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Doing Well by Doing Good: 12 Companies that Got it Right in 2017

The strongest organizations in the world achieve sustainable success largely because they understand the value of culture as a competitive advantage. Whether you nurture it or not, you have a culture. It may be empowering or toxic. Either way, the results are showing up on your bottom line.

Here are the 12 companies we featured in CEE News this year that show how doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive.

1. Dancing Deer Baking Company, Hyde Park, MA, “Scratch-Baked Goodness to the Community”

Dancing Deer Baking Company has flourished since introducing its first cookie in 1994 and so has the community of Hyde Park, Massachusettes. The bakery hires chronically unemployed individuals in the community and dedicates a portion of its profits to local development projects. Dancing Deer has won national recognition for its delicious baked goods, its sustainable business practices, and its community impact initiatives. [Read more]


2. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, Vista, CA, “All-One”


Open a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Liquid Soap, and you’ll be taking part of a story that dates back over 150 years. It’s a story that began with a family of soapmakers in the Jewish community of Heilbronn, Germany. The story includes the holocaust, an escape from a Chicago mental institution, an attempted crucifixion on a bridge in 1945 Woodstock, and, well, it’s a complex epic that has passed through five generations of the Bronner family. [Read more]


3. Masonite, Tampa, FL, “Helping people walk through walls”Not many American companies today can trace their history back for 92 years, or link to inventor Thomas Edison. But, Masonite, a publicly-traded company (NYSE: DOOR) can follow its roots back to Laurel, Mississippi, and its founder William H. Mason, an apprentice of Thomas Edison. [Read more]


4. Stonyfield, Londonderry, NH, “Yogurt on a mission


While Stonyfield is best known for making yogurt, yogurt wasn’t the way the founders of Stonyfield thought they’d change the world. In 1983, co-founders Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg were trying to help family farms survive, protect the environment, and keep food healthy through their nonprofit organic farming school. [Read more]


5. Igloo Products Corp., Katy, TX, “Culture of commitment”

If you’ve ever gone on a family picnic, packed a boat for a day of fishing, or brought drinks to keep the soccer team hydrated, there’s a good chance an Igloo® ice chest was involved. Igloo chests, along with the iconic red and white coolers, are just two of more than 550 products made by the 70-year old Igloo Products Corporation in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. [Read more]


6. W.L. Gore and Associates, Newark, DE, “Conscious culture”


Imagine operating a manufacturing company with no core product, no bosses, and a democratically-elected CEO. How long do you think it would survive? [Read more]


7. Sticker Giant Longmont, CO, “Open book management”


One political bumper sticker based on the indecision of the Bush/Gore presidential election in 2000. That’s how CEO John Fischer launched StickerGiant from his basement 17 years ago. Today, the company employees nearly 40 people and processes about 18 miles of sticker material every week. [Read more]


8. TGI Fridays, Dallas, TX, “The gift of time”


You have to hand it to a company that has survived for five decades, fought off imitators, and endured shaming for asking its employees to wear flair. The chain’s signature look – a combination of Antiques Roadshow and Hoarders – actually started in 1965 as one of New York’s City’s first singles bars. [Read more]


9. Great Little Box Company, Richmond, BC, “Big Outrageous Xtravaganza (BOX) Goals”


For 35 years, Canadian-based Great Little Box Company has created an equally great little culture. What started as a three-person shop in 1982, has grown to 225 employees in locations across British Columbia and Vancouver, Washington. [Read more]


10. Meltwater, San Francisco, CA, “MER values”


The year was 2001, just after the dotcom bubble burst. Jorn Lyseggen had a big idea for a new business, a coffee machine, some used furniture, and some borrowed office space in a Norwegian shipyard shack. [Read more]


11. SEMCO Partners, São Paulo, Brazil, “Big company with (almost) no rules”


If your employees could vote you in or out as their leader, would you keep your position?

That was just one of the many questions that Ricardo Semler started to ask when he went to work for his father’s company, SEMCO Partners, in the late 1970’s. [Read more]


12. Thinking Putty, Philadelphia, PA, “Shaping culture one tin at a time”

If you ask Aaron Muderick what he does for a living, he’s likely to say, “Professional Kid”. Muderick, a fidgety computer scientist, was constantly playing with Silly Putty while thinking at work. One day, he borrowed some textbooks from a friend who had just completed her Ph.D. in chemistry. He learned enough from the borrowed books to teach himself how to invent what he calls “Thinking Putty”. [Read more]


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CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

How Not to Fall for Your Own Fake News

Putin issues international arrest warrant for George Soros.

