Strategic Execution, Part 2: Always Use a Compass…

CompassIn my last rant, I talked about the first key to strategic execution: demand clarity on the problem before you even begin (aka… Don’t chase the wind). I want to now turn my attention to the next critical key: Always use a compass.

I travel a lot. And I like to drive. So, even when my endeavors take me out to places like Mooseknuckle, Canada, I enjoy the experience of jumping behind the wheel and hitting the road. As long as I have two things – my phone and a GPS. My phone lets me stay in communication with whomever I may need. And my GPS allows me to be independent.

But in business, we get neither cell phones nor GPSs. In business, we are more often left on our own with little more than an objective to hit – a destination, if you will.

Sure, you can argue that our leaders provide the function of our metaphorical cell phone. IF you can get access to them. Ever try to get one-on-one time with an executive? You’re lucky if you can grab them for five minutes in a hallway on the way to/from a meeting.

And you can also argue that our organizations try to give us their version of shackles a GPS when they give us mandated processes. And constrictive policies. And technology that won’t actually do what you need it to do. (I know. If I sound bitter, it’s because I probably am.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. It would be awesome if our leaders – especially the ones who created the strategy in the first place – were accessible when we needed them. And it would be awesome if our processes, policies, and technology were completely aligned with the strategy we are supposed to execute. But we both know that is not common enough.

THIS is why we need a compass. We all need something that will at least tell us where the right direction actually is… and when we are starting to move in the wrong direction. ESPECIALLY during the execution of a strategy. That is what a compass does.

So what exactly is the compass I am talking about?

It’s the definition of success. But when I say the definition of success, I have a very specific concept in my mind. It involves three things:

  • A desired outcome
  • Defined metrics
  • Clear expectations/requirements

Why these three things? Because if you take away any one of them, you get sloppy execution.

Let’s start with the desired outcome. This is one of the most common areas that gets confused. Strategies – especially good ones – are looking for outcomes that are sustainable. They most often address a problem. You would never assign all of your people and resources to achieve a strategic objective only to let the problem come back. Leaders want the impact of the strategy to be ongoing. But too often, the outcome is defined as a result. Even if that is not what the leader wanted to communicate. So the players – often mid-level leaders – define the outcome as a single, hit-it-one-time initiative. No real attempt is made to build the system that would make the outcome sustainable. Goodness – that would take too much effort. And time. And money. And people. And we simply can’t do that. While the problem continues to exist – and even grow.

Can you see how this kind of thinking just torpedoes the execution of a strategy?

Consider how the organization would react if the outcome was defined in sustainable terms, so that everyone could see the bigger picture (and, of course, the problem that the strategy is meant to address). So that everyone had the chance to see when the initiative was going off track and make the thousands of simple adjustments that only frontline players can make to keep everyone heading in the right direction. It would be like giving everyone a compass to go with the strategy.

Which brings us to the second point. If the desired outcome is the compass needle, metrics are the compass markings.Compass points Metrics tell you if you are going in the intended direction. They define if you are on track for achieving the desired outcome. They also tell you if the outcome is specific enough.

Has anyone ever told you that the outcome of the strategy is “be better/do more/achieve new successes” or some other ambiguous outcome like that? I am amazed at how often leaders can fall in love with some visionary outcome, without any specific definition of what it actually means.

Try this: think of a strategic outcome you are responsible for. What are the metrics? Do they tell you if you are on track? Do they tell you when you are done?

Ready for the left hook? Do they tell you if you are building something that is sustainable? Because if they do not, please don’t be surprised when the team equates “strategic” with “tick-the-box.”

The right metrics not only empower the team, they strengthen the outcome. I would go so far as to say that if you don’t have well-defined metrics, you have not really given/received a desired outcome. You’ve only got a wish. A hope.

But there is one more element to this compass. And it is just as critical as the needle and the markings.

It’s the requirements that come attached to the definition of success. They are the housing of the compass. Just as you would never simply mark your hand and rest a compass needle in your palm, you would never simply give an outcome with metrics. Not if you are trying to be strategic. You need something to hold everything together so that the parts interact in the right way. Requirements do that.

Requirements come in all forms. They can be about a deadline to hit, or the use of resources, or the methods that should be used/avoided, or even the people that should be involved/kept as far away as possible. When you get the requirements clearly communicated, they make the outcome and the metrics interact in a way that improves the entire team’s performance.

But here’s the sinister part: requirements often go unspoken.Taped mouth

Have you ever been trying to get a strategy executed, striving to achieve an outcome, tracking your metrics… when some unspoken requirement derailed your entire initiative? So here’s what you MUST do EVERY TIME you work out a definition of success. Get the requirements – all of them – pulled out and clearly agreed to.

IF you are a LEADER… communicate all of your requirements when you are defining what success looks like. And if you can’t do that, let your team pepper you with questions until your requirements are clear.

IF you are a PLAYER… do everything you can, even taking the risk that you will irritate the leader, to get all of the requirements pulled out and defined. And if you have to deal with more than one leader, get them together. Play their requirements against each other. Tell one leader about the requirements of the other leader. And vice versa.

My favorite way to pull requirements out of a leader (or even a customer) is slightly devious. But then again, that’s why it is my favorite approach. When you are discussing the definition of success, and you get to the part where requirements are being laid out, wait until everything has been said. Then restate the definition of success – going through the outcome, the metrics, and the requirements – then say, “If I do this, will you complain about anything else?” Ask this question over and over until the answer is no.

