Words Matter ... Actions Matter More

Words Matter ... Actions Matter More

WORDS MATTER! This is a phrase that I have used increasingly over the past three decades that I have been involved in leadership coaching, strategic consulting or as an operating executive running a business. This has been especially true the past few years! We all experience the excessive hyperbole, disingenuous social media banter and all too frequent occasions of “fake news" that permeates many segments in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) worlds.

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2019 Wish List - Harmony & Agility


It seems that I have become almost labeled as a “harmonean” … i.e. someone who seeks and promotes harmony in organizations, families and relationships.  Probably guilty as charged.  This rang true over the holidays as I got a nice coffee-mug Christmas gift from my sister-in-law Mary Beth that celebrated that noble ideal.

A few days later, our parish associate and great fellow musician, Dr. Fred Beck, was preaching a post-Christmas sermon message on the topic of … you guessed it … harmony.  Fred is also an incredible jazz trumpeter with whom I have the occasional pleasure of playing music with even though Fred is far beyond my level … one of my joys in life.


Fred’s message from the pulpit was about understanding the various elements that make up true harmony including the melody makers, rhythm blenders and, of course, the tempo creators like bass (my instrument in this mix) and percussion instruments.  As Fred shared, each element has something unique to contribute and worthy of respect in its voice. Fred went on to describe how these elements blend best and truest when done inside a common, shared set of core values and beliefs.  I like to describe them as operating principles … guidelines for how we operate and work together.

Fred is talented in many styles of jazz.  Although born and grown from Vermont, he developed a fondness for Dixieland Jazz at an early age in his own living room where both parents would jam regularly with a tight collection of highly accomplished jazz musicians.  He speaks of the responsibility for each player to listen deeply to each other as the critical ingredient in the musical recipe as they add their own voice to create that special harmony.

All of the elements relating to creating harmony (e.g. unity, alignment, integration, accord, cooperation, etc.) play a strong role in the creation of organizational agility.  Metaphors abound as you consider the organizational equivalents of these ingredients … most especially the notion of building clear and explicit operating principles to guide and enrich behavior and satisfaction.

From my thirty plus years of working with leaders, teams and organizations, the pursuit of organizational harmony has always been a parallel path to organizational agility.  For me, as a musician as well as organizational behavior specialist, there is a great deal in common in attitude, mindset and focus.

My daughter Meaghan, who is the real musician in our household, has taught me many real lessons based from music theory that definitely support and augment my own knowledge base in organizational dynamics.

Harmony materializes through the focus and attention of musicians tuned into the polyphonic potential of their instruments and the collective effort. What we might consider musical “success” results from the multiple instruments (or functions) working together with an “ethic of cooperation”.  Harmony starts with the attitude, mindset and anticipation of cooperation.

I often say the difference between empty, transactional collaboration and true, magical, high octane collaboration … is whether all the participants are bringing comparable ethic, mindset or belief system intent for cooperation.  Some team members intrinsically believe and behave in congruent ways and some just give a tacit nod to the code and then operate in superficial cooperation mode that fractures at the first point of tension.  This superficial mode is not sustainable and will not lead to creating organizational agility as a competitive advantage.

My wish list for 2019 is that ALL my clients and their teams will continue to build understanding and skill in shaping their future with harmony and agility.  My BOLD wish for 2019 is that our government and our leaders begin to understand and adopt some of these same principles … for all of our sakes.

I look forward to your feedback, comments and inputs as ever.

Have a joyous and harmonious 2019!

Tom O’Shea, CMC   Principal, Agility Consulting Organizational Agility Practice Leader  My Website

Tom O’Shea, CMC

Principal, Agility Consulting
Organizational Agility Practice Leader
My Website

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.



Stephen Hawking was a visionary, futurist and one of the most intelligent humans ever.  We are going to miss his provocative voice and insights.  Surely, Stephen Hawking had a very high IQ and also recognized there are many dimensions of intelligence.

Most of us are familiar with the notion of Emotional Intelligence or EQ and its importance for both leaders and team members operating in this fast paced, turbulent world.  Our EQ relates to the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal.  Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of EQ with his 1995 book also called Emotional Intelligence which built on some pioneering work by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer.    There are a number of assessments like this one from Toronto based MHS, Inc.  EQ-i 2.0 that can help you and others explore EQ for yourself and others.

David Livermore has done some good work framing up insights and actions around your CQ – Cultural Intelligence defined as the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. As the diversity in our global economy continues to build – no doubt CQ is becoming increasingly important in building our contextual intelligence and facilitating greater team effectiveness.


Each of these frameworks help build out greater insights for successfully navigating organizational dynamics, relationships and engagement levels – and need all the insights we can muster to overcome the daunting forces of VUCA!  Yet, as we face this increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it seems that we need more insights along the lines of what Stephen Hawking was saying … “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”.  

We might call this our AQ or Agility Quotient meaning the extent of our knowledge and understanding about the dynamics and drivers of adaptability and nimbleness aka our agility?  All of the other Q’s are important contributors to overall success formula – especially as you enhance your Agility Quotient.  The good news is that there are more and more articles, research studies and publications about the dynamics of creating greater leadership and organizational agility than ever before. 


At Agility Consulting, we have been dedicated to this topic for over 18 years now and there is much you can learn from our work including THE AGILE MODEL®, our Assessments & Analytic Tools, our 2015 book Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in VUCA World and a full library of resources on agility at The Strategic Agility Institute.  There is also a significant amount to be learned from the active agility work by McKinsey & Co and many others.

The key to any kind of intelligence rests with our capacity to leverage it for advancement of our goals and aspirations.  It is good to read and learn about the keys for creating more agility in our lives – our leadership, teams and total enterprises.  It’s better to get MOBILIZED and begin to apply these insights to create positive change … and adapt.

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The future is coming at us faster that we know … digital transformation involving a variety of artificial intelligence (another AQ dimension) are just a couple of examples. Above is a roadmap we use in some of our engagements that highlights some of the critical steps in transformation.  It looks linear – it’s not.  But it definitely starts with finding the burning platform for getting started – mobilizing your energy and commitment to becoming better prepared to face the future and win.  There will definitely be winners and losers as we face this more consequential future. Those with superior AQ2 i.e. those with both greater knowledge and the skill to apply will be among the winners in the AGE OF VUCA.

Will you be FRAGILE or become AGILE?

Love to get your feedback and thoughts.


Amen by Andrea O'Shea

We just finished watching another spectacular Masters golf tournament at the “shrine” of professional golf in Augusta, Georgia.   My brother Dan and his wife Andrea had the pleasure of living in Augusta for fifteen years while Dan worked for a multi-media communications company whose founder is one of the members at Augusta National Golf Club – a very exclusive group.

Andrea is a very talented architectural illustrator with a specialty in golf course illustrations.  This painting of the famous 12th hole is the gateway to what is known as “Amen Corner” where championships have been won and lost.  Just ask Jordan Speith about this hole.


Maybe more than any other golf tournament, the Masters is revered and coveted – the definition of world class signified by the Green Jacket awarded each year to the Masters Champion.

The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club are also famous for their world class guest experience and attention to detail. Being a “spectator” here is to be pampered like nowhere else.

During Masters week, I was speaking with one of my clients, the CEO of a national restaurant chain. We were discussing the dynamics involved in organizational transformation and mobilizing the team.  Like at The Masters, it struck me that there are at least three categories of leaders and team members in most organizations – spectators, commentators and players.