Black Lives Matter thug protests President Trump with selfie . . . accidentally shoots himself in the face.

Passenger allowed onto flight after security confiscates his bomb.

All three of these headlines were widely reported last year. Two of them were fake. Can you tell which one is true?*

Fake news has become part of the world’s daily news cycle. Many people now operate in virtual gated communities or information echo chambers. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction in both the political and popular press. To combat fake news, a growing body of websites and apps give consumers the ability to stop to fact check before sharing headlines in the social media feeds.

But the echo chamber effect is not limited to our smart phones. The same theory can apply to leaders. The higher we climb up the org chart, the greater our tendency is to spend most of our time with our direct reports. By operating in our own virtual gated community at work, we can severely limit our ability to assess reality correctly.

Author and Center for Executive Excellence’s Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Tony Baron, suggests that leaders must be intentional about building community. To build an inner circle to help you assess reality correctly, Dr. Baron offers this criteria for choosing your community:

1.    Choose those in your community who are with you the most, not those who see you the least.


2.    Choose those in your community who can see you at your worst, not just those who see you at your best.


3.    Choose those in your community with whom you are willing to eat or play, not just those you are willing to work with.


4.    Choose those in your community whom you respect for their integrity, not just those you admire for their accomplishments.


5.    Choose those in your community who are willing to listen to understand, not just those who want to be understood.


6.    Choose those in your community who care about you as a person, not just those who care about you professionally.


7.    Choose those in your community who are willing to ask the tough questions, not just those who provide the easy answers.


8.    Choose those in your community who maintain confidentiality, not just those who are compelling in personality.


Every one of us needs a small number of people in our inner circle. People whom we can be honest with. People who will be honest with us. Because it’s just too easy to fall for our own fake news.


*The correct response to the opening quiz was the third headline. A teenage passenger in Edmonton, Canada, was allowed to board a flight after a pipe bomb found in his bag was confiscated by airport security. He claimed to have forgotten the device was in his bag after making it with a friend for fun some months before.


Question: What are you doing to assess reality correctly as a consumer of news and as a leader?

How to Give Thanks Like a Boss

We’ve all come across them. Those leaders who people naturally gravitate toward. Though it seems counterintuitive, the magnetic effect these leaders have on people is not because of how people feel about the leader. It’s because of how the leader makes people feel about themselves.

These leaders have mastered two basic facts about people. Fact 1: Every person matters. Fact 2: Every person wants to feel valued.

As Thanksgiving approaches, this is an excellent time to review the skills necessary to express meaningful gratitude to your team. Here are three skills that will yield the highest return:

1. Write a Note. Do not. I repeat. Do not mistake a thank you email for the real thing. Handwritten thank you notes are about relationships. Emails are about transactions. When you take a little extra time to write a personal message to team members to acknowledge your gratitude, you are also acknowledging that they are more than just a tool. They are human beings who matter and are valued. If your note writing skills are rusty, here’s a quick primer to get you started.

2. Make It a Habit. When it comes to business, we can fall into the trap of not seeing people who come in, get the job done, and don’t require constant attention. We take these employees for granted and just assume they don’t need a show of gratitude. To turn your attention to those who don’t ask for it, take a few minutes each morning to make a list of three team members you appreciate and why. Over time, you’ll begin to cultivate of habit of putting yourself in a gratitude mindset.

3. Give People Sincere Appreciation. People who don’t feel appreciated are often the first to burn out or jump ship. It only takes a minute to recognize a team member for making a positive contribution. But, doing it right requires more than the occasional “Attagirl!” Give timely and specific praise to show your team members how you value their contribution. Here’s a quick demo to show you how.

One final secret to mastering leadership gratitude – you can’t fake it. Leaders who genuinely care about their team members will invest the time to help each one feel valued. Make it a habit to sincerely recognize their efforts. Every day is an opportunity to help people see the best in themselves and feel like a valued contributor to the team.

Question: Have you had a leader who gave you a handwritten note of thanks? What did you learn from that experience? 


Interested in getting more content like this? Subscribe to CEE News!

CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Make A Mistake? Take A Failure Bow!

Think about the last mistake that you made. Now think about what happens to your body when you realize you made the mistake.