It’s AMAZING how often that pulls extra stuff out. Seriously. Because you have just pulled out a muzzle that the leader (or client) is now agreeing to use later on, during the execution. They don’t want a muzzle. But (if they’re reasonable) they will respect what you are trying to do. How fun is that? You just got a senior executive to agree to use a muzzle? I know. It’s devious. But it really works.

And it gives you a compass. A really robust compass that you can use during the execution of a strategy, so that when leaders suddenly become inaccessible, when processes/policies/technology/etc. are not helping, YOU can hit the outcome in a solidly measurable way and navigate the spoken (and UNspoken) requirements. You are now strategically executing.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

A Thanksgiving Note

It’s appropriate on Thanksgiving to take a moment and think. In the midst of so much food, family, and football (and not necessarily in that order), I think it is easy to get overwhelmed in the busy-ness. So, for my own sanity benefit at least, I offer the following thoughts.

E mahalo i ka mea loaʻa is an old Hawaiian saying that means, “Be thankful for what you have.” A very close alternate saying is e ʻoluʻolu i ka mea i loaʻa – be satisfied with what you have. I was struck by how often thankfulness and satisfaction are related. But being thankful and being satisfied are not always present in the same moment, are they?

For many this year, the act of thankfulness will be dulled by the lack of satisfaction in their lives. I would go so far as to say that the focus on dissatisfaction might even undermine whatever thankfulness those people have. To the point that the focus on dissatisfaction creates the inability to be satisfied.

I hope that’s not you. I hope that you (and me) can focus on the genuinely good, genuinely satisfying things in our lives. That the small, simple things have greater meaning this Thanksgiving because they exist. They are present. Things like health, having at least one good friend, or getting that one bite of perfection in a Thanksgiving meal that sends you back to the happy moments of childhood (like my mom’s molasses cookies make me feel).

But if being dissatisfied at this time of year, describes you, I get it. Satisfaction is not an easy “flip-the-switch” choice. (Note: it is a choice, though.) And if you have to be satisfied in order to be thankful, I understand how difficult even asking you to choose can be.

That’s where I was so inspired by my friend, Joe Castleberry, this past week. Joe is a great guy and writes a blog on networking from the perspective of the Christian faith. His latest blog really blew my mind. He talked about how one of the coolest dudes in all of history, King David of Israel (and killing-Goliath-with-a-slingshot fame), wrote a song about giving thanks. It’s found in the Book of Psalms (Psalm #9, to be exact). The words say things like “I will be happy because of you, God” and “Y*HW*H defends those who suffer.” But the most mindset-altering part is the side note that the song begins with.

Somebody (probably a scribe) wrote a note to whoever directs the music for the song. This song about giving thanks to God is to be sung to the tune of “The death of the son.” This really stands out when you know that this song was likely written right after David had ended a conflict with his son, Absalom – who had declared himself king, chased his dad off of the throne, then literally lost his life after losing the battle against his dad.

David was grief-stricken, wishing he had died instead of his own son. And he still chose to give thanks. He still chose to put his own feelings of dissatisfaction in the back seat. He let his faith define his satisfaction AND his thankfulness. Unbelievable.

So, to those who made it this far in my rant post today, I encourage you to not only be thankful, but to make satisfaction part of the experience. Focus on what genuinely does satisfy you. Savor those moments, however small they are, like the best bites of Life that they are meant to be. It WILL make your Thanksgiving that much richer.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Strategic Execution, Part 1: Don’t Chase the Wind…

It’s amazing to me how often the word “strategy” is overused used. YouKilledMyFatherI mean, seriously, I do not think that word means what you think it means (with a nod to Inigo Montoya). So often, I get into discussions with clients where I ask, “What is your strategy?” There are only two acceptable answers to this question.

One: “Our strategy is (insert a clear, concise, purpose/mission-driven definition of success with defined metrics and long-term goals here).”

Two: “We don’t have one.” (Or “we don’t know” is also acceptable.)

ANYTHING else is UNacceptable.

A strategy is not “to achieve results.”

A strategy is not “to complete an activity.”

A strategy is not “to hire a leader/build a team/get the right people on the bus.”

A strategy is not “to keep doing we have always done, but do it much better.”

Strategies are complex and powerful things. Merriam-Webster offers this definition – strat-e-gy (noun): a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time. Now, add in Henry Mintzberg’s concept that strategy is “a pattern in a stream of decisions.” The concept of strategy is not as linear as McKinsey consultants recent MBA grads like to think.

But this rant post is actually not about strategy. It’s about the execution of strategy. In other words, let’s assume for a moment that you already have a clear, concise, purpose/mission-driven definition of success with defined metrics and long-term goals. (Diagram that sentence if you really want to dive into what I consider a decent strategy, then add in both external and internal influences for context.) The tough part, the bit worth all of your money, is whether or not you can execute that strategy.

Or to slightly revise an old saying – strategy is for amateurs, execution is for professionals.

So, my next few rants posts will be about some of the critical keys to strategic execution that I have learned over the years and now teach.

DandelionInWindThe first key – and I would actually call this the MOST IMPORTANT/CRITICAL/PICK-A-SUPERLATIVE key – is to demand clarity on the problem before you even begin. Starting without clarity on the problem your strategy is addressing is like chasing after the wind. You will never truly make any progress.