Spectators are those who take a “wait and see” approach to things.  It is very unlikely that they will initiate action or proactively reach out to examine, explore or innovate.  Some will be quick followers chasing after the real players to get up close and personal view on things – but definitely stay behind the ropes and not likely to stick their neck out.

Commentators come in a few varieties.  Some were players, once upon a time, but now tend to just critique others or talk about how we used to do it in the good old days. Others never really were players but either studied other players or gained academic learning.

Not all commentators are negative. In fact, some can bring added enjoyment and insight to the overall experience.  We might call them champions of positive change.  These champions live by the tenets of The Optimist Creed from Optimist International.

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Within organizations, we sometimes run into commentators that can tend to add their own spin and contribute to negative resistance building.  Just as in an electrical grid, these can be agents of drag – creating negative polarity and reducing organizational aerodynamics. We sometimes call these agents – squirters for all the negativity they spread.

Finally, there are the Players.  These are the valuable, talented and courageous who are willing to do what it takes to hone their skills and get “inside the ropes”!  Patrick Reed is the latest example as the 2018 Masters Champion.  He may not be the most popular champion ever but no one doubts his determination and grit.

In our organizations, we need a full cadre of players at all levels.  We need players who can play at faster speed, capable of taking initiative, making decisions and being accountable to themselves and others. We need team players who understand the ethic of cooperation and can operate across borders and functions to actively collaborate.  We want and need players who will buy-in and champion the values and operating principles that define who we are and what we stand for – not just some of the time.

We must have players committed to being the best and treating each other and all stakeholders like guests at Augusta National.  Especially senior leaders responsible for shaping the future and developing tomorrow’s talent.

Take a fresh look within your organizations. Do you have spectators, commentators or players?  I hope you have a high percentage of players – that is what is required for agile organizations and that is what is needed to compete successfully in this VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. By the way, if you would like to get your own signed print of hole #12 shown above, please contact Andrea O’Shea.

What are Your Agility Super Powers?

 Flying Faster than a Speeding Bullet … Jumping Higher than the Tallest Building? 


What are your “agility super powers”?  Sometimes it seems like we need to find Superman and his amazing superpowers to help us overcome the challenges of our VUCA world as it becomes more volatile, more uncertain, more complex and more ambiguous every day

From our on-going work with clients in a wide variety of industries and markets, we find our forward focused clients working hard at building their agility super powers but also building out clarity and unity with all of their stakeholders on core operating principles for shaping future success.

A few months ago, we worked with over a hundred leaders from a $2b Danish pharma company in helping them discover and develop the kind of “super powers” they needed to combat the VUCA they will face during the next few years.  If you aren’t working hard at these things, you will find the forces of VUCA to be like Kryptonite and stealing your power and vitality very soon.

It is very enlightening when you create the opportunity for leaders to work together and discover the kind of transformation needed in their operating capabilities and the PIVOT  they must make (and hold each other accountable) FROM their current operating style TO a new and improved (agile) operating style.  We find the five drivers captured in THE AGILE MODEL® represent a powerful combination of super powers worth dedicating energy and resources to develop as capabilities within your leaders and teams …

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These super powers involve the kind of superior capabilities that will help  you build your agility advantage – as you keep focused on getting better and faster at what matters for your Vision.

In order to sustain and grow across the organization, there is also the need for an additional framework of critical operating principles to help educate and inform your actions.  Outlined below are those we believe are important to consider.  We find it even more powerful when leaders and teams use these as a starting point but then frame and describe them in those terms that mean the most to them.

These provide a good discussion framework for you and your teams to engage and explore.

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Creating agility advantage in this VUCA world requires that we examine the right dynamics and capabilities … not always the same that we once would have evaluated.  Using these super powers and operating principle frameworks will enable you and your teams to discover new insights and inflection points that will help you in becoming more FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE.  Of course, our book will be a useful resource for your efforts as well.

Super Bowl Agility - Focused, Fast & Flexible



The Philadelphia Eagles just demonstrated the essence of team agility (being focused, fast and flexible) in their stout 41-33 Super Bowl victory over the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots led by Hall of Fame (to be) quarterback Tom Brady.

Ever since Doug Pederson came to the Eagles two years ago to join GM Howie Roseman in an effort to pick up the pieces left over from the Chip Kelly experiment, there has been a different mindset, core belief system and team mantra unfolding.  The rewards for these efforts were celebrated yesterday and very likely will continue for days to come in Philadelphia.  If you look under the feathers at the Eagles team and organization, you will see some underlying key operating principles that helped make their victory a reasonable outcome and not a fluke.

Interviews with players and coaches affirm the presence of a shared belief system bonded in the team concept and a commitment to what that means.  This can sound typical and trite, but you can see it operating at a different level with these Eagles than the average team.  The Eagles season was marked with storybook kind of up’s and down’s as they started the season with dominance and a young quarterback, Carson Wentz, off to an MVP kind of year.  And then the unexpected VUCA-like thing happens … BOOM … injury ends his season and on the surface we would expect it also meant the end of Eagle’s playoff hopes.

What happens next is a real testament to Doug Pederson and the Eagles coaching staff and team … they adapted and ultimately thrived.  As volatility, uncertainty, complexity or ambiguity (VUCA) enters your world … will you be able to adapt and thrive?  The Eagles braintrust recognized that they no longer had the young phenom QB running the playbook – they now had a journeyman QB named Nick Foles who was next man up.  They proceeded to adapt their playbook to fit the capabilities of their resources and to leverage the core belief system that they had built to secure the team support, adaptability and commitment to change as needed.

There are many lessons you can take from this journey and carry over into your everyday world if you try.  It is very clear that there is shared FOCUS within this Eagles team and ultimate commitment to the outcome they sought … NFC Championship and ultimately Super Bowl Champions.  They demonstrated that they were FAST in their execution at all points – especially in adapting to change needed to succeed.  Their FLEXIBILITY came through in their willingness to change directions which was facilitated with the confidence they built in their system and its leadership.  Each of these three value systems involve hard work and discipline – just like Doug Pederson said in his locker room victory speech.  But the payoffs are great also as he then declared it was time for them to PARTY. 

Do you remember the 2007 half-time show at Super Bowl XLI in Miami when Prince played in the pouring rain?  This certainly was another example of Super Bowl Team Agility … his response to the producers when asked about his willingness to play in the rain was … “can we make it rain harder”!  Another example of the resilient mindset needed for agility.

Team agility can be illusive … hard to develop and hard to sustain.  Most of you are playing in your own version of the major leagues and we all recognize that  the speed of play and competitive environment gets faster and tougher each year.  How are you training your team agility and building your capabilities at being  Focused, Fast & Flexible?  Our book is filled with ideas, tools and suggestions that you can use.  If you would like more information or insights … reach out here … I’d be pleased to speak with you.


Congratulations Eagles on a deserved Team Win.



The Big Lie That’s Hindering Your Agility


I’ve seen it in almost every work-related team—both those in which I’ve been a member, and those I’ve coached or led. 

It’s a blind spot that we all have. It’s a big lie we all tell ourselves.

It makes us feel good, secure, worthy. It’s psychologically soothing; it’s comfortable.

But it’s blocking our access to the truth. It’s hurting our ability to make optimal decisions. And it’s certainly keeping us from sensing and responding rapidly to change, which is the essence of being an agile leader. 