Here’s an example. You’re happily going about your daily routine, when, “Oops!” you realize that you forgot to bring something that you need for your next meeting. Or, you remember a commitment you made that you forgot to deliver on. It could be something as innocuous as leaving a phone on a colleague’s desk, to something important like forgetting your anniversary. Regardless of the level of the mistake, in the moment it occurs to us that we did not do the right thing at the right time, what happens to our body?

We cringe. And sometimes, not subtly. Sometimes, we instinctively throw one hand over our head and block our chin with the other. Our shoulders curl, we squint our eyes, and we make ourselves smaller — like a prize fighter protecting himself from a blow. But, there is no physical blow. There’s only a mental blow that we manifest physically as shame for failure.

It’s something that we have done so many times over the years of making mistakes, that we don’t event recognize that we do it. It’s automatic.

The problem is, suggests Matt Smith in his TEDx Talk on Sustainable Happiness, that embodying our mistakes over and over can lead our thoughts to change from, “I made a mistake” to “I am a mistake.” The cringe mode is the embodiment of the mistake. We become the mistake.

When we allow ourselves to go into cringe mode every time we make a mistake, we put our bodies in a protective, inward posture that does not invite growth. Over time, the muscle memory of what it feels like to make a mistake keeps us from trying new things, from suggesting new ideas, or even from thinking new thoughts. We freeze.

Research by social psychologists like Amy Cuddy suggests that we may be able to change our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions. What’s more, neuroscience studies show that our brains are filled with neurons that mirror not only the actions, but the emotions, of those around us. So, going into self-imposed cringe mode can cause those around us to replicate the shame we feel for making mistakes.

So how do you rewire your impulse to protect yourself from cringe mode when you realize you’ve made a mistake?

Take a Failure Bow. If you’ve ever watched an Olympic gymnast recover from a shaky landing after a vault jump or a high beam routine, you’ve seen the Failure Bow. The next time you catch your body going to automatic cringe posture from making a mistake, stop yourself and immediately switch to a Failure Bow. You can do it like an Olympic gymnast. You can do it like a trapeze artist. You can do it like a magician. You can even add a “Ta Da!” for emphasis.

Bring Yourself Back to the Present. The Failure Bow develops the skill of bringing your attention back to the present moment and resets your focus. It’s impossible to cringe in shame and bow like a gymnast who’s just stuck the perfect landing at the same time. Likewise, it’s impossible to feel shame and get locked in the past if your body is facing open and outward.

Acknowledge the Learning Path. The purpose of the Failure Bow is not to celebrate mistake making. Its purpose is to acknowledge the facts of a mistake, then create an alternative interpretation of those facts. “I failed because I’m lousy at this” tells a radically different story than “I’m bravely walking a risk-filled learning edge.” The former compounds the mistake by embodying it — the latter makes it a natural part of learning.

We work in a world where innovation is a requirement for survival. We need to be creative, take chances, and innovate. Mistakes are a natural part of that process. The next time you find yourself going into cringe mode, celebrate the learning path by taking a dramatic Failure Bow. You’ll reset the shame, acknowledge your vulnerability, and move forward with humor.

Question: How do you rewire your impulse to protect yourself from the shame that comes with the innovation process?

Take a Culture Field Trip

When was the last time you took a field trip? A time when you stepped out of your office, drove yourself to another company, and just observed. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily drama of leading our organizations. It’s tempting to tell ourselves that our methods are the best. Yet, a 90-minute field trip inside the office of another organization can be a major accelerator for your leadership journey.

That’s just what happened when we arranged for Stone Brewing Company President, Steve Wagner, to take a team of five employees to visit WD40 President and CEO, Garry Ridge, at the company’s San Diego headquarters. The mission: to learn what role culture plays in creating the WD40 brand and performance. The outcome: the ability for Stone Brewing to springboard its own initiative to align its culture and brand integrity.

With an international employee base of nearly 450, Ridge shared insights he’s gained to help WD40 achieve annual sales just under $400 million in 2016 – that’s nearly $1 million per employee. Here are some of the Stone team’s top takeaways:

1. Create a learning environment. When Ridge was promoted from within as CEO, he knew that growth was being held back partly due to deep silos within the organization. “Those who knew the most about how things worked guarded that knowledge, which gave them power,” Ridge said. He immediately set to work to define the concept of learning moments. Over time, he built trust in the concept by showing that no one would be punished for trying something new and sharing knowledge about what worked and what did not. At today’s WD40, knowledge is shared and information moves easily.

