Category Archives: CEO

If Innovation Stops Will You Be Out of Business?

Innovation Wired 4 Leadership

Does innovation really matter for organizations? Is the pursuit of newer, faster, better, disruptive, radical innovation a meaningful goal for leading our organizations? How real is FOBO?

“Your company is out of business. You just don’t know it yet.”

If there’s one thing that should keep you and every other leader up at night,  FOBO is at the top of the list. That’s right–the Fear Of Becoming Obsolete. If that’s you, a recent GE study will give you some important insights about the state of innovation. The impact of innovation on both business and society is extraordinary. The ways you can leverage it to your benefit are even more so. Based on a survey of 2,748 business executives and 1,346 informed citizens the survey explores perceptions and ideas about the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

The good news is that executives share a strong sense of curiosity and optimism about the future of the 4th Industrial Revolution. What exactly is the 4th Industrial Revolution? According to the World Economic Forum, the first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The fourth is building on the third, the digital revolution that has occurred since the middle of the last century. Characterized by a fusion of technologies it is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Optimism about the digital revolution extends to leaders in more than 20 countries especially those in emerging economies who are feeling considerably more empowered than those in developed markets.

“Which leaves one to ponder the obvious question. Does having a clear innovation strategy matter?”

86% of executives surveyed believe advanced manufacturing  will radically transform the industrial sector. A majority of both executives and citizens believe these transformations will create a positive impact on employment. Interestingly every market shows a distinctive preference for incremental innovation, improving existing products and solutions versus breakthrough innovation (i.e.; launching products that are completely new and have the ability to disrupt their market.)

While 68% of executives report having a clear innovation strategy, 62% of them struggle to come up with radical and disruptive ideas. Oddly, those without a clear innovation strategy (32%) also struggle to come up with radical and disruptive ideas. Which leaves one to ponder the obvious question. Does having a clear innovation strategy matter?

Proctor & Gamble CEO David Taylor speaking at Chief Executive Magazine’s Talent Summit noted that “there are processes that a company gets enamored with.” Most all of us have had the experience of following a process that no longer delivers the results essential to customer needs and satisfaction. If you have processes that encumber people for an extended period they have a proclivity to take regardless of their efficacy.

“Only 24% of executives feel their company is performing very well at quickly adapting and implementing emerging technologies.”

There is general agreement (90%), among executives and citizens alike, that the most innovative companies not only launch new products and services but also create a new market that didn’t previously exist. Yet, there is a real risk of innovation being hampered as technology evolves faster than businesses can adapt. Bringing radical and disruptive ideas to life in 2015 turns out to be a  challenge among 76% of U.S. executives surveyed. That’s a 32% jump from in 2014.

Adding to this challenge only 24% of executives feel their company is performing very well at quickly adapting and implementing emerging technologies. Executives (61%) are learning the value of big data and beginning to understand that integrating analytics delivers better results and outcomes for their businesses.

“76% of executives believe talent acquisition remains the first innovation success factor. HR talent acquisition systems that are “turning off” applicants are creating a significant problem.”

Is the work and the worker of the future really changing? There is a growing notion among employers that the digital transformation is giving rise to the “nomad employee” — people that do not necessarily seek full-time employment, but favor freelancing or contracting modes. Jacob Morgan, a Forbes Magazine contributor writes about the seven principles of the future employee, noting they will have new requirements:

  1. Demand for a flexible work environment
  2. The ability to customize work
  3. Share information freely
  4. Use new ways to communicate and collaborate
  5. Options to be leader or follower as needed
  6. Free to  shift from knowledge worker to learning worker
  7. Learns and teaches at will

No matter whether it’s a nomad on a “gig” or a full-time employee, just less than half of employers and citizens believe the current education system is adapted to fulfill the private sector’s demand for new talent and skills. Given that 76% of executives believe talent acquisition remains the first innovation success factor, the disconnect between available talent and talent with the right education and skills remain significant problems. It’s difficult to grow a leadership commitment and conducive culture for innovation success when finding the “right” talent grows increasingly more difficult. Many question how much HR talent acquisition systems are “turning off” applicants and actually complicating and not easing identifying qualified talent thus fueling shortages.