This big lie that we all tell ourselves is as follows:

My team would be extraordinary if only my teammates changed the way they act. It’s not my fault; I’m doing great. It’s about them—they need to communicate better, work harder, hold themselves more accountable. 

If that’s the lie, then what’s the truth? 

The truth is that being an agile leader demands honesty and humility about ourselves. We must have the strength to reflect on what’s going on—especially in the face of failure or underperformance—and look in the mirror. We must ask ourselves:

  • What can I do differently to bring out the best in others?
  • What are those things that I’m just not great at doing, and have I told my team about them?
  • How must I adapt my communication, my routines, my style to match the situation?
  • Am I wrong?
  • Do I really know what I think I know?

Because without such humility, we delude ourselves. We might be able to get away with it for a while when the situation is routine and predictable, when everything is a “known known.” But this arrogance—when deployed in environments characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)—will lead to failure. 

In the face of VUCA, humility and transparency must reign supreme. And that starts with each of us being honest about ourselves. 

Our tendency to overlook our own faults and to believe that failure originates from anything other than ourselves is natural. It’s also natural for us to attribute success to ourselves—isn’t that convenient? But in addition to becoming a blind spot that can hurt our ability to perform at a high level with others in a VUCA environment, overlooking our own role in underperforming teams or failure hurts our credibility. Namely, by refusing to recognize my own faults, it’s difficult for others to take me seriously when I provide feedback to them. 

Such behavior isn’t agile leadership. It’s hypocritical leadership. 

To get a better handle on what you’re doing that could be hindering your team’s productivity, I suggest asking for feedback from those around you. Keep in mind, however, that most of us are also predisposed to lie to each other about such matters. Most of us don’t like making other people feel bad, so we tend to gloss over negative feedback. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s complicated. And I’m not advocating recklessly brutal honesty. 

But in requesting honest feedback from people about your own behavior, you need to realize that people need to feel safe to do so. One way to do this is through a multirater (commonly known as a “360”) assessment, in which people can provide feedback anonymously (assuming the group is large enough). Such a step can be a good start. 

Beyond that, however, it’s about creating a team culture in which everyone knows where the team is heading and in which everyone truly knows in their guts that tough love is sometimes required to get the best out of each other—regardless of titles, age, experience level, and so forth. 

How do you create that feeling of safety and freedom to provide honest feedback? 

A lot of it has to do with the idea of psychological safety, which Amy Edmonson introduced in her seminal 1999 article in Administrative Science Quarterly. In that research, she found that psychological safety was associated with team learning behavior—characterized by behaviors such as open discussion of different opinions, testing assumptions, and experimentation—which was in turn associated with team performance. To create psychological safety in a team, Edmonson’s data suggested, leaders must:

  • Provide a compelling team vision and goals
  • Ensure the team has adequate resources, information, and rewards,
  • Adopt a supportive, coaching-oriented leadership style, and 
  • Respond to questions and challenges in a non-defensive manner.

Going hand-in-hand with all of these is a posture of humility. No leader knows everything, so when we’re acting as a leader, we should openly acknowledge this reality.  

Of course, the most likely case is that in most teams, everyone could be doing something a bit differently to support the team’s objectives. But instead of starting with the issues that we have with each other, it’s better to start with ourselves. 

After all, over whom do we really have the most control? 

It’s ourselves. 

So let’s open ourselves to the possibility that being a humble leader may actually increase our strength, making the teams we lead better able to cope with VUCA and thrive. 

When the Water Level Is Low - the Stumps Will Show

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Agility Life Lesson #11 …

When the water level is low …

the stumps will show!

I think I first heard that insightful Southern saying over thirty years ago when I was a young thirty something HR Director learning my way around the business world.  I was riding between Wrangler jeans plants with our Divisional Finance Director, Woody Miller, as we went go plant-to-plant with other senior divisional leaders and share the annual “state of the business” story with all employees. Woody was filled with simple, pragmatic wisdom that spilled beyond the moment.  I should have filled a notebook with these sayings – they were plentiful and meaningful and some have stayed with me all these many years.

The 1980’s were some very turbulent years involving heavy inflation, deflation and culminating into a disruptive crash at the end of 1987.  We had moved to England in 1986 where I was able to learn much more about business and myself as I headed up Human Resoures, Strategic Planning and Total Quality Management based out of Nottingham for a couple of years.  I found Woody’s adage applicable around the world and as economic conditions worsened – the stumps of inadequate workforce development and leadership skills, weak businesses processes and fragmented technology platforms became abundantly apparent across many industries around the world.  Across the U.S., the stumps related to textile industry production and apparel manufacturing had become so prevalent that by the end of 1990’s, manufacturing in the U.S. for these industries was found only in the history books.


Now we are living in the era of “accelerated obsolescence” where the pace of change is game changing for those unable to adapt and adjust fast enough.  Just like the water level at my lake house …. things can change so fast in today’s environment.  Last week, my dock was floating … this week it is far from it. The good news here is that it helps me clear the stumps and rocks around my dock.  If my business survival was at risk … not so good.

On my drive out to the lake today, I got word that one of my friends who had started a new business just last year has already had to shut it down.  We operate in a very competitive and consequential environment where even when you have a “great idea” … it takes more to navigate and survive.

Whether navigating on your lake, in your latest new start-up or in a large enterprise, we will all experience times when the water level gets low and our stumps will show.  The vital questions include:

  • Are you anticipating change by staying alert and proactive to scan for your stumps or those of your competitors? Or are you consistently getting caught by surprise?
  • Are you regularly generating confidence with all your stakeholders by staying connected with active communications, alignment and engagement?
  • Are you able to initiate action better and faster – operating with sense of urgency, empowered decision-making and active, collaborative teams?
  • Are you encouraging and liberating thinking throughout your ecosystem … maintaining customer-centric focus and valuing idea diversity?
  • Are you keeping your eye on the prize … with all stakeholders understanding what success looks like and how to measure it?

We are at the start of another new year … maybe high water for some and could be low levels filled with stumps for others.  Use these questions to try and identify some of the “stumps” in your operating system … could be with your leadership or workforce (people), might be your business processes and practices, or just might be that your technology platforms (or lack thereof) represent your biggest stumps.  Most important is that you stay alert and not be complacent.

One step you might take is consider doing your own “AGILITY AUDIT” to systematically examine those questions with your teams.  You might also consider engaging experienced third-party to help give you an objective, trained assessment.  Just like with your personal health, where it is vitally important to get your annual physical to monitor and detect things that could be life-threatening.  The Agility Audit helps examine your organizational health and fitness to face the faster paced, more demanding and much more turbulent operating environment.  How are your agility vital signs and where are your stumps?  Good to discover early before too late.

I would love to hear about your stump stories or perspectives on finding them.

About Tom O'Shea


Tom O'Shea, CMC
Principal, Agility Consulting
Organizational Agility Practice Leader[/caption]

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.




’Tis the Season to be Jolly … it is also the season for lots of great football action!  Hopefully your favorite team will be peaking and performing at this time when it really matters.  Our team is the Carolina Panthers who are heading to the playoffs but experiencing some unpredictable VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) and coming from the most unexpected source … the team owner, Jerry Richardson,   A stark reminder that sometimes we face “external” VUCA … and sometimes we face “internal” VUCA that is the result of our own making, neglect or narcissm.  In case you hadn’t heard or don’t follow such things … in a matter of a couple of weeks Richardson fell from being revered as one of the high integrity ‘good guys’ stalwart NFL team owners down to a ‘questionable character’ accused of serial ‘workplace misconduct’ … to the point of deciding he must sell the team in 2018.  Whew … all in VUCA hyper-speed!