2. Personalize accountability and responsibility. In Helping People Win at Work, a book co-authored with Ken Blanchard, Ridge shares the unique WD40 performance review system. Employees develop measurable, achievable goals that will help the company reach its annual strategic targets. They describe what ‘A’ work looks like, rate their own progress each quarter, and review these ratings with their manager. The manager’s role is to help employees achieve all As. Ridge says, “If you help your people get As, your performance management system will ignite them to blow away your customers with outstanding service. Because people who feel good about themselves want to return the favor.”

3. Get your values off the wall. WD40 doesn’t just want good performers, it wants good performers who are also good citizens. Ridge believes that values must be at the core of your business model, not just words engraved in a plaque on the wall. Not only does the company have six, clear-to-understand values, but they are ranked in order of importance. He explained, “Life is about values conflicts. When these conflicts arise, people need to know which value to focus on.” Employees are taught the values at orientation, assigned to ‘tour guides’ to help explain values in action, and hold themselves accountable for demonstrating the values, which make up 30% of their performance review.

In 1 ½ hours, the Stone team saw a company that was candid about sharing knowledge, committed to achieving results, and clear about what it stands for. They gained actionable insights to help them crystallize their values, and cultivate the very best of Stone.

Question: If you were asked to share how your culture is aligned with your performance, what would you share in 90 minutes?

Meet 8 Special Ops Team Members Ready for Service in Your Organization

Last week, I attended a very special graduation ceremony. It wasn’t for a family member and it wasn’t held in a football stadium. It was for 36 men and 1 woman who had completed a 120-hour, MBA-style, transitions program through The Honor Foundation.

These were already alumni of some of the most elite programs in the world – they were Navy SEALs and Marine Special Operations Forces team members – who had served our country with honor and ready to transition back to civilian service.

Thanks to The Honor Foundation, these men and women have the tools they need to confidently enter the workforce with pride and a sure-footing. They are prepared to take the leap of faith that the civilian world will honor their service, embrace their elite training, and place them in positions worthy of their talents.

It is my honor to introduce you to eight members of the Group 11 graduating class.


1. Diego Ugalde, “My passion is to hear the sound of your resounding success.”

What he brings to the team: With a relentless positive outlook, Diego is known for walking into a situation, assessing it, and working tirelessly to improve it for the betterment of the team.

Areas of interest: Motivational Speaking, Leadership & Development, and Coaching

Availability: Diego transitions from the Navy SEALs in September of 2018.


2. Larry Lacefield, “Leader of leaders, adapting to any environment.”

What he brings to the team: Selfless problem solver exuding compassion, creativity, competence and sound decision-making facilitating solutions where others see obstacles. 

Areas of interest: Business Development, Chief of Staff, Project Management Officer, or HR Leadership in Healthcare and Biotech

Education: M.S., Emphasis in Global Business Leadership, University of San Diego

Availability: Larry is transitioning from the Navy Special Warfare Command in May 2017.


3. Russell Hromadka, “Multi-dimensional guru and cross-generational connector.”

What he brings to the team: Perpetually sought after for crisis management, joint ventures, new initiatives, and to ‘do it right the first time’ where there is little guidance and organizational success is at stake.

Areas of interest: Chief of Staff, Business Development, Human Resources, Ops, Project Management.

Education: B.S., Applied Mathematics (Honors), US Naval Academy

Availability: Russ will transition from Marine Special Operations Command in the Spring of 2018.


4. Alexander “Pete” Tunley, “A human with supernova positivity that inspires all.”

What he brings to the team:  A passionate, powerful and committed leader with incredible positivity that attracts communication and input from all.

Areas of interest: Business Development, Human Resources, Coaching, Leadership & Development, Motivational Speaking.

Education: B.A., Intelligence Studies, American Military University

Availability: Pete transitioned as a Chief Petty Officer in March of 2017.


5. Christopher “Noah” Phillips, “Diplomatic disruptor fascinated by finance.”

What he brings to the team: Exceptionally motivated and proven leader with budgetary controller and multinational business experience.

Areas of interest: Finance, Wealth Management, Venture Capital, Private Equity, Analyst and Associate.