Think of it this way. All strategies are about getting from the current state to a desired state. Recognizing that there are two, different states means that you must also recognize that a gap exists between the two, different states. This gap is the problem. And these problems come with their own set of sub-problems (kinda like a mother-in-law or a step-dad).

Now, you can tell people all about a strategy, but if you don’t tell people about the problem/gap that the strategy is going to have to tackle… well, let’s just say that you are setting people up to fail. It’s like telling people they are going climb a high mountain without telling them about the lack of oxygen at high altitudes. You may certainly have the physical skills covered, but without the ability to actually breathe

The problem(s) must be accounted for – and built into the plans for executing the strategy. I would even go so far as to say that the problem should be embedded into the strategy, like a requirement attached to the strategic outcome (win a war with the least amount of non-combatant harm). This is essential for two reasons. One, people must include the problem in their thinking. Two, people must include the problem in their thinking. (Yes, I did write that twice on purpose.)

What good is executing a strategy that ignores the problem or even makes the problem worse? For example, if the business strategy is defined as “capturing market share with a new and innovative product,” but the company’s employee base is beginning with zero understanding of what the new product does, how can the strategy be executed? In this case, the strategy is really about “equipping the organization to capture market share with a new and innovative product.” People must include the problem in their thinking.

When leaders are discussing the strategy, the problem of equipping their people must be a part of all tactical discussions – not just the end result of market share or launching the new product.

When managers are interpreting the strategy for their teams (which they must do), they need to make sure that their instructions to the team address the problem effectively. Otherwise, whatever solutions they are creating will not be big enough. They won’t be achieving the kind of gains needed to achieve success for the greater vision.

And finally, when metrics are being collected and evaluated, the problem of equipping the organization should also be included in the metrics. What good are sales numbers without any insights as to why they are up or (more likely) down?

In strategic execution, people must include the problem in their thinking.

And here’s the rub. Defining the problem takes more time than Time 2most Type A leaders want to give. At the same time, the single biggest cause of failure for strategic execution is a poorly defined problem. You cannot pursue a strategic outcome without defining the root causes/inputs of the problem(s) that the strategy must address. So what do far too many well-intentioned-but foolish leaders do? They use their time to create a crystal clear definition of the outcome that must be achieved. They might even be genuinely long-term in their thinking and communication. But they don’t spend any extra time to define the problem enough. Which means that they don’t want to include their people in achieving the strategy. Not really. Because if they did, they would provide clarity on the problem so that when decisions are being made on the front line, away from the boardroom and executive row, they would be addressing the problem in order to achieve success.

Instead, frontline decisions often generate momentum for dysfunction. Well-intentioned managers add to the problem’s complexity, instead of stripping it away. Siloes form and interdepartmental wars begin. Sales versus Marketing/IT/Legal anyone? The strategy becomes less about solving the problem or achieving success and more about survival. As the dysfunction grows. And becomes entrenched in the culture. And the ability to breathe slowly disappears.

So, leaders, don’t chase after the wind. Provide clarity on the problem before you even begin strategic execution. And, followers, don’t chase after the wind. Demand clarity on the problem before you even begin strategic execution. Anything less is fuel for failure.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

How to Drive Purpose Into Your Team

(Leaders – this one is for you)

TherapyLet me begin by saying the workplace is no place for therapy. If you’ve got issues, if you didn’t get hugged enough as a kid, if you still need to work through whatever happened to you in jr. high… there are boundaries to what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to share/work on in public places.

With that said, there are still waaaaaaaay too many people showing up to work without purpose. Their lives are simply a non-stop pursuit of results. As long as they get the results they want, they will continue showing up to at least get the result again. The result may be a paycheck. It may be recognition. It may be success. It may be control. Whatever it is, over time, people often become addicted to it to the point that if they don’t get that result they are craving – if they don’t get that monthly/weekly/daily dose of impact – they crash. Hard.

They burn out.

They become dysfunctional.

They start pulling other people into their dysfunction.

Ultimately, they become generators of WASTE.

And this, leaders, is one major reason why you MUST care about purpose. Your team needs purpose not because you have some warm and squishy ideal (although I’m not opposed to that), but because purpose is your greatest weapon against waste.

Waste is defined as whatever does not contribute to the purpose of the organization. And waste is bad. Sadly, it is inevitable. It’s like that fungus/rash thingy your great uncle picked up in Viet Nam that never quite healed. It requires constant vigilance. But that kind of vigilance is just too much for any one person (or even a small executive team) to manage. Hunting waste is something everyone in the group must do. But if you expect people who do not have a personal purpose at work to join you in destroying waste before it can cause any significant damage, you are woefully mistaken. And worse than that, because people who don’t have a personal purpose at work will actually create waste.

In the form of wasted money.

In the form of unnecessary drama.

In the form of upset customers.

In the form of siloed insanity behavior.

Until the waste literally chokes the business. And chokes the team.

This is why you MUST care about purpose.

Which brings us to the hundred thousand million dollar question: how do you, as a leader, drive purpose into your team? What can you do (besides recruiting perfect people – which, by the way, is an impossible task) to make purpose the cornerstone of your company?