“This is how work will get done over the next few years and it has already started in many organizations around the world.”

According to executives surveyed the six main attributes they are seeking in candidates include:

  • Problem solving abilities (56%)
  • Creativity (54%)
  • Analytical skills (44%)
  • Interpersonal skills (43%)
  • Long-term commitment (41%)
  • The ability to suggest improvements to the existing ways of working (40%).

Interestingly, only 27% of executives believe the candidate’s ability to navigate uncertainty with ease is a significant attribute. Ease or not, navigating uncertainty will surely be a part of everyone’s toolkit for years to come.

Does measuring outcomes instead of innovation make more sense? What are the greatest measurements of impact and success?

Boards, Baggage, and Leading in Adversity

Boards_Baggage_Adversity It was a difficult—some might say ugly—Board of Director’s meeting.  With the association “bleeding red ink” and its reserves almost depleted, the Board desperately wanted to hear a plan, any plan, for saving their organization.  The new, first-time CEO was fighting fires on every front—marginal cash-flow, overpriced office space, overworked staff, too many expensive outsourced services, and stagnating revenues.  In a borrowed meeting room, facing an anxious Board, the CEO’s turnaround plan was laid-out in excruciating detail.  Pro-forma financial and cash flow statements, clear, vivid graphs, detailed severance agreements, outlines for early termination of leases, cost cutting steps, and finally the potential sources of revenues including increases for dues, rising education program fees, and two new services with near certain potential to generate much-needed extra cash flow and revenue.  The case for cost reductions and revenue growth sufficient to save the Association from extinction were clearly presented.  The tension in the room was palpable and the debate about the much-needed change went on at considerable length.

It didn’t take long to realize that as good as the plans were, it would be the proposed dismissal of long-time staff that would ultimately derail the conversation.  Several influential, and out-spoken Board members were unwilling to allow termination of specific senior staff leaders.  By insisting these favored staffers be retained, they were severely hobbling any chance of financial recovery.  Surprisingly, the rest of the Board had no stomach for pushing back against their out-spoken brethren.  The vote in support of the turnaround plan went down to defeat.  With no clear alternative at the hand, various Board members engaged in an acrimonious debate– blaming each other broadly for the failures, ridiculing current and former staff–and in short order adjourned the meeting.

Frustrated, demoralized and without a clue as what to do next the new CEO left the Board meeting.  As she drove away, she noticed a member of the Board stopped along the roadway changing a flat tire.  She instinctively stopped to offer her help.  The two of them struggled with the task of changing the deflated tire. As they worked side-by-side, the new CEO shared her feelings about the Board meeting, the lengthy preparation, detailed presentations, challenging debates, and the exhausting, hard work of it all.  At a lull in the conversation the Board member glanced up and in almost a whisper quietly said, “You know, sometimes even your best just isn’t good enough.”

In that moment an important leadership lesson came to light.  You can do your best.  You can be all you can be.  Sometimes though, you still need to demand better of yourself and others.  And that’s what leadership is all about—being better, striving to overcome adversity, and pushing harder for extraordinary outcomes.  Leadership is about changing, adapting, being resilient, sharpening your skills, and working to be better, stronger, and smarter every day.  Make this your leadership mantra in 2016 — Change. Adapt. Overcome. Be Better. Be Stronger. Be Smarter.  Your followers are counting on it.

A Lesson for Aspiring Leaders

3_Lessons_for_Aspiring_Leaders_Wired_4_LeadershipA Parable for
Aspiring Leaders . . .

The young woman nervously held the three white envelopes in her hand. As the newly appointed non-profit CEO, she was about to meet with the entire Board of Directors for the first time. Her predecessor–a longtime nonprofit executive–had warned her the Board could be contentious at times. She was nervous and a bit apprehensive, yet determined to be confident in her new-found leadership role.

He had also done something else. On his last day in the office he handed her three envelopes, neatly hand numbered 1, 2, and 3. “If you ever find yourself in a tough situation with the Board”, he said, “You’ll find all the advice you need in these three envelopes.” She had quickly tucked them into the pocket of her notebook, while thanking him for his advice. In the weeks that followed, she had pretty much forgotten about them.