Education: B.S., Business Finance, Pennsylvania State University (2019)

Availability: Noah is transitioning from the Marine Corps in July 2017.


6. Matthew Lampert, “Lifelong servant of the community and our nation.”

What he brings to the team: Proven, decisive, and determined leader, who motivates, empowers, and develops his team to achieve their highest potential.

Areas of interest: Chief of Staff, Operations, HR Business Partner, Project Management Officer.

Education: M.A., Leadership, Development and Education, The George Washington University

Availability: Matt transitions as an Officer with the U.S. Naval Academy in June of 2018.


7. Eric Kasmire, “Innovative leader who excels at organizing resilient teams to achieve exceptional results.”

What he brings to the team: Skilled communicator at all levels, and passionate about leading multi-functional teams from diverse backgrounds and cultures to increase performance.

Areas of interest: Business Development, Chief of Staff, Project Management, or HR Leadership roles.

Education: B.A., Homeland Security, with Honors, American Military University

Availability: Eric transitioned in the summer of 2017 from the Marine Special Operations Command.


8. Justin Plank, “Ethical leader with the exceptional ability to remain calm and decisive in both high pressure and uncertain environments.”

What he brings to the team: A tireless work ethic, accustomed to working in fast-paced environments where excellence in performance is the standard.

Areas of interest: Operations leadership and Project Management.

Education: Master of Business for Veterans, University of Southern California

Availability: Justin transitioned in the summer of 2017 from the Navy SEALs.

If your organization could benefit from service-minded, adaptable, problems solvers like these, there is no more elite group of talent than the graduates of The Honor Foundation. Contact The Honor Foundation here to learn more about employing, mentoring, coaching and sponsorship opportunities for this world-class program.

Question: What can you do to serve people who have dedicated their lives in service to others?  

The 100-Yard Dash Leadership Theory

One evening, author and leadership consultant John Maxwell was having dinner with Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Until last year, Joyner-Kersee was the most decorated U.S. woman in Olympic track and field history.

As they were chatting, Maxwell decided to have a little fun with the athlete. He sat his fork down on his plate, looked Joyner-Kersee straight in the eye, leaned forward and said, “I bet that I can beat you in a 100-yard dash.” Joyner-Kersee stopped in mid-bite, and searched John’s face for any hint of whether he was joking or serious. This was the first woman ever to break 7,000 points in the heptathlon, a 2-day, 7-event contest consisting of the 100 meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meter dash, long jump, javelin throw and the 800 meter run.

Maxwell let a moment or two pass, then said, “Actually, now that I think about it, if you give me a 10-yard head start, I bet that I can beat you in a 100-yard dash.” Over the course of the next few minutes, Maxwell continued to stretch his need for a head start until he settled on, “Yes! If you give me a 90-yard head start, I’m 100% confident that I can beat you in a 100-yard dash!”

Maxwell’s 100-yard dash dinner story serves as a reminder to leaders. Whether you’re trying to implement a new process, orchestrate innovation, or mold a culture, you have to meet your team where they are before you can get them to where you want them to go.

If you’re leading a team, chances are, you’re far ahead of the rest of the group from Day 1. You may have more years of experience, and less fear of calculated risk. You probably have more data and background information that led to the decision that change is necessary. You have a better grasp of the ideal outcome. That’s the equivalent of a 90-yard advantage, and a major team de-motivator. Think about the last time you gave your team a new project, and ask yourself these three questions:

1. Did I take the time to lay the proper groundwork, or did I jump straight to the end?

2. Did I give the team time to ask questions, or did I do most of the talking?

3. Did I help the team understand what “there” looks like, or did talk mostly about what’s not working today?

In a Harvard Business Review series on The Secret of Great Teams, an effective team was defined as “a group of people who do collective work and are mutually committed to a common team purpose and challenging goals related to that purpose.” As a leader, it’s your responsibility to give your team what they need to truly succeed.

Another truism of Maxwell’s is this: leaders who complain that “it’s lonely at the top” aren’t really leading people anywhere – they’re just taking a hike. Make sure you give them context, allow plenty of time for their questions, and give them a roadmap to success.

Question: What tools do you use to make sure you’re not leaving your team in the dust?


Interested in getting more content like this? Subscribe to CEE News!

CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Simon Sinek Explains the Trust Gap in Your Organization

In the third most popular TED Talk of all time, Simon Sinek inspired leaders to reconnect with their organizational why. In just 18 minutes and with a rough sketch of concentric circles on a flip chart, Sinek shared what he said was “probably the world’s simplest idea.” Most organizations focus on what they do and how they do it. But only the most inspired organizations have leaders who start with why they do it first. And for companies like Apple, and people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright Brothers, starting with why was the fundamental difference between success and obscurity.

The Trust GapIn a less popular but equally profound TED Talk, Sinek turned again to the flip chart. In “First why and then trust,” Sinek illustrates why organizations must clarify and codify their why. Imagine a simple x, y graph. At the (0,0) coordinates, where x and y meet, is the genesis of an organization. At (0,0), x equals what and y equals, well, why. At that genesis, the what and the why are perfectly aligned. When a company launches, the founders are inspired by a big idea. They put some money together, and off they go.

At first, it’s easy for the founders to share their vision with their handful of employees. Customers are soon attracted and life is good. The what and the why lines grow in parallel on the chart. But, as Sinek explains, “the single biggest challenge that an organization will ever face is its own success.” Here’s why. The more successful an organization becomes, the more people it has to hire based on what they do. The company’s what keeps growing. “The problem is,” Sinek explains, “why they do it starts to go fuzzy.” And as the what and why lines separate, a trust gap occurs.

Consider this example that Sinek gives about trust in America since World War II:

The country rallied together to fight in a war in which they were united and unified behind a common cause. After the war, veterans took advantage of the GI Bill to get low-interest loans or cover tuition to attend college or trade schools. When they entered the job market, they applied the same sense of loyalty to their companies as they had to their country. “The problem is,” says Sinek, “as we started to become more affluent, and the wealth of country started to grow, that sense of purpose — that sense of trust — didn’t grow with it.”

Sinek goes on to describe how trust continued to fall through the 1960’s (the hippie movement), the 1970’s (the Me generation), the 1980’s (think greed is good), and the 1990’s (the bubble). Over the decades, the country became more and more affluent, but lost touch with its sense of purpose.

Here’s the key takeaway for your organization: the answer to why your organization exists can no longer be simply, “to make a profit.” If you don’t codify, clarify and deploy your why, you’ll have an unsustainable business model and no competitive advantage.

Question: Do you know your organization’s “why”?


Do you know how to codify, clarify, and deploy your organizational purpose? Get 15% off our 2-hour workshop on What’s Your ROP? (Return on Purpose) between now and January 31, 2017. Get a list of available dates and learn more about the program by emailing me directly at [Read more about our Purpose Alignment services.]


CEE News
is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. 

6 Things Successful Change Leaders Know

Can you feel it in the air? For the past few weeks, everything around us has been changing. Temperatures are falling and the sun is setting earlier. Leaves are changing in color to vibrant reds and deep yellows. There’s no denying that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. As humans, we are hard wired to accept the inevitability of seasonal changes. Though we can manage extreme weather changes of four seasons a year, why are we so resistant to organizational changes?

If you’re engaged in the effort to set a new direction, orchestrate innovation, or mold a culture, here are six universal truths that can guide you along the way.

1. People don’t resist change. They resist being changed. As management guru Peter Senge suggests, resistance is greatest when change is inflicted on people. If you can give people a chance to offer their input, change is more likely to be met with enthusiasm and commitment.

2. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Big goals can seem overwhelming and cause us to freeze. This simple truth, attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, is a reminder to get moving. Take the first step, however small it may seem, and the journey is underway.

3. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Many change efforts fall short because of confusion over the end goal. In the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire cat which road she should take. The cat’s response reminds us to focus on the destination first, then choose the best path.

4. Change is a process, not a decision. It happens all too often. Senior executives make pronouncements about change, and then launch programs that lose steam. Lasting change requires an ongoing commitment to the process reinforced by constant communication, tools, and rewards.

5. Do not declare victory prematurely. In his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide, author Dan Cohen suggests that short-term wins do not necessarily equal long-term success. Cohen writes, “keep urgency up and a feeling of false pride down.”

6. Be the change you wish to see in the world. These famous words attributed to Gandhi reminds us all — executives with associates, political leaders with followers, or parents with children — that one of our most important tasks is to exemplify the best of what the change is all about.

Any form of change requires an adjustment period, and some are easier than others. While seasonal changes are predictable and tend to go over smoothly, organizational changes cause more chaos. Leaders trying to implement changes in the workplace can take heart in these truisms, settle in and enjoy the journey.