First, you have to make sure that EVERYONE knows the Catchy sloganpurpose of the organization. And I’m not talking about catchy slogans, fancy posters, or email campaigns. I’m talking about the visceral, believe-it-or-die conviction that your business/agency/church/school/whatever has a reason to exist and people are accountable to live it. Purpose drives your strategy. Purpose drives your execution. And purpose drives the behavior you can – and should – expect from the team.

Pause: Does your organization have that kind of clarity of purpose? Is your purpose so tight that everyone would give the same answer if I walked in and randomly started asking people about the purpose of your group? Before you answer, wait a second. I have one more question. Do you have purpose-measuring indicators? In other words, do you measure if your purpose is being achieved and/or making progress? Because if you don’t, please don’t tell me you have a clear purpose. You only have a stated one. And the chances are high that you have a bunch of people not living that purpose – because you don’t measure it. You’ve (tragically) told people to “Go win that game!” without keeping track of the score. It’s frustrating and insane. Your team only knows if they’re winning because you magically believe that they are. Or they ignore you and choose whatever they want to magically determine their success. Can you say narcissistic?

The second thing you have to do as a leader is define the purpose of each role on your team. NO ONE on your team should simply have a “job.” Everyone has a role to play in pursuit of the larger purpose. They have a value to provide. And you, as the leader, must ensure that the roles of the team are aligned to the purpose of the organization. Otherwise, you are left with people who are defining the purpose for their role independently. Even well-meaning people who have a wrong or missing purpose still generate waste. Can you see how that will derail the organization?

Calibrating purposeThe third thing you have to do as a leader is sit down with each person on your team and calibrate their purpose at work. The best example I have of this process is a friend of mine who is a senior executive for a large, multinational company. Every time he gets a new member of his core team, he sits them down for a one-to-one (even the players with minor roles) and asks them, “Tell me about a time when you did your best work – when both the outcome and the way you felt were outstanding.” He listens as they tell their most cherished successes, probing to uncover the themes and elements of what made those kinds of experiences most positive. Once he has pulled everything out of the person so they both see what made the player feel most productive, valued, and engaged, he then says, “Great. I am now officially making that stuff part of your role here on the team.” He then explains the purpose of the team, the purpose of that person’s role, and then talks through how the player’s role will now change so that they will both deliver what the organization needs and be a person that is living their purpose at work – even if that person had no conscious idea that they had a personal purpose to begin with.

In effect, this leader teaches his team how to live their individual purpose as part of a greater whole. He wants everyone to live and contribute in a way that is aligned and purpose-driven. Because he knows that if he can get his people switched on this way, it will drive the best, most sustainable, most healthy results that his team could ever deliver. And minimize the waste.

Pause: Are you that kind of leader? Are you the kind of person who empowers your team to be purpose-driven – and not just results driven? Do you calibrate the purpose of someone’s role with the personal purpose they bring to work? If you are – GREAT JOB! You are doing it right. Well done. If you are not – START BEING THAT LEADER. Treat people like human beings, not human doings. Stop generating waste as a leader… because ultimately that is what you are doing. And I am absolutely positive that generating waste is not your purpose.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Are You Getting Toxic Results or Empowered Results?

Alarm clockEvery work day, countless sales people wake up and begin their day with an eerily similar routine.

When the alarm goes off, they jump in the shower, grab a bite, and make the 20-foot trek to the home office or 1 hour-commute to the office. The morning will usually start with a review of emails, scanning for anything scary or beautifully good. Then they will look at their calendar for the day.

And here is where the similarity stops.

Why? Because the next decisions (and the series of decisions that will be made for the rest of the day/week/year) will rely entirely on the activities they choose to select. In oversimplified terms, they will either be reactive or proactive. Putting out fires from the day/week before versus investing in the future success of the day/week to come.

But I did say it was an oversimplification. Because it’s not really just about being proactive versus reactive. (Admit it – we all have to a fair bit of both). In fact, I wouldn’t even say that the decisions rely on the activities they choose to do. And the word “entirely” is just hyperbole. It’s really more like 20%. So, where does the rest of the 80% come from?

Well, let’s look at attitude first. Attitude drives the activities that people will choose. Come on. Be honest here. Have you ever pre-selected how you would behave on a conference call based on your attitude about the conference call – even before the conference call was scheduled? If our pool of countless sales people indicate anything, the answer is a resounding YES (hallelujah for the mute button on a speaker phone – so you can answer-emails/eat-something/pretend-you-are-listening-while-you-play-video-games while you “participate” in the call). And the same is true when it’s your favorite customer/leader/etc. and you show up on the call as happy as a first-grader on his/her birthday.

And we choose allow our attitudes to determine which activities we select. All day long.

But even attitude isn’t the real driver here. I would say that the better part of that 80% we are looking for comes from our beliefs. As in, “I believe that I can/cannot make a difference” or “I believe that the situation will/will not get better if I work on it” or “I believe that person will/will not change.”

Toxic beliefs (the beliefs with a decidedly negative spin) produce toxic attitudes. ToxicWhich drive the selection (or more precisely – the non-selection) of key activities. And empowering beliefs (the beliefs with a decidedly positive spin) produce empowering attitudes. Which drive the selection (and even the non-selection) of key activities. The technical term for this stuff is locus of control (which you can explore here), but instead of turning this into a technical dissertation, I simply like to reference Henry Ford’s sentiment – those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right.

