetings about important matters are regularly convened by people other than senior management.
2. Meetings start even if the ‘big dogs‘ aren’t there on time.
3. High-quality solutions often emerge near the start or middle of meetings, and rarely in a rush at the end.
4. Participants in meetings engage in rich discussions with each other, not just with ‘the chair’ or ‘turn about’.
5. For a bystander looking in at a meeting, it’s often impossible to tell who’s nominally in charge.
6. There are few powerpoint-type presentations, as key information has already been circulated and assumed as read.
7. Anecdote is not treated as data.
8. The group self-polices itself, gently but firmly calling out bloviation, passive-aggressiveness and the sin of non-participation.
9. Analysis trumps prejudice.
10. Analysis informed by experience trumps presupposition.
11. Decision isn’t conflated with execution – time is taken to establish clear, actionable next steps for every decision.
12. Meetings end early as frequently as they run long.
13. The group reaches out to others not in the meeting for relevant data or opinion as necessary.
14. Meetings can’t be rendered impotent or irrelevant by the absence of a single individual.
15. Participants rarely allow themselves to be distracted by competing imperatives.
16. Humor and small talk are used as pacing mechanisms, not as work avoidance.
17. Unanimity isn’t required to make a fully supported decision.
18. Once a meeting is concluded, participants take cabinet responsibility for the decisions made – no eye rolling at, or sandbagging of, decisions an individual may not have personally agreed with.
19. An understanding of (and respect for) different management styles drastically reduces the degree of personality conflict.
20. Open discussion is deep and rich, ruthlessly constructive, and not ad hominem.
21. The single goal of all participants is to do what’s best for the enterprise.

How can you instill effective team-based decision-making at every level of your organization? Our Peak Performance Program will show you how and accelerate the process. Learn more here.

Shattering the Myths of Team Dysfunction

Even when a team is assembled from the best and brightest within your organization, they won’t all work together effectively.
While it’s tempting to say it’s due to the specific people involved, the truth is actually much different. Discover what really makes a dysfunctional team and how to fix it.

Download the White Paper!


Madison Avenue’s CEO on Disney, Oprah and Finding a Framework That Works

Sara Rahn, President and CEO of Madison Avenue Worldwide

Not many people kick off their careers with Oprah Winfrey, and follow it up with five years at Disney. The lessons Sara Rahn learned from these billion-dollar brands continue to serve her and her Fortune 500 clients well.

But fulfilling the urgent marketing needs of Verizon and Microsoft (among others), while trying to scale her agency hasn’t been easy. In this interview, Sara reveals how the Predictable Success model provided the vital framework her senior team needs to achieve the growth they’re seeking.

Listen as Sara shares the most important branding lesson she’s learned, along with the critical first steps her agency has taken to unlock its full growth potential.

(Running time is approximately 20 minutes.)

A Closer Look at Madison Avenue’s Challenge:

President and CEO Sara Rahn identified a key niche that her firm could fulfill. When it comes to marketing, Fortune 500 companies move like a large ship, they cannot turn on a dime. So there’s a need for an agency that can respond when urgent regional needs arise.

Madison Avenue has been highly successful, cultivating a roster of juggernauts as clients. But in order to grow to the next level, they needed to identify not only the bottlenecks that were holding them back, but the shifts they would need to make to position themselves for scalable success.

That’s precisely what Sara Rahn and her leadership team were able to do after being introduced to the Predictable success model. Hear how they’ve used its principles and tools to transform how they communicate, identify the key executive leader they need to hire next, and make the essential move from “heads to hats”.

Hear What the Future Holds for Your Business

Ever wish you could see into the future? Specifically, what challenges your business will face next, so you’d know how to address them head on?

That’s precisely what Dave McKeown examines in this new interview. Listen as he talks with Building a Story Brand about the growth stages that every organization goes through – and how to navigate them.
Discover the steps you can take next to make sure your business’s growth is not only scalable, but sustainable.

(Note: The interview begins 9 minutes in.)
Listen to the Podcast!


Get the strategies your organization needs to succeed with this New Workshop!

Fit to Role Assessment

Ever hired a bona fide hotshot, only to see them stumble and flame out under your watch? There this individual is, blazing a trail and breaking records, then everything starts going awry. Nothing they try seems to go well, everything feels forced and somehow ‘off’.
So what’s the likely cause of this downfall? The answer is a Fit to Role imbalance. Find out why it could happen to those you lead, and how to address it proactively.

Download the Assessment!

Fit to Role Assessment


Uber: What Just Happened (and Why They’re About to Blow It)

By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
Uber: What Just Happened

The last few days have effectively handed the car-sharing space to Uber’s competitors. It may take a while – my guess is 24-30 months or so – but expect the market to become increasingly disrupted and for Uber’s market share to markedly decrease.

Why? Not because of the (rightly) much-discussed, much-investigated, much-castigated abysmal working environment there, but because of the company’s proposed solution to that problem.

How Uber Got Here

Let’s recap: Through aggressive marketing and an unsavory leadership culture, Uber had almost reached the holy grail of market dominance: the equivalization (I know, not a word, but you know what I mean) of their company name with their industry’s core activity.

Just as ‘Google’ is now the accepted verb for web-based search (in search of an easy titter? Just suggest someone ‘Bing’ the next thing they’re looking for online), so Uber was within a micron of attaining the same equivalence with ‘calling an Uber’.

Now, after three days of organizational mayhem, I predict that that goal will begin to recede into the rearview mirror faster than a cab driver reversing out of an unsavory alleyway.