Question: Chances are, you’re going through a change effort now. Which of these truths can you apply today to help achieve success?

3 Reasons Why You Should Procrastinate

We’ve all been there. A project you committed to is due tomorrow. You know that, with concentrated effort, you could knock it out in a couple hours. Yet, somehow you manage to put it off.

Instead, you fill the time with busy work, things that could easily wait until next week. Or you indulge in completely unproductive things like scrolling through Facebook videos or checking out Google Street View caught-on-camera highlights.

If you’re guilty of procrastination tactics like these, take heart. According to New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant, procrastination is a virtue for creativity. In his book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant explains how procrastination encourages divergent thinking.

“Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional,” Grant explains. “When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander.” Research shows that we have a better memory for incomplete tasks. When we finish a project, our brain files it away. But when it’s floating in limbo, our brains continue working it.

Nearly a century ago, psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that when we finish a project, we file it away. But when it’s in limbo, it stays active in our brains. From writers like Aaron Sorkin (“You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.”) to artists like Leonardo Di Vinci (took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa), highly creative people spend most of the creative process in pre-production.

Instead of thinking of procrastination as a vice, think of it as an essential part of creativity. Consider these three ways you can use procrastination to your advantage:

1. To exercise your idea muscles. Give yourself permission to build white space in your day. White space will allow you to reflect — to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into insight.

2. To find the power in the question. Good strategic thinkers know how to hit the ‘what if’ pause button. It forces you to step back and challenge current assumptions that prevent you from seeing breakthrough solutions.

3. To move from quantity to quality. While you don’t have the luxury to mull over every piece of text you write before you hit ‘send’, some ideas are worth polishing.

Let’s be honest. Chronic procrastination is not healthy. If you have excuses for letting most deadlines pass, that’s a bad habit you need to address and correct.

But true insight takes time. The longer we allow our brains to work on ideas, the more insight we can gain. Don’t be afraid to harness the creative power of procrastination.

Question: When has procrastination helped you be more creative?

Do you need guidance on how to harness your creative power and have a competitive advantage? Check out our Executive Coaching services or email me at directly to set-up a free 30 minute consultation.


Does Your Inside Look As Good As Your Outside?

Last week, I co-facilitated a leadership retreat at Pala Mesa Resort in Fallbrook, California.  Part of the agenda was set aside to review the results of the company’s 2015 employee engagement survey.  Each manager took 20 minutes to share the highest and the lowest scores from their departments. They made commitments for how they would improve results in 2016, and suggestions for company-wide improvement efforts.

On the morning of Day 2, we asked, “What was your biggest takeaway from yesterday’s session?”  The President of the company responded, “What struck me the most was the comment by our Controller – that ‘we need to make our inside as good as our outside.’”


Bingo. Experienced executives can find ways to make financial results sing.  Strategic planning can uncover new markets, expanded channels, and opportunities to innovate.  Savvy marketing experts can keep brands fresh and top of mind.  It’s tempting to get caught up in efforts to boost profit, innovation, and brand recognition – things that make us look good on the outside – and ignore what’s happening on the inside.

Yet, Gallup research reports that 2015 employee engagement levels hang at a paltry 30%. Low employee engagement levels have been associated with employee turnover, low productivity, and absenteeism – all of which directly impact the bottom line. Leaders who remain manically focused on the outside may discover too late that they have a crumbling infrastructure – one that will not support their growth strategy.

As Forbes contributor Mark Crowley notes, “To defeat [low engagement], we must have the courage to reject many of our archaic methods, and to adopt ones known to have the greatest impact on inspiring human performance in the workplace.”  So, what has the greatest impact on employee engagement?  In a recent interview with Jim Harter, Gallup’s ‘engagement Jedi,’ Crowley found that, “the best companies Gallup works with consistently see a 7-to-9 percent improvement in a given year, and it’s because they intentionally align their performance management so that everything they do is on the same path.”