Beliefs matter. They have a massive, subconsciously powerful influence over many of the things we do. And the success or failures we experience.

And here is where it gets tricky. How would you describe the beliefs that are piled on a sales rep or manager in successive layers… based on what the company does? For every time that a sales professional tries – out of the positivity of her own empowering beliefs – to push through the bureaucracy of Finance/Legal/HR/etc. only to have her efforts nuked obliterated shot down in flaming disgrace. Over and over again.

If that sales pro develops a toxic belief, whose fault is it? How does someone – anyone – protect themselves from the kid of insanity that our own organizations generate?

This is why I ranted spent so much time talking about purpose in my previous blogs. If you want to protect yourself from the insanity, know your purpose. If you want to create a wall of immunity that causes broken promises and unfulfilled expectations to bounce off harmlessly, know your purpose.

When you know your personal purpose, you can fuel your beliefs with it. And this, I genuinely believe, is the key to success.

Purpose-driven beliefs destroy toxic beliefs, which produces purpose-driven attitudes, which drive purpose-driven activities. And here’s the kicker – when purpose-driven activities do not produce the expected results, you do NOT stop trying.

Think of the inventor who keeps experimenting after another failure, after another failure, after yet another failure. Think of the athlete who pushes and battles play after play after play until success is achieved. Think of the soldiers at work this very moment, going out on patrol and volunteering to do things many of us would never choose to do.

Because these people KNOW that they have a purpose to achieve in the long-term that is bigger than the results they experience in the short-term.

The best performers live with purpose. They fuel their beliefs with purpose. And they eventually get amazing results as an output of living with purpose. In a way that is FAR more sustainable than folks who simply grind it out until they eventually burn out.

Mountain trailBut hear this: the results themselves are not the purpose. Or better said, the purpose is bigger than the results. Purpose is not defined by the results as much as it is actually defined by the process taken to achieve the results. There is nothing sadder than someone who had great results then was exposed as a fraud/cheat/scam. Whether it’s sports, business, family – whatever – how we live matters. How you live matters.

So if you want to drive results – the most sustainable, empowering, fulfilling results – live your purpose. And if you want to build immunity against the toxicity that your environment can try to dump on you – or even you dump on yourself – live your purpose.

‘Nuff said.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Wrestling Dragons: Turning a Job into Meaningful Work

South AfricaA few weeks ago, I was shopping with some friends at a mass club-type of retailer in South Africa. We were literally buying cartfuls of food for an entrepreneur’s “boot camp” I was about to lead. We pulled up with our cargo train of industrial-sized carts to check out, being some of the last shoppers for the day. I watched the other lines process their customers while the two ladies who were processing our purchase slowly moved our four carts of product onto the conveyor belt for scanning, and then handed everything back to us to put back onto our carts.

About halfway through the experience, I looked up and saw a bunch of people standing around, watching us. Now, this is Africa, and I am used to folks gathering around and staring at some of the things we do. But this was different.

Apparently, no one could clock out of work until the last customer was processed. That makes perfect sense. If I were that business owner, I would want my entire team focused on helping all of our customers before declaring the work day “done.” And yet, instead of closing their lines and coming over to help, literally EVERONE (including the managers) just stood and stared at their two teammates who were still working. Staring and chatting. Then staring. Then chatting some more.

When we were finally done and were then pushing our caravan of groceries through the parking lot, one of my teammates said something that I thought was pretty profound. “It’s a shame that so many people want jobs, but nobody wants to work.”

Now, think about that for a moment. Can you see the difference between a job and work? If you already know that difference, please forgive me while I give a short breakdown.

To me, the difference boils down to purpose. As in, what is the purpose of a job and what is the purpose of work? A job is an Industrial Age invention that is designed to assign human beings to (most often) repeatable labor. It is usually mind-numbing, but it pays the bills. No one wants to get out of bed for their daytime/swing/graveyard shift, but they will, even forcing themselves to get out of bed enough times so that they can retire from the job at some point. Shucks, they might even be able to trade jobs at some point, getting more money in exchange for staying in the soul-crushing painfully slow lifelong process. Jobs simply do not have a purpose for the individual.

Contrast this with the concept of work.

Work is as old as humanity. Work is even part of the Garden of Eden story (anybody want to be a gardener?). Work can be hard. And it can be exhilarating. Work is what we will spend hours doing after we finish our jobs. For no other reason than because it’s fun. It’s fulfilling. It’s driven by a purpose that we literally vibrate with. The purpose of the work is defined by the purpose of the individual.

I know I am playing with semantics here, but can you see the conceptual difference? Can you see how purpose transforms a job into meaningful work? Work without purpose is just a job. But work that is fueled by purpose is more than a job could ever hope to be.

Obviously, this has immediate implications on the individual. Or more specifically, on YOU.

ConfusedA recent article in Forbes (Why You Can’t Find a Job You Love), Louis Efron cited research that said as much as 95% of people are in the wrong jobs roles. That same article cited Gallup research that says 71% of people are NOT EVEN ENGAGED at work. Are you kidding me?! How do people survive? How do organizations continue to exist? This is insane. And it also means that a significant number of you reading this blog need to hear this rant message.

IF YOU are working without purpose, may I challenge you to take some time to define your personal purpose? But don’t try to make your personal purpose fit your work/job just yet.