Whether your focus is on navigating the chaos of your own internal VUCA or striving for competitive advantage in the commercial world … I do think there are some interesting lessons to be taken from some of the highly successful coach/leaders operating in the cauldron of intense competition called the National Football League (NFL).  This is the annual shake-out season – where speculation abounds for who will get fired, hired or retired.  In this sport, as in most organizations, there are mindsets, systems and processes for providing offense, defense as well as “special teams”.


In this blog space, you often hear us talk about building skills to respond to your VUCA which is a very “defensive” orientation … responding to initiative taken elsewhere.  Defense is important. In fact, some say that defense wins championships and well worth building skills and capabilities for “sensing and responding”.  As you build your 2018 Agility Playbook,  I encourage you to build a “proactive” defensive posture … one that stands ready to map, understand and respond to your environment but also bringing an aggressive mindset for some occasional “blitzes” … forays into the VUCA to test the competition’s capacity to run or pass.

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Creating Agility as a Competitive Advantage also means building out our “offensive” capabilities … are you ready to seize the day – poised to capture the prize?  One of the mindsets and paradigms I fully appreciate and endorse … it is called THE TWO MINUTE DRILL.  In American football, this is a hyper-speed and high performance mode that gets initiated at the “last two minutes” of a half or the game end.  It is completely amazing and transformative what happens with these teams as they move into this hyper-space.  Suddenly, communications become crisp and clear.  Roles and responsibility are unambiguous and accountable.  Commitment and team effort is superhuman and universal – everyone buys in and delivers.  Wow … why isn’t this possible in the first two minutes or mid-way in the first quarter?  Here is an excerpt I condensed from a great book by Longenecker, Papp and Stansfield called THE TWO MINUTE DRILL.  It has some useful thoughts and checklists especially for evaluating your “quarterbacks” (or leaders).

How about “special teams” … those amazing specialists who are able to bring focused expertise to things like punts, field goals, kick-offs or creating turnovers.  Special teams are very important in agile organizations as well.  These special project teams are enabled and empowered to go after chronic agility obstacles and opportunities to bring special solutions or new capabilities to enervate growth and development.  More and more, it is clear to us that those organizations that understand, invest and enable mission critical agility action teams … are building the muscle to win in the future.  Who knows what challenges 2018 or 2019 will bring … but I know if I have a cadre of skilled agility champions already commissioned, trained and ready … I can face any adversity and have a better chance of succeeding.  Those without that foresight … will struggle.

All great coaches succeed by building their playbooks and conditioning their teams with the right concepts, capabilities and shared belief systems.  How confident are you in your playbook for 2018.  Are you ready?  This is our specialty area.  I would love to explore, refine or build your 2018 Agility Playbook with you.  Let me hear your thoughts and ideas!

When Brutal Honesty is a Brutal Mistake


Some people wear it like a badge of honor, something that’s part of their identity. 

“I’m brutally honest.”

“I say it like it is.”

I get the appeal. We generally appreciate honesty and candid communication. We sometimes equate “brutal honesty” with strength of character or integrity.

But the truth is much more complicated. 

Sometimes—many times, I’d argue—brutal honesty is a brutal mistake. 

Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating dishonesty at all. Don’t lie. 

But for those people who think having the words “He was brutally honest” chiseled into your gravestone would be an accomplishment, I have one question: How’s that working for you? 

And related to that, what’s the quality of your relationships with people around you? If I asked your coworkers or other people who know you, would they say you’re approachable? Kind? Easy to be around? 

I think there’s an important distinction to be made regarding the ways in which “brutal honesty” is good and the ways in which it’s bad. 

Good Brutal Honesty

Sometimes there are things that people need to hear but may not want to hear. In those situations, brutal honesty can be appropriate when:

  • It’s really necessary for the good of the other person (it’s not about you).
  • You’re sharing verifiable facts or data.
  • You’re balancing your statements with compassion and empathy.

Bad Brutal Honesty

The “good” type of brutal honesty requires a great deal of skill. And in my experience, it’s rare. More often, brutal honesty can backfire on the deliverer of such “honesty.” In these situations, it’s usually the case that:

  • You’re saying something to make yourself feel better—more righteous, more “correct,” smarter—not to help the other person. 
  • You’re stating an opinion or venting about how you feel—not discussing verifiable observations or data.
  • You’re not considering how what you say will affect how the other person sees you and your relationship with him or her—it's more brutal than it is honest. 

Every time we communicate, we’re not just sharing whatever information we intend. We’re also making an implied statement about how we view the relationship with the other party. That’s why “brutal honesty” can be so tricky. And oftentimes, “saying it like it is” can result in damaged relationships, broken trust, and ultimately end up with the brutally honest communicator becoming isolated because no one wants to interact with him or her. 

Again, honesty is good. But I always try to remind myself that how I say something is just as important as what I say. 

I also try to remember that just because I think something does not mean I have to say it. 

And that’s the brutal truth. 

Hurricane VUCA Tests and Inspires Our Agility

HARVEY, IRMA, JOSE, KATIA … they used to be just nice names but now are forever associated with widespread fear, disruption and potential devastation.  In this “6-degrees of separation” world, most all of us know at least one person or family experiencing or anticipating the VUCA forces of one of these hurricanes.

IRMA Hurricane.png

These massive natural disasters wreck havoc and overwhelm us with their destructive intensity while also creating the gloom of helplessness - especially when it involves protecting our loved ones.  All of the VUCA dimensions are in full play during these natural calamities -

  • Volatility of the event and after shocks - will there by more to come?
  • Uncertainty about so many aspects of life, health, livelihood and future decisions with many bad choices?
  • Complexity surrounding almost every aspect - insurance, logistics, safety, employment security, short term and long term housing, etc, etc?
  • Ambiguity in seeking right outcomes - what is right scenario and what factors should be considered in deciding?

No doubt these events test the limits of our human capacity to cope and all instincts for survival.  We also see so many acts of bravery and selflessness during these disasters.

  • First responders giving their attention to saving and caring for others while their own families affected also
  • Neighbors helping neighbors without hesitation or regard for other differences
  • Thousands of others from across the country and globe giving generously

What is it about the chaos of crisis or natural disaster that brings out the best in so many … in our homeplace and in our workplace?  I cannot count the number of times i have heard in team workshops or read in organizational agility surveys about the amazing teamwork that comes together whenever we face the crisis?  It always begs the question - why don’t we operate this way all the time … with highly focused sense of urgency, attentive listening and responding empathetically with each other and with everyone operating with the shared sense of teamwork and goodwill?  I must assume it has to do with both the physiology and the psychology of the crisis moment … maybe heightened levels of epinephrine plus serotonin contributing to higher energy to seek well-being.

One of the benefits of modern technology and social media is to help us ANTICIPATE CHANGE in dangerous weather patterns to help us get prepared.  Hurricane IRMA has not hit land yet so hopefully those who are in the predicted pathway can prepare for the worse case scenario.  What will be the VUCA hurricanes likely to disrupt your 2018 success plans?  How equipped are you to see them coming and get prepared for the worse and best case scenarios.  Sometimes these disruptive forces open areas of opportunity for those with the vision and foresight to sense and respond.