The kind of alignment that Gallup has found works best is the kind practiced by San Diego based WD-40 under the leadership of CEO Garry Ridge.  Consider the results from WD-40’s 2014 Employee Engagement survey.  With an average 93.7% engagement index, WD-40 has achieved best-in-class alignment by focusing on these 8 simple questions:

  1. I understand how my job contributes to achieving WD-40’s goals.
    Result:  99.7% of employees agreed.
  2. I know what results are expected of me.
    Result:  98.6% of employees agreed.
  3. I love to tell people that I work for WD-40 Company.
    Result:  97.6% of employees agreed.
  4. I am clear on the company’s goals.
    Result:  97.1% of employees agreed.
  5. I respect my supervisor.
    Result: 97.1% of employees agreed.
  6. I feel my opinions and values are a good fit with the WD-40 Company culture.
    Result:  96.8% of employees agreed.
  7. WD-40 encourages employees to continuously improve in their job, to “make it better.”
    Result: 96.3% of employees agreed.
  8. I am excited about WD-40 Company’s future direction.
    Result:  95.6% of employees agreed.

Leaders like WD-40’s CEO Garry Ridge understand the impact that employee engagement has on the bottom line. They lead the charge to continually invest in their employees who, in turn, focus on exceeding stakeholder expectations and deliver sustainable profit.

Question: Do you use employee engagement surveys in your organization?  If so, are they clearly aligned with your company’s performance management system?


Join me and Dr. Tony Baron April 27th in San Diego for The Re:Imagine Leadership Summit.  Discover how to create a culture that can respond swiftly, communicate freely, encourage experimentation, and organize as a network of people motivated by a shared purpose to meet the demand of the 21st century business enviornment. To learn more or register, go to: 

The Culture Equation: 3 Critical Factors You Can’t Ignore

Culture.  What does that word actually mean?  Though many have tried, no one has ever landed on a fixed, universal definition for organizational culture.  The subject has been vigorously debated from the pages of the Harvard Business Review to the halls of MIT Sloan.  What is not debated is that culture is part of the DNA of every organization.  Whether your organizational culture is empowering or toxic depends greatly on two factors:  shared experience and modeled leadership.

Consider this.  When new employees join your organization, they step in on Day 1 with a set of preconceived beliefs based on past experience.  They may believe that markets are finite and there is only so much business to go around.  They may believe that success happens only when we beat our competitors.  That in order to for us to win business, others must lose.  Some have been taught that ethics and morals can be bent.  Others have relied on the strict dictates of policies and procedures.  That makes up the experience half of the equation.

The other half comes directly from modeled leadership.  If the leaders of the organization are fixated on business development, channel expansion, and market domination, they are not likely spending any time intentionally trying to shape the culture.  Unintentionally, however, they are sending very clear signals about what is important to them.  They are the cultural architects of your organization and contribute these three very important things to the culture equation:


1. What is measured. Let’s face it.  Culture can be hard to measure. Senior executives tend to shy away from anything with a fuzzy ROI. Yet, whether you measure it or not, your culture is showing up in your bottom line.  Skilfully managed cultures can be a performance multiplier.  Recent research by the Great Place to Work© Institute found that companies that actively invest in workplace culture yield nearly 2x the return over their competitors.  They also typically report 65% less voluntary turnover, saving an average of $3,500 per employee in recruiting and training costs. If culture isn’t part of your KPI mix, you’re sending the signal that it’s unimportant.


2. What is rewarded. A recent study by O.C. Tanner found that employees report being recognized for their work as their most important motivator, over 20 times more than salary. Employees study what behaviors and achievements get rewarded, and naturally modify their work accordingly.  Leaders who understand this connection create recognition programs that go beyond passing out paychecks.  WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge proudly hosts the company’s annual People Choice Awards.  Each year, heartfelt speeches are given by winners of coveted awards like “Best Mentor Coach” and “Best Team Player.” Leaders like Ridge know that coin-operated employees have no passion.


3. What is ignored. Leaders are bombarded with data, hold back-to-back meetings, and field urgent requests on a daily basis.  When we need to respond to fast-moving competitive situations, it is tempting to tap only our direct reports for feedback.  In his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader,” New York Times bestselling author Daniel Goleman warns that this temptation is dangerous.  He recommends that leaders practice expanding their focus of awareness.  “A failure to focus on others leaves you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided,” Goleman writes.  What’s worse, leaders who ignore input from those outside their immediate circle are signaling to the rest of the organization that their input is irrelevant.


Leaders are the cultural architects of your organization.  The key metrics they pay attention to, the contributions they reward, and range of their awareness directly impact both your organizational culture and your bottom line.


Question:  What do you measure, reward and ignore? How is that impacting your organizational culture?