Instead, work this problem from the opposite direction. Stop and ask yourself “Why do I exist?” (I know, I know – I just went off into la-la land for some of you, but follow me down the rabbit hole.) The answer should be more substantial than what you get paid to do. Or more specifically, the answer should be something more meaningful that what you are paid to do. Or in other words, if you were paid to do it, you would think you were robbing your boss.

If you want more tactical questions, you can ask yourself the following:

  • What gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment?
  • What accomplishments am I most proud of?
  • What situations give me energy?
  • What situations suck my energy away?
  • What are my special abilities or experiences?
  • What are my aspirations or dreams?

When you pull all of these answers together, a unified whole should begin to emerge. THIS is your personal purpose (or at least the beginning of understanding your personal purpose). This is the anchor point you need.

Side point: You do have a personal purpose. Everyone does. If you’re breathing, there’s a purpose behind it – even if it is not just about you. Sometimes, it’s especially not about you. I’m just sayin…

So why all of the philosophical gymnastics? Because without knowing your personal purpose, you will never be happy in your job. Ever. You (and your relationships) will be poisoned by the context in which you live your day-to-day life. I say this with the voice of experience. There was a time when I lost sight of my personal purpose (which is a topic for another blog). Needless to say, I found myself more “successful” than I had ever been and making more money than I had ever made in my life. And burning out at the same time. I’m talking complete and total flame-age. But that’s already too much about me. Let’s get back to talking about you.

You see, when you wrestle that dragon to the ground, when you get Dragona grip on your personal purpose in life, you transform everything. You suddenly have clarity in not what you want to do, but – most importantly – you know how to make the choices that matter most. And you have the motivation to make those choices. Which means that (without trying to sound like some hyperactive motivational speaker) YOU KNOW HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR WORK. And your play. And your relationships. And your past. And your future.

You achieve the kind of clarity that only champions have. Because your arena is not defined by your job title or your career path or your paycheck. It’s defined by something MUCH bigger than that.

THEN you are able to use that clarity of personal purpose to transform your family, your team, your organization, your market. Who knows, you might even change random parts of the greater world around you. People who live their purpose have a way of doing that, you know.

Just start small – and see where it takes you.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Live your purpose (or else)

So, my kick on problem-solving has run its course (for now). Which makes me wonder what should I rant talk about next? And it’s pretty obvious to me. I need to talk about purpose.

South AfricaExactly one week ago, I was closing out a meeting with a group of 35 young, South African, potential entrepreneurs. We had spent the days prior fleshing out what it takes to establish a successful business. We had explored the idea that great entrepreneurs solve problems. We had hammered on the idea that business requires a disciplined approach. We had discussed how to bring innovation, the generation of revenue, financial stewardship, legal and moral accountability, and consistent operations into alignment. But I was really underscoring the idea that purpose is the starting point for the whole thing.

So let me back up a bit.

What exactly is purpose? Merriam-Webster says that purpose is something to be attained. goes one step further (thankfully). It says your purpose answers the question “Why do you exist?” And I completely agree with that definition. Your purpose becomes the anchor point for your vision, values, and even the goals that you pursue. If the values that you live by violate your purpose, you will have major conflicts. If you have goals that violate your purpose, you will most likely never achieve them. Or literally destroy yourself in the process by chasing after goals that suck the life out of you.

From a personal standpoint, you have a purpose to living. There is a reason – there is always a reason – why you exist. Just remember that the purpose is often not just about you. Your purpose is often intertwined with others, not in some dysfunctional, co-dependent way, but in some community-driven, relational way. We are all meant to help other people and impact the greater world around us, sharing what we are uniquely gifted to share.

From a professional standpoint, your purpose is the most important Open signaspect of your business. Why you exist for your customers, and what you provide as a result, is the foundation of your credibility with customers.  (Trust me: if you don’t have credibility, you have nothing. Try to negotiate, problem-solve, etc. without credibility. It’s painful, to say the least.) I would even go so far as to say that if you are trying to build credibility from anything other than your purpose as a business, not only is your credibility at risk, but the very justification for your existence in the marketplace is at risk as well.

Consider this example: a salesperson is talking with clients, day in and day out. She is working tirelessly to establish and protect her credibility at all times. But she is not getting support from her own company. Customer Service keeps dropping the ball. Accounting keeps messing up invoices. IT keeps ignoring her requests. Marketing keeps spewing out meaningless content.

I would propose that the most likely root cause of the entire problem lies in an organization that has lost its purpose. Instead of living the unified purpose as a larger organization, people (even whole departments) have replaced the greater purpose with whatever purpose they have created for themselves. This disjointed approach to purpose is like a multi-headed monster with each brain barking its own orders. It will cause all kinds of problems when it comes to the customer’s experience. Including the sales rep redefining her own purpose in reaction to the lack of unified purpose in her company.

HerculesHow can you even try to build credibility within this context? It’s IMPOSSIBLE. Eventually, clients will tire of the monster that is “us” and run away – or even start whacking at our heads in Herculean style. Our justification for existence will disappear.

And we often live in the same way. Whenever we try to let the various parts of our lives create their own purpose (i.e. a purpose at home, a different purpose at work, a different purpose at play, etc.), we begin to feed a monster within us that will eventually shut us down (hello, mid-life crisis) or force us (hopefully) to grab a sword and start hacking. At the inconsistencies. At the hypocrisies. At the conflicts.