What will INSPIRE your agility journey?  Will you wait until the hurricane crashes your house down to be convinced of the need to be prepared?  Or will you be one of the proactive champions building the adaptive capacity throughout your organization to help you not only survive but to THRIVE!

You will find lots of ideas and suggestions on our website … as well as in conversation with any of our partners.

About Tom O'Shea


Tom O'Shea, CMC
Principal, Agility Consulting
Organizational Agility Practice Leader

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.

As Principal at Agility Consulting and Training, Tom brings a unique blend of strategic, operational and organizational expertise and support that is rare and valuable. With perceptive insight, proven strategies and impactful coaching skills, he helps clients at the enterprise, team and individual leader levels exceed even their own expectations. Learn more about Tom here.

Agility Anathema: A Culture of Optionalism

WE ARE WHAT WE TOLERATE … is a core truism that tends to shape the culture (or at least the climate) as well as shape the spectrum of accepted behavior for societies as well as our organizations!  There are many iterations on this basic tenet including some strong quotes from the leadership guru, John C. Maxwell, or one of the motivation gurus, Tony Robbins among others.  The wisdom in this adage applies fully to each of us as individuals as well as leaders of teams, functions, units or the entire enterprise.  It is equally as applicable and relevant as we think about the dynamics in our families and other social relationships.  Collectively, it rolls up into the kind of customs, mores and codes of conduct that define us in all our communities, cities, regions and countries.

maxwell quote .png

One of the biggest issues we see in so many organizations -  is the need to dismantle the ubiquitous “culture of optionalism” that is a dangerous cancer growing and getting out of control!  In our work around the world with organizations of every description and industry, we are often having this discussion in our workshops on how overcome this hurdle as we strive to build greater organizational focus, speed and adaptability to compete successfully in this faster, more turbulent VUCA world.

Invariably, as we work with leadership teams to help them build clarity in their strategy maps and plot the pathways to Shape the Future, we find that “strategizing" becomes the “easier” part of the equation.  The really tough stuff comes as the leaders go back into their teams with the conditioned programming of an existing agenda and entrenched inertia of “the way we do things around here”.  To be an Agile Leader in this world, it takes great skill and commitment to marshall the energy and fortitude to lead REAL transformation and offset the tendencies that promote this insidious culture of optionalism.

tony robbins.png

So, what are some of the symptoms and signs of this “optionalism” cultural virus?  Do you recognize any of these organizational behaviors:

  • Few people willing to step up to make decisions, own outcomes or initiate action without prodding
  • Decisions and agreements that are made in meetings rarely get implemented on time … without any corresponding consequence
  • Senior leaders tend not to communicate information actively down through their teams … resulting in many down the line folks operating blind … unaware of strategy or group priorities
  • Rogue managers who do not own or share the core values are allowed to continue … sometimes even recognized or rewarded
  • Functional agendas and priorities “trump" the group or enterprise priorities … without consequences or accountability
  • Team members are regularly confused and uncertain … is it that people come first, or is it customers come first or is it profit at all cost … what is it this week?

Focused, Fast & Flexible - these three simple words amplify loudly as the counterweights to a culture of optionalism.  Easy to say … hard to create and sustain!  Focus is the anchor for agility when it embodies the Why, How & What for your Agility journey.  The greater the clarity of these values, operating principles and success metrics - the less room there is for optionalism to exist.  Focus directs and informs where we must build organizational speed and flexibility - especially when allowed (or expected) to percolate at all levels within the organization.  Yes, we are what we tolerate and yet we can also be what you aspire to be … if you are willing to do what it takes and have the courage to be accountable to your vision and values.  There has been lots of comparable discussion in the national news this past week or two … I am hopeful we can all work harder on this in all aspects of our lives.  Our future and the future of our kids depend on it!

I would love to hear your experiences and perspectives.

The Speed of Chaos


Is it just me or do you also feel the strings of life getting wound tighter and tighter all around us?  Lots of tension winding things up from so many different directions confounded by the g-force speed of news and social media … especially in the form of tweets.  This maelstrom is creating a new phenomenon we might call … the speed of chaos.  We speak regularly in this space about the VUCA world – that volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous reality we all face.  The “viscosity of VUCA” is feeling very thick this week as each of these pistons of chaos are raging whether we talk about North Korea, Venezuela,  Washington, Charlottesville or wondering if the next unfortunate community to face unwelcome chaos will be close to your home.  Ugh.

Finding solutions to the underlying factors creating the level 5 VUCA we see in the world around us is well above my pay grade.  I do think, however, that we should all recognize the spillover of this unsettling and growing tension into the workplace.  Our world is often perplexing and we cannot avoid bringing our humanity into the workplace as we try and figure things out.  As leaders of organizations, it will be helpful to anticipate these possibilities, imagine potential scenarios and consider the implications in advance.

I am often reminded of the incredible insight that author and futurist, Alvin Toffler, had over forty years ago when he wrote visionary book … “FUTURE SHOCK”.  Toffler could clearly see some of the important implications but also the challenges that lie ahead in coping with the “shattering stress and disorientation” in this chaotic future.  He goes on to say …

“To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots - religion, nation, community, family, or profession - are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust. It is no longer resources that limit decisions, it is the decision that makes the resources.” 

As the Speed of Chaos accelerates, how can you and your teams become more adaptable and capable than ever before?   That is the challenge you face everyday.  Our quest to becoming more adaptable as individuals and organizations starts with examining and affirming our core belief systems about important things.  In your organizations, what are the values and operating principles that define you and how can you use them to anchor yourselves and your teams as the “accelerative thrust” increases?

This week also reminded me of an article I wrote a few years ago … What If the USA Were AGILE?  In that article, we examined some of the agility implications from the “most important” CEO role in America and also included a Leaders’s Checklist for Driving Organizational Agility that can serve as your mini-playbook for navigating chaos. It has a number of helpful questions for you and your team to explore to help you become more adaptable and capable than ever before to face the FUTURE SHOCK that will no doubt lie ahead.  The only real certainty that we have is the knowledge that the future will get faster, more turbulent and VUCA than ever.  Ready or not … here it comes!

I am interested in getting your comments and your favorite Alvin Toffler quotes also.


About Tom O'Shea

Tom O'Shea, CMC
Principal, Agility Consulting
Organizational Agility Practice Leader

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.

As Principal at Agility Consulting and Training, Tom brings a unique blend of strategic, operational and organizational expertise and support that is rare and valuable. With perceptive insight, proven strategies and impactful coaching skills, he helps clients at the enterprise, team and individual leader levels exceed even their own expectations. Learn more about Tom here.

Click here to read the rest of Tom's blogs

Human Resource Management and The Great Unlearning

Exciting changes in the world of human resources (HR) abound. As noted by Stephen Barley (University of California Santa Barbara), Beth Bechky, and Frances Milliken (both of New York University) in their recent article in Academy of Management Discoveries, 

“Few people would deny that the nature of work and employment has changed over the last four decades, not only in the United States but in many countries worldwide. Moreover, the nature of work is likely to continue to change as we move further into the 21st century.”

Such changes make HR work continually dynamic, with evolving practices with regard to new technologies, the increasing prevalence of contingent workers, and more. Barley and his coauthors also mention the rise of artificial intelligence and the rise of project-based work as fundamental shifts that will influence careers and even how people think about themselves in relation to their organizations and society. 

These changes alone are enough to keep HR leaders and other executives up at night. 