What Came Next

First, Uber’s board – themselves under pressure for not acting on reports of sexual harassment and other horrendous cultural misfires – lock themselves away to consider forcing the CEO, Travis Kalanick, into a leave of absence. Except someone leaks the whole protracted discussion to the press.

Next, a prominent (male) board member makes a sexist comment during the company all-hands meeting at which the decision to send Kalanick on garden leave is revealed. (Which is also leaked to the press, leading the board member to resign.)

But then, the coup de grace. Kalanick will indeed leave for three months – and in his place, Uber will be run by a committee of 14 execs.

Huh? Uber – a market-dominating, still-fast-growing, but brittle organization – will be run by committee?

The chance of success with this approach is zero.

Add in the fact that Kalanick, the exiled CEO, isn’t really going away – he’s still CEO, and will undoubtedly be lobbing in his 2 cents from the sidelines.

Listen, co-CEOs alone (essentially a committee of two) are themselves enough to kill any company, let alone a committee of 14. (Oh, and by the way, the proposed committee includes a number of executives who are rumored to have materially contributed to the unconscionable culture inside Uber.)

To be clear, the board are intuitively struggling to do the right thing in terms of attaining Predictable Success – making the difficult move from dark-side heroic leadership to High-Quality, Team-Based Decision-Making (HQTBDM), but handing over the reins to a committee not only isn’t the way to do it, it’s a surefire recipe for disaster.

Fast-track your senior team’s transition to HQTBDM with this New Workshop!

5 Ways You Can Get Ahead This Summer

By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
5 Ways You Can Get Ahead This Summer

For many senior executives, the summer is a time when things slow down a little. And with the regular cadence of meetings and interactions disjointed by vacations, it’s often the case that we arrive at the start of Q4 with a vague sense of not having achieved much in Q3.

It doesn’t need to be that way – indeed, with a little planning and forethought, the summer months can be more impactful than any other.

The key to maximizing the dog days of summer is in recognizing the vital difference between the urgent and the important (sometimes referred to as ‘The Eisenhower Box’). Most of the rest of the year, we are consumed by the urgent. View the summer months as your opportunity to spend some quality time on what’s important (but not necessarily urgent).

Here are my personal recommendations for your summer ‘Eisenhower Retreat’. Feel free to add, subtract and edit to make it your own:

1. Review your organization’s Mission, Vision and Values (MVV).

If you’re going to spend time looking at what’s important to your organization, then you may as well start at the mountaintop – looking at your organization’s long-term Mission, Vision and Values. Are they clear? Do they still hold? Do they genuinely guide your organization as a North Star, or are they more aspirational – or worse, just empty words?

2. Review your organization’s annual goals.

Sure, you conduct monthly and quarterly reviews of KPIs and OKRs (and/or whatever other metrics you use internally in your business), but think about the environment in which those reviews are conducted: In the heat of execution pressure, squeezed in between ‘normal’ operating activities, dowsed in the sweat of the urgent.

Use the summer months to review your organization’s annual goals with the less frenetic pulse of the important as a backbeat. Get off to somewhere less frenzied than your office, and review your organization’s overall progress toward its annual goals from a higher perch – you’ll be amazed how differently you’ll interpret where you are (and what your organization needs to do next to achieve those goals) when you’re not taking a monthly or quarterly short-term view.

3. Review and reset your personal SPG.

We’ve written before about the concept of a Single Pre-Eminent Goal: Essentially an OMG (an Overarching Medium-Term Goal, if you will) that sits between your Mission, Vision and Values, but above individual strategies. Good examples of SPGs I’ve seen include:

– A CEO committed to changing his manufacturing company’s entire product line from wood to aluminum;
– Finding a business partner or competitor to merge with;
– A not-for-profit’s president committed to switching funding sources from grant support to supporter donations;
– Designing and launching an e-commerce arm to complement an existing brick-and-mortar retail business.

If you have an SPG, take it out for a stress test this summer. (The same questions apply as you used in reviewing the organization’s MVV: Is it clear? Does it still hold? Does it genuinely guide you as a medium-term North Star?) If you don’t have one, now’s the time to create it.

4. Oil your organization’s decision-making machine.

Your organization exists for one purpose: To make and execute high-quality, team-based decisions. Make and execute consistently correct decisions and you thrive; make poor decisions (or fail to execute on good decisions), and you lose. Your entire organization is, essentially, a machine for decision-making.

Like anything with moving parts, your machine for decision-making needs regular preventative maintenance. Except no one ever tells us that, let alone provides us with a maintenance manual. Until now, that is. Here at Predictable Success we’re so convinced of the vital necessity for a well-oiled machine for decision-making that we wrote the manual on how to create and maintain one. Click here to download it, take yourself off to the mountaintop (or the beach, or the lake side) for a day and come back with an action plan to re-tool your machine for decision-making.

5. Get outside your discomfort zone.

No, that isn’t a typo – I don’t mean ‘get outside your comfort zone’. After all, as a senior executive, that’s second nature to you – you work outside your comfort zone every day. Dealing with ambiguity, uncertainty and rapidly changing priorities either comes naturally to you, or you’ve trained yourself to be really good at it – otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten to where you are today.

Here’s the thing: All that living with discomfort is still done on your terms. You’re still the conductor of the seeming chaos around you. All that ambiguity and uncertainty – you’re the one either spinning it up or managing it when it happens.

This summer, try taking a while to place yourself in an environment where you’re not the one causing the discomfort, where you don’t have the ability to manage outcomes. Volunteer at your local animal rescue for a week. Take a monastic retreat. Go babysit at a creche. Do something that takes you out of your (managed) discomfort zone.

Take a bold step toward scalability this summer!