In both our personal lives and our organizations.

Imagine an individual life where purpose defines priority. Where purpose creates action. Where purpose fuels the moment.

Imagine an organization where purpose defines priority. Where purpose creates action. Where purpose fuels the moment.

You see, the principles don’t change whether they are applied personally or professionally. Purpose is that fundamental to living in healthy, vibrant ways. And it’s time we start identifying where our purpose is off-track or fragmented. Personally and professionally.

I’m not done with this rant, but for now, I ask you to think about this. Are you living your purpose?

You decide if I’m asking about your personal or professional context.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

WARNING: This is an actual sermon (I’m not kidding)

WARNING: This is an actual sermon (though I may rant a bit at the end). Please do not read/comment on this post if spiritual stuff offends you. It really wasn’t written for you. Thanks.

CrossI have a confession to make. I stopped being a Christian a long time ago.

But please allow me to explain what I mean before you jump to any conclusions.

I chose to make my faith a serious matter when I was growing up. I knew there HAD to be a god – somewhere – because the complexity of the universe is just too great.  Now, add the moments of sincere spirituality I had experienced that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that god – check that, God – existed. And even cared about me.

After investigating various faiths, I made my choice. And thus, I became a Christian. A believer in Jesus. I served in church, led Bible studies, and told people how much Jesus loved them.

Fast forward many, many years later.

I had a nice job with a big company. I was in a global role doing global things. I did my best to help that company make money. I traveled all over the world, coming home on weekends exhausted and jetlagged beyond comprehension. When I wasn’t too tired, I would attend church on the weekend with my family and fulfill my duties as a Christian.

And my faith slowly died.

All of it. Every last ounce.

There was literally nothing left but the intellectual acknowledgement that God existed. But I wasn’t so sure that Jesus was everything I had been told. I knew and worked with many folks who were Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. and found many of them delightful. I also worked with Christians and found quite a few who were less than delightful. Downright hypocritical. They lived one way on Sunday and another way on Monday.

And I had become one of them.

Pause: Have you noticed this as well? That so many people who call Earththemselves Christian live one way on Sunday and another way on Monday? It’s a worldwide epidemic. I hope it hasn’t pulled you in. I hope this two-way lifestyle doesn’t describe you. Because it’s doing more damage than you realize.

You see, I had never really been taught the full message of Jesus. I got the “believe-and-go-to-heaven” part. And I even got the “love-others/love-your-enemies” part. But I didn’t get the “live-an-abundant-life” part. I had made being a Christian all about believing in Jesus. All while I worked in my global job and kept my weekends and family time set aside for the “Christian” bits.

And that’s not what the Bible teaches.

Oh, sure, believing that Jesus is who he said he was is a crucial part of being a Christian. Shucks, if you’re not going to believe that, don’t call yourself a Christian.

But the belief part is only the very beginning of a MUCH bigger journey. A journey of real discipleship. Of real transformation. Of an abundant, genuinely spirit-led life.

That’s where I had gotten it wrong. I thought that being “led by the Spirit” was about avoiding all those “sinful” things that the Bible is pretty specific about. You know – don’t be hateful, don’t be arrogant, don’t be unfaithful, and so on. So I thought that as long as I didn’t behave that way and believed in Jesus, I was being a Christian.

Man, did I have that wrong.

The Bible isn’t really about teaching you to avoid sins. To be more specific, the Bible teaches that if you put all of your efforts into avoiding sins, you are just another Pharisee. Or what C.S. Lewis calls “diabolical.”

“For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”

– Excerpt from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What the Bible really says is that I can’t avoid being sinful on my own. In fact, trying to do it on my own is the very problem. The more I use my own, human-generated strength to fight my weaknesses, the more that I am actually feeding my weaknesses. And destroying any chance I have at an abundant life.

When I understood that I had killed my own faith by trying to white-knuckle my way through work, family, church, etc., I suddenly realized that I wasn’t supposed to be a Christian. I was supposed to be a disciple. Someone who was committed to a new way of living. Not just someone who “believed in the right God.” That’s when I stopped being a Christian. And started being something much more.

My faith returned and my life has become abundant in a way that I never thought possible. I can honestly say that I am the same person on Sunday AND on Monday. That doesn’t mean that I am perfect. Not at all. But I finally understand what it means to live by grace. And there is no other way that I would want to live.

So why did I write this post? This is supposed to be a sales enablement/leadership blog, right?

Well, I’ve got two reasons for you.

First, I can’t have a blog that is “isolated” from my faith. I can’t separate myself into being a person of faith and being a professional businessperson/consultant/writer/dude. That would only contribute to being one person on Sunday and another person on Monday. That’s diabolical. So while I won’t turn this blog into a pulpit, I won’t hide my faith either. I want to be accountable for living the same way, every day, in work, play, home, family, etc.

Man 1Second, if you’ve read this post all the way to this point without tuning out, I want to encourage you. Whether you call yourself a disciple of Jesus or not, there is a life that is bigger then your expectations. It’s bigger than your circumstances. It’s purpose-driven and Spirit-led. And IF you call yourself a disciple of Jesus, please BE one. Don’t live one way on Sunday and another way on Monday. Love God and love others. It shouldn’t matter if other people are devout, atheist, Muslim, Jewish, gay, straight, rich, poor, Liberal, Conservative, black, white, brown, or purple. Live by grace. Allow yourself – and others – to fail. Then display the kind of life that gets back up and keeps on going without fear, arrogance, or anger. Live the same way every day, in every relationship, in every moment. Be the person who brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to the party.