Now in the midst of her first meeting with the Board, complaints about poor member service, lack of new membership growth, and outdated services were flying about the room. Without attracting attention, she gently slid the envelope numbered 1 out of her notebook, and opened it. She was taken aback by its message:

“Blame Your Predecessor.”

She felt uncomfortable with the message. Still, given the Board’s voracious complaints about the current state of affairs, the new CEO wondered if she could find a way to broach it diplomatically. It was the perfect opportunity to contrast herself and her leadership style with that of her predecessor without being harsh. So she spoke up, telling the Board that while her predecessor didn’t get everything right, the framework was strong, and she would dedicate her heart and soul to returning the organization to a pathway for success.

As the weeks went on, few things went as planned. The new CEO found herself sitting with an unhappy Board in the following months as well. Exasperated by the Board’s impatience, and their continued bickering about the state of affairs at the nonprofit, she once again returned to the two envelopes remaining lodged in her notebook pocket. Opening the envelope labeled number 2, she quickly unfolded the paper to see the words:

“Announce Your Re-Organization Plan.”

She pondered the idea for a bit. Things needed to change. She had ideas about how the organization could be more efficient. There were ways staff could be more responsive to members, donors, and supporters. Over the past many weeks, she had reviewed policies, analyzed service statistics, and scoured organization charts to uncover issues and figure out where and why things were going wrong. Maybe, she thought to herself, this is exactly what the organization will need—a reorganization.

At the next Board of Directors meeting, with a renewed sense of purpose, and a fresh re-organization plan in hand, she stepped forward to announce her plan for re-organization of the operation. Staff would be re-assigned. Redundant positions eliminated. New programs would be launched. A fresh direction was at hand.
Her plan gained the support of a slim majority of Board members. She felt so much better. Sure, she would still have to prove she could deliver, but at least she had a Board approved plan.

Determined to propel the organization, she set about the hard work of leading change. She worked closely with staff, helping them re-orient themselves to the new plan. She re-defined their roles and focused them on the tough tasks of improving member service. Prospecting and acquiring new members was now a priority. Finding new value and innovations among the varied services and products offered by the group became a key activity. While her team appeared engaged, it was clear this was a long slog, requiring both continued dedication, and sharp focus in the face of all the changes.

With the next Board of Directors meeting now just a few weeks off, the CEO’s nervousness and anxiety returned. The entire team had made progress. Member service satisfaction stats were improving. Service costs had fallen somewhat. The organization was still struggling to re-define itself. Committee leaders were voicing complaints about changed priorities, and some staff were quietly resisting changes. A few had even taken to communicating by e-mail directly with the Board Chair. In a few instances they surreptitiously met with volunteers to discuss “behind the scenes” activities of the organization, stories about the CEO’s work habits,  and sharing incomplete information intended to cast the activities of their boss in poor light.

Preparing to join the Board of Directors meeting, the CEO grabbed her portfolio and headed into the gathering. The meeting did not go well. Several of the Board members publicly shared complaints they had heard from committee chairs, and in a few instances from members as well. After much back and forth, the Board Chair revealed the extensive “behind the scenes” communications and complaints he had received from the staff. As the meeting wore on, the discussions grew more contentious with some Board members supporting the CEO and the change efforts, while assailing those who opposed them. As the CEO continued to listen to the discussions and take rapid-fire notes, the envelope marked “3” slipped from behind the pocket in her portfolio.

The room was abuzz in chatter—accusations, counter accusations, fault-finding, rich opinions and endless discussions about what to do. The CEO seeking a respite from the conversations, and inspiration in the moment, decided to open the third envelope. As she did so, the hum of the discussions–still as loud and vibrant as ever–seemed to subside as she deliberately removed the paper from the envelope. Slowly, she unfolded the paper hoping with all her strength, she might find inspiration in the midst of this dysfunctional and maddening conversation. Gradually, a smile spread across her face. Neatly typed in the center of the page was one sentence. It read:

“Make Out Three Envelopes.”


The Three Envelopes parable as been told in various forms for decades. While its origin is unknown it may offer a thoughtful lesson for new and aspiring leaders.