Yet I wonder if there are additional, perhaps even more fundamental shifts underway that will forever alter how people behave and interact at work. 

Those changes have to do with a recognition of the ingenious beauty of human organizing, the remarkable capacity that we all have to iterate toward something better, and the foolishness—and downright arrogance—that can accompany our best managerial attempts to control. 

Teams and organizations are increasingly finding benefits in valuing: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working [solutions] over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

If those values look familiar, you’ve likely seen them in the Agile Manifesto, which includes these values and a set of principles for software development. 

But here’s the thing—these values and principles have been around for decades prior to their articulation in the Agile Manifesto. That’s because they’re based in how people actually work, not in how various management systems of the 20th Century forced them to obey.

As noted in The Wharton School’s Aug. 1 article, Has Agile Management’s Moment Arrived?

“The agile approach is one that uses teams to work through a process designed to respond to unpredictability; that allows for and encourages changes in direction; that gives teams great authority and transparency; and that builds in customer or user response to the end product or service while it is still being developed.”

Because agile management thrives in a state of uncertainty, it is highly likely to continue to spread into other sectors and functions, far beyond that of software development. 

Case in point: General Electric, which has been implementing similar principles for the past few years with regard to its manufacturing—within a program called “FastWorks.”

And given that agile methods, including those advocated by Scrum, are continuing to increase in popularity, I see a tremendous opportunity—and threat—ahead for the world of HR.

Namely, in successful organizations, HR will be a central component of what I’m starting to think of as “The Great Unlearning.”

The Great Unlearning is what’s required of organizations that are fundamentally committed to a different way of working, a way that’s characterized by how humans actually interact best. 

Going back to Barley and his coauthors’ recent work, in addition to discussing fundamental shifts in the world of work, they also astutely highlight how most of management knowledge and practice comes from research and assumptions developed decades ago. They write: 

“… it is surprising how little organization and management studies have had to say about the phenomenon. Our field’s lack of attention to the ways in which work is changing is problematic because organization studies and organizational behavior grew out of industrial sociology and industrial and organizational psychology in the 1960s and 1970s.”

For HR leaders, The Great Unlearning means that they will have to undo much of what we have taken for granted as management dogma. For example, if an organization does much of its work based upon project-based teamwork, what might that mean in terms of:

  • The employer relationship—will there be much of a need for permanent employees in the future?
  • Compensation—what is the value of hourly wages if results are truly project-based?
  • Recruiting and selection—how do you find people who can perform in an interdependent, team-based environment?
  • Development—how do you help the millions of workers who are deeply accustomed to traditional ways of working adapt to new structures and ways of working? How do you help an organization nurture a culture in which new values matter more than those of the past?
  • And much more. 

The Great Unlearning for HR also includes HR as a profession taking a hard look at itself in the mirror. Although people have been preaching—rightly, in my opinion—about how HR needs to transform for the past two decades (Dave Ulrich’s 1998 Harvard Business Review article comes to mind), has it really happened?

In most organizations that I know, HR is still the compliance department, the place where you go to find out about your benefits, the people who give you stuff to sign. In today's business environment, HR must unlearn its own ways of working. HR must also help organizations unlearn the behaviors that have been taken-for-granted by employees since the Industrial Revolution. 

In short, it seems that The Great Unlearning for HR includes both a threat and an opportunity for HR leaders. 

It’s threatening for HR leaders who prefer to maintain the status quo. 

It’s an opportunity for HR leaders who are willing to take the risks necessary to make their organizations primed for the future. 

Is Your VUCA External or Internal?

Whew!  The past seven months has been a pretty chaotic time in Washington and across the globe with almost more dramatic episodes of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) than we can count.  I am pretty sure that the Hollywood screenplay writers and reality TV show producers have more material than they can use for several seasons.  If the potential consequences and implications of this global VUCA vortex were not so daunting with somewhat impetuous leaders in North Korea, Russia and beyond – one might imagine a surreal, Sci-Fi-tinged spy thriller coming to theaters in early 2018.  Let’s hope it does not continue to play out with that kind of drama.

VUCA is that term coined at the US Army War College in the late 1990’s  and is precisely descriptive of the global operating context.  The reality is that there are “layers” of VUCA operating all the time. For example, the Global VUCA layer has its dynamics, consequences, influences and implications – so does your Regional and Local VUCA spheres.  This is intrinsically part of the VUCA vortex and adds to the total complexity factor that leaders and organizations must encounter and navigate.

There is another very impactful dimension to the VUCA equation – your “INTERNAL” VUCA! As we work with clients around the world, we often see significant amounts of VUCA created INSIDE the organization that compounds and exasperates the EXTERNAL VUCA factors – creating a HYPER-VUCA condition … CHAOS indeed.  Sometimes these internal VUCA factors are deep-seeded in the organization’s culture and can range from hard-riveted silos, steadfast holding onto “the way we have always done it” stubbornness, inadequate and often inaccurate information platforms or aberrant leadership behavior demeaning organizational spirit and values.

There are many sources of internal VUCA that often show up in THE VUCA REPORT™ pulse surveythat we have been tracking for two years as well our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™.  These are called out as people, process or technology obstacles that inhibit better and faster nimbleness and adaptability … aka your agility.  Some of these obstacles are chronic and have been around a long time.  Others are newly sprouted as the speed of business accelerates and can cause spontaneous chaos for those who do not anticipate change well.  We invite you to take THE VUCA REPORT™ survey yourself and share your experiences and perspectives along with the almost 1,000 others who have so far.

We are operating in a world filled with consequences and high performance expectations.  The impact of time compression where daily expectations are for faster results and decisions combined with the reality that “the way we used to do it” is becoming obsolete at warp speed – conspire to freeze and paralyze those who are FRAGILE and sets the table for those who are AGILE.  Darwin actually said its about “survival of the most adaptable”.  You will find many tools and insights throughout our website to help you move from the fragile zone to the agile zone.

There are numerous examples of organizations becoming stymied by their own Internal VUCA.  UBER is a recent example of a darling company with seemingly magic touch … then spiraled into whirlpool of internal VUCA around leadership behavior.  Certainly the high profile scandals at ENRON, WorldCom and Lehmann Brothers represented out of control internal VUCA.  Unfortunately, there has been significant amounts of Internal VUCA impacting the effectiveness and agenda at the White House and Congress.  Hopefully, the appointment of General Kelly this week will bring an experienced leader very familiar with all forms of VUCA along with the leadership acumen and discipline to minimize internal VUCA and help build better and faster capabilities to get important things accomplished.  As in any organizations, internal VUCA distracts and undermines organizational performance.

As many of you begin your 2018 business planning cycles, it is an excellent time to examine and evaluate your forces of change and the VUCA impacting your success.  What are those External VUCA factors that you must face and overcome?  What are those INTERNAL VUCA factors that may be undermining and sapping your energy, resources and focus?  Take a look at our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™ and work with your leadership team on these questions.  I will be interested in how the conversation flow progresses.  Always remember, as my partner Mike Richardson says … the right conversation flow leads to cash flow!

Love to get your feedback and perspectives on your sources of INTERNAL VUCA and what you are doing.

The 5 Steps for Agility Fitness in the Gig Economy

The 5 Steps for Agility Fitness in the Gig Economy


The volume, velocity and intensity of “noise” encountered in the Gig Economy requires the Human Resources function demonstrate agility in its policies, processes and practices to enable the organization to transform to be more Gig Economy capable. The secret to becoming more agile as an HR Team is to demonstrate that you can be focused, fast and flexible, even in the turbulent circumstances.   

The AGILE Model® offers the framework that will help you attain and sustain your HR agility fitness target as well as serve as an Agility Fitness Coach for others in the organization (Horney, Eckenrod, McKinney & Prescott, 2014).  But it takes work to achieve this agility, just like it takes work to achieve your personal physical fitness goal. 

Read More


Have you ever looked through a pair of night goggles when it is pitch black dark?

It really is quite amazing what you can see.  Things appear that are otherwise completely invisible to your unaided eyes.  These are invaluable tools for use by military forces as well as wild game hunters.  Night vision goggles work by using image enhancement technology that collects all the available light, including infrared light, and amplifies it so that you can easily see what’s going on in the dark.

Often these night vision goggles are used to help us identify or discover potentially disruptive creatures (sometimes human and sometimes not).  Recently, I participated in a very interesting meeting with some colleagues in another learning and consulting company. We discussed various ways of anticipating change and discovering the forces of disruptive change coming at us,  i.e. the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that surrounds us.  This idea of night goggles came to mind.

Sometimes I think it would be very helpful if there were a corporate variety of vision enhancing technology – ways for helping leaders to “see” what is happening in and around their organizations that often stays invisible.  There are many amazing technology solutions for many things – I have my doubts whether we can simplify this equation enough to reduce it to an app or new device.  In the absence of such off-the-shelf solutions, business leaders will need to rely on training their perspectives and building awareness of the kind of questions and resources that can to help them recognize where their disruptive change is coming from next.

That is the essence of THE VUCA REPORT – a global collaborative pulse survey we launched two years ago in an effort to help us all better identify, recognize and understand the disruptive forces of change coming at us faster and faster each day. Just like with night vision goggles, as you begin to explore the right questions you can begin to see things you may not have seen before.  In THE VUCA REPORT,  we have been tracking 35 disruptive factors categorized in the areas of  technological advances, economic dynamics, environmental & social issues, geopolitical dynamics, regulatory & cyber security issues and a collection of issues grouped as workforce dynamics.

What is additionally interesting are the open-ended questions we ask …

  • What practices are you doing NOW that are helping you counter the effects of VUCA? 
  • What practices have you seen others do or that you plan to do in the FUTURE?
  • What do you see as the OBSTACLES standing in the way of making improvements in your agility?

Lastly, THE VUCA REPORT has been collecting data about the extent to which leaders believe they have the essential agility capabilities in their organizations to counter the effects of the VUCA context and navigate the future with success.  Those capabilities map out on THE AGILE MODEL® as outlined below:

As we all face the VUCA that lies ahead, it will become increasingly essential that we become better equipped with organizational night goggles or at least a better lens and skills to face this otherwise daunting future.  The capability areas outlined above give us a good roadmap for discussion and self-examination.

  • How are you doing in the area of Anticipating Change … do you keep getting surprised by your customers and competitors and sometimes even your employees?
  • How well are you Generating Confidence internally with your teams and externally with your investors, customers and suppliers?
  • How effective are you at Initiating Action on the right things – making decisions better and faster at all levels in your organization?
  • How pervasive is the drive for fresh, innovative thinking (FIT) across your organization?
  • How well does your whole team know and understand how to Evaluate Results and what real success means for all?

As leaders begin to regularly examine and prosecute these kind of questions (and more), they begin to SEE things in their organizations that they did NOT see before.  They begin to see the obstacles AND the enablers for becoming better and faster at those things that really matter.  In the south, there is an old saying “when the water level is low – the stumps will show”.  Don’t wait until your water level is too low from not adapting as needed to stay competitive and agile.  Use these AGILITY GOGGLES to see into your people, processes and technology domains and discover the opportunities for becoming more FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE … aka AGILE.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and perspectives about the lens and questions you think will help illuminate the next practices for countering the effects of VUCA in your world and helping you create the agility advantage.

The Importance of Being Agile (Board Agility/Agile Boards)

This quarter’s NYSE Corporate Board Member Magazine has a cover article entitled, “The Importance of Being AGILE” (read here).

The headlines are:

  • “The current wave of uncertainty, combined with the breakneck speed of technological change, means public company boards must be nimble and able to retool strategy more quickly than ever before.”  My Translation:  Indeed, we live in an accelerating world of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity).
  • “More than ever, strategic agility is emerging as a crucial skill for boards to master”.  My Translation:  Indeed, Agility separates the victors from the victims, the best from the rest, the first from the worst, disruptors from disruptees.
  • “Every single company and board must be running alternative scenarios that could be relevant to their businesses.  It’s what-if, what-if, what-if”.  My Translation:  yes, indeed, to learning from foresight not hindsight, which can be hideously expensive.
  • “Agility is the name of the game today as a board, you’ve got to be on your toes all the time, ready to zig or zag at a moments notice”.  My Translation:  Agility is the only competitive advantage which has any permanence these days.  Everything else is increasingly temporary, increasingly quickly.
  • “At its worst, responding too sluggishly (or too aggressively) to an external threat can expose the company to bankruptcy or a takeover”.  My Translation:  Indeed, Agility comes from the and-proposition of not under-reacting and not over-reacting all at the same time, and being in the flow of that, which is hard to facilitate, so it raises the bar on Board Chairs and CEOs.
  • “If you don’t have a diverse set of people around the table [specialists and generalists], it’s tougher to anticipate risks because you don’t have the imagination”.  My Translation:  Yes, a diverse combination of specialists and generalists, well facilitated like a peer-group.  That’s why I love my work as a Chair of Vistage peer groups and specializing in helping organizations and boards import the power of peer groups into their process.
  • “We’re living in a world of constant disruption, where technology has exceeded our ability to adapt”.  My Translation: VUCA – AGILE = FRAGILE.  If VUCA exceeds your Agility the result is Fragility, which will show up probably bigger, faster and sooner than you think!
  • “Create a disruption committee to help anticipate future challenges.  You need to have a mentality of “who or what can disrupt my business?” whether it’s competitors, the political environment, or something else, and be able to respond.  The biggest challenge today is staying informed on what’s going on.  Things can change so quickly, if you blink, everything is different”.  My Translation:  Yes, its essential to have a rigorous VUCA Radar Scanning process.
  • “Strategy, once forged at annual retreats, has become a year-round endeavor.  Scenario planning has emerged as a crucial strategy-setting tool.  Having those things on your radar screen and factored into your strategic plan helps ensure that you take into account things that otherwise might come out of nowhere”.  My Translation:  Indeed, traditional “Strategic Planning” doesn’t cut it any more – we must have an Agile Strategy Process, as an ongoing dynamic process of strategy which is on all the time.
  • “In the end, maintaining that kind of flexibility and openness to shifts in the external environment, all while resisting the urge to over-react, is what board agility is all about, whether the challenge comes from a disruptive technology, the political world, mother nature, or someplace else.  A board that stays agile and responsive can help a company survive and thrive in an unpredictable world filled with external threats and challenges”.  My Translation:  Indeed, the Board plays a crucial role.  Read more:  Agile Boards.
  • “There’s no real best-practices sheet or how-to manual for staying nimble, at least not yet”.  My Translation:  Actually, that’s part of our work in Agility Consulting & Training, helping the Board, Chair, CEO & Management Team install an Agility Operating System and playbook to deliver on all of the above.

Coincidentally, notice their use of kick-boxing graphics in the article, as an analogy for agility – last month in my Vistage Groups I Chair my speaker was a former kick-boxing world champion, Bob “Thunder” Thurman (read more).

Originally posted at http://www.agilitycode.com/agile-best-practices/the-importance-of-being-agile-agile-boards/

What’s Your Unfair Advantage?

In one of the early episodes of the StartUp Podcast—which features Alex Blumberg, formerly of This American Life and NPR’s Planet Money—he meets Chris Sacca, a renowned former venture capitalist and entrepreneur. 

Blumberg painfully bumbles through an attempt at pitching his business idea to Sacca. Believe me, it was bad. I found myself embarrassed for Blumberg just listening to it in my car. Then, Sacca follows by showing Blumberg how he should have pitched it. 

And within Sacca’s formula for pitching a startup, he reveals what I’ve come to think of as a highly useful concept for not just startups, but for leaders, teams and organizations of any size. 

That useful concept? 

It’s the idea of the “unfair advantage.”

For Sacca and startups, the unfair advantage has to do with the specific reasons why the person or team will win at whatever it’s trying to do. This could be prior success and personal connections, it could be patents or other coveted intellectual property, it could be some other magical combination of timing and resources. 

Thinking about your unfair advantage as a startup company is useful because it forces you to think about and clearly identify your strengths and how they fit into the strategic environment or market into which you’re trying to enter. Knowing that, you can capitalize upon your strengths as you wade through the extreme ambiguity and uncertainty of starting a new venture. From Sacca’s perspective as someone who would fund startups, clearly articulating one’s unfair advantage is helpful because it generates confidence in those around you. It’s a powerful sales tactic. 

But the idea of the unfair advantage is highly valuable beyond the world of startups and pitching ideas to potential investors. 

Knowing and using your unfair advantage, in fact, has a lot to do with one of the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. Specifically, number 10 in that list of 11 principles is “Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities.”

That’s one way of saying it. Another way is “Know your unfair advantage and use it.” 

Nearly every person, every team and every organization has at least one area of excellence. It could be a special skill, a way of operating, an area of knowledge—the point is that this “unfair advantage” comprises that entity’s unique capabilities. It’s the genius that makes you or your group special. 

If you know and use your unfair advantage—or “employ your command in accordance with its capabilities—you’ll be laser-focused on those activities that you or your team does well. You’ll seek opportunities that align with those strengths, using them add unique value. 

So for leaders, this idea has a few implications. 

First, it’s important to know what you do well as a leader. Knowing your weaknesses is important, but at some point in our lives, we’ve also got to know and focus upon our strengths. Capitalize upon them. Find opportunities to let your strengths shine. 

Second, it’s important to know your team—what can your department do that’s different from the rest of the organization? How specifically do you create or add value? Knowing this can help you when you’re working with other leaders inside your organization to assign roles and responsibilities. 

Third, at the strategic level, all organizations should continually refine their sense of how they’re unique. What can your organization do better than any other organization in the region? In the world? Take those unfair advantages and run with them. Bake them into your strategy and infuse them into what your organization actually does on a daily basis. 

If you do, you’ll be employing “your command in accordance with its capabilities,” setting it and those whom you serve up for success. 

This post is one in a series that I’m doing on all 11 of the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. Here are all 11 of those principles:

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement (read more)
  2. Be technically and tactically proficient (read more)
  3. Know your people and look out for their welfare (read more)
  4. Keep your people informed (read more
  5. Set the example (read more
  6. Make sure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished (read more)
  7. Train your unit as a team (read more
  8. Make sound and timely decisions (read more
  9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your people (read more)
  10. Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities
  11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

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Develop a Sense of Responsibility Among Your People

It was a new organization, a new unit in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and someone—in his infinite wisdom—put me in charge of it. One of my first tasks was to make some sort of sense of how to organize the 55 members of the loosely defined group into an arrangement that would divide the work in a relatively sensible way and allow for an efficient and effective flow of communication. 

I had some specific ideas. In fact, I had a clear picture of what I thought would work. 

Yet I paused when deciding how to proceed. And instead of announcing my plan and telling everyone to get in line, I chose a different path. 

I gathered the six people next-highest ranking people and gave them an overview of where we needed to head. I told them that we needed a workable structure and what I hoped that could do for us. But I didn’t tell them the details of my plan. Rather, I told them that I’d give them 30 minutes to discuss among themselves, and that I’d check in on them toward the end. 

They sat down around a table positioned outside my office. Leaving them, I went into my office and closed the door most of the way, leaving a small crack so I hear just enough of what they were doing to know that they were making progress. 

After a few moments of slightly stunned silence (this was apparently an unusual approach for all of them, particularly in this rank-driven, military context), they started to talk to each other. They went through a few different ideas, and then began to converge on a working model. 

When the 30 minutes were up, I went out to see how they were doing. One of them proceeded to outline a plan that was, in large part, the same as what I had already thought up on my own. But it wasn’t “my” plan anymore. 

It was their plan. They developed it; they owned it. They now felt an obligation to carry it out—a sense of duty that I’m sure far surpassed what they would have felt if I had simply given them an order. 

It cost about 30 minutes, but it resulted in a sense of duty among them that allowed me to take a step back and watch them put it into action. 

It took no convincing, no cajoling, no pleading, no threatening. It was, after all, their plan, and they wanted to see it succeed. 

In short, they now had a little bit greater sense of responsibility than they had 31 minutes before. 

“Developing a sense of responsibility among your people” is number nine of in the U.S. Navy’s list of 11 Leadership Principles, and one way to do that is through empowering other people to create and implement solutions—like I did in the example above. A sense of responsibility has to do with a feeling of obligation or duty to getting the job done and for the collective success of the team. When people on a team have a sense of responsibility, they require much less oversight from supervisors, they get the job done the first time, they proactively anticipate issues and they work faster. 

Here are a few other ways to develop a sense of responsibility:

  • Explicitly—and frequently—discuss the “big picture” of what you’re trying to achieve as a team and give examples of how people’s contributions fit into that. 
  • Clearly define your expectations, and while doing so, discuss what categories of actions are well-suited for proactive behavior. For example, if your team is supposed to serve a particular customer, define where the team has latitude in making that customer happy. Can they throw in extra products or services to reward customer loyalty? Can they spend extra time getting to know that customer’s needs? 
  • Properly incent behavior that demonstrates a sense of responsibility or ownership. These might be financial rewards, but nonfinancial ones—and even accurate, timely verbal recognition—are often rather powerful too. 
  • Do nice things for your team, tell them you care about their well-being and value their contributions. When people do nice stuff for us, we’re generally programmed as humans to feel obligated to reciprocate by doing something nice in return. In the workplace, this reciprocation often takes the form of higher performance and commitment to the group. 

Although it requires the leader or manager to relinquish some control, developing a sense of responsibility, in the long run, can make for a much more productive and efficient team. 

This post is one in a series that I’m doing on all 11 of the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. Here are all 11 of those principles:

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement (read more)
  2. Be technically and tactically proficient (read more)
  3. Know your people and look out for their welfare (read more)
  4. Keep your people informed (read more
  5. Set the example (read more
  6. Make sure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished (read more)
  7. Train your unit as a team (read more
  8. Make sound and timely decisions (read more
  9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your people
  10. Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities
  11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

Find this thought provoking? Leave a comment, like and share!