And when you do, let it be because you are empowered by a different Source, not because you are another self-righteous, self-propelled person who calls himself a Christian. That kind of lifestyle causes more damage than you know. To yourself and others.

I mua. Onward and upward.

Humbly written by Tim Ohai

Developing Your Credibility as a Problem-Solver (pt. 2)

In my last blog (a guest post for Jim Keenan here), I ranted explained the importance of collaboration. In particular, I linked collaboration to the idea that “You have to disrupt customers to get them to see the problem, solution, and outcome that you can help them successfully address. And, perhaps even more importantly, you have to disrupt your own organization to get them to see how they can help your customers experience the value you are trying to sell.” Dave Brock then wrote a great post expanding this thought – which I recommend you read here.

2 PathsNOW… I want to pull this idea of collaboration into my rambling the discussion on developing your credibility as a problem-solver. One of the critical competencies any problem-solver MUST have is knowing when to solve – and when NOT to solve – a problem. But a major component of this competency is choosing the right approach. Or in other words, should I collaborate or not?

Let me introduce one other concept before I run down the rabbit hole. Charles Green wrote a brilliant critique of the idea that we should solve problems as individuals. He concludes that, “We live in a relationship world. Thinking we are solitary Robinson Crusoes floating around on our solitary islands is sub-optimizing at best, and destructive at worst.”

This is, in my opinion, fundamental to choosing the right approach. Whenever you have a problem to solve, you should be thinking, “How can I leverage relationship to solve the problem?”

This is the opposite of the all-too-common thought of “How can I solve this problem – on my own?”

GREAT problem-solvers – check that – the GREATEST problem-solvers know how to collaborate. And collaborate well (go study people who won the Nobel prize for Science if you don’t believe me). In fact, they seek out collaboration first, because they know the impact of their efforts drops off considerably when they are not collaborating.

So, my first big point in this blog is really a mirror moment. Do you seek to collaborate first? And if you do, is it because someone else is making it happen or are you the one with the passion/drive to create collaboration? Are you the leader who is finding the root cause problem that you and your teammates (or customers) can share responsibility to tackle?

Picture this: a sales manager sees an opportunity to sell something Business Meetingto a key customer that is much more than what her sales rep is seeing. Instead of jumping in to “solve the problem” herself, she pulls the rep to the side and helps him see the bigger opportunity. Then, instead of creating a one-two punch to blow the customer away with their “amazing clarity” on the opportunity, they approach their best relationship at the customer to collaborate on a way to understand the problem better and validate the size of the opportunity. The chances are that this approach will open up a much bigger opportunity than the sales manager would have likely achieved on her own. Aside from whatever financial success the opportunity represents, the sales rep is also learning how to see his business differently AND learning how to collaborate with his client for better results.

Continue the scenario down one more path. Imagine that the opportunity requires the sales manager to go back to her own company (hmmm – let’s pick on Finance this time) and get help to pull a business case together. But instead of collaborating, the sales manager simply submits a request for help. Can you guess what will likely happen? If the sales manager works in a typical company, the entire process – at best – will slow down painfully. At worst, the sales manager will be ignored and left to figure out the business case on her own.

And this is where you have to know how to do more than collaborate.

You see, while I advocate collaboration at all times, I know what it is like to be in a situation where that is simply not possible. And here is where I apply this model of problem-solving relationships.

At the top of the model (because it really should be your first approach) is collaboration. Collaboration shares the burden of the problem with others. It doesn’t stop until the problem goes away. It accepts disagreement, and even craves it, as long as it is done respectfully and in pursuit of solving the problem. Collaboration produces infinitely better results (which is another reason it belongs at the top).

The second tier of the model is cooperation. It is “acceptable” because you don’t always get to collaborate and the results are much lower than what is produced through collaboration. But the results are still acceptable. Cooperation shares the burden of the solution with others. It doesn’t stop until someone gets the solution. Hopefully at the same time, because if the other party gets their solution before you, you risk them suddenly disappearing – leaving you to finish on your own. Ever have that happen to you?

The third tier of the model is competition. It is less than acceptable, but can be effective when you have no other alternatives. Competition is all about sharing the result. Well, sharing is not quite the right word. It’s more about dividing. As in, “I want my share of the pie. And it better be bigger than yours.” When you are competing, you are constantly fighting over things like resources, accolades, power, and leverage. It doesn’t stop until there is a winner. And a loser.

Which brings me to my second big point. If you are going to be a master of solving problems, you must know all three. But if you are going to develop your credibility as a problem-solver, you must consistently skew toward collaboration. Bell curveYou see, if you can always solve the problem, but have a reputation as a competitive problem-solver (or worse, you create a culture of competitive problem-solving for your entire team), your reputation will not be positive. Except amongst the minions you have created. Trust me, their adoration is not a reflection of reality.

You have to be known as a collaborative problem-solver, who can also solve problems cooperatively and – if necessary – competitively. But when all is said and done, your credibility rests on the collaboration you create AND the massive results that collaboration produces.

This is your mission. This is your reward.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai