Is Micromanagement Really That Bad? Making Sure the Task is Understood, Supervised and Accomplished

 One of the courses I’ve taught to both graduate and undergraduate business students is “Managerial Skill Development.” And among other high-energy theatrics that I employ during our class meetings, I typically ask students to think about the best managers they’ve ever had and the worst managers they’ve ever had.

I then ask them to share some of the characteristics of these “best” and “worst” managers. The answers have become highly predictable. You probably wouldn’t find many of them to be surprising.

Their “best” managers tend to (among other behaviors):

• Be supportive

• Show an interest in their development

• Know what they’re talking about

• Have good organizational skills

• Communicate clearly and frequently


Their “worst” managers tend to (among other behaviors):

• Be selfish

• Lash out in anger

• Have a low level of competence in their field

• Be disorganized and scattered

• Confuse people through inadequate or inaccurate communication

Additionally, there’s one phrase that people always mention when talking about their “worst” managers.

“They micromange.”

“They’re micromanagers.”

I get it—no one loves having the boss poking around in every detail of a project. It can be rather annoying, feel like a waste of time and leave you with the impression that he or she doesn’t trust you.

But I wonder if all micromanagement is really that bad? 

In other words, might there be good micromanagement and bad micromanagement? By labeling all micromanagement as bad and demonizing the entire concept, I wonder if we run the risk of being too far removed from the work, advocating a managerial style that could allow people and projects to go much too far in the wrong direction without necessary course corrections.

My amazing colleague Mike Richardson makes this distinction between good and bad micromanagement. So does the U.S. Navy, in a way, in one of its Leadership Principles.

That principle—number six of 11 in the list—is “Make sure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished.”

Another way we talk about this principle in the Navy is through the concept of “intrusive leadership.”

In some ways, both “micromanagement” and “intrusive leadership” sound horrible. Yet think again about some of the great managers and leaders you’ve had in your career. Chances are that they were also the people who asked you tough questions. They pushed you to new levels of performance and attention to detail. They didn’t necessarily take it at face value when you said that you knew what were doing or when you reported the status of a project.

Instead, they probed. They ensured that you were both on the same page regarding the nature of what needed to be happen, where you were in the process of finishing it and that you both had the same definition of “done.”

Great managers and leaders aren’t always there just to make us feel comfortable. Many times, they’re there to help us come to know what we never considered. They’re there to guide us even when we don’t realize we needed guidance. In the words of President Ronald Reagan, they “Trust, but verify.”

Considering two factors can help when deciding how much we trust versus how much we verify. Those two factors are (a) the nature of the task and (b) the level of experience of the people performing the task.

If the task is routine and the people are highly experienced, managers can be much more “hands off.” If the task is unusual and the people are inexperienced, however, managers might need to be much more involved. When there’s a mix (e.g., a routine task and inexperienced people or an unusual task and experienced people), managers will likely need to exhibit a balance of “trusting” and “verifying” during the life of the project or task.

Of course, “bad” micromanagement does exist. My thought is simply that there’s value in not going too far in the other direction, toward a style of management in which a lack of communication and oversight leads to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Namely, it’s a good policy to “make sure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished.”

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

7 Train your unit as a team

8 Make sound and timely decisions

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!




Or since today is STAR WARS DAY … May the Fourth be with you. Anyone living and alert in the past couple of decades will undoubtably recognize the exhortation …may the “force” be with you!  The STAR WARS phenomenon has dominated the big screen as well as the follow-on merchandising bonanza for many, many years.  John Lucas and Steven Spielberg have been the “masters of the universe” in creating powerful images, animation and memorable characters for years on end!

The notion of SUPER HEROES is captivating, especially so for our young people who have grown up (and even those still in process) with full color, 3D animated and virtual reality … like my two grandsons who are obsessed with the super hero identity. Just like your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews – my two MUST dress up as super heroes every single day – even as they swap out the actual character.  My 3 year old grandson was even recently captured in full super hero costume whispering to his 3 month old baby sister … “Don’t worry, I will protect you”!

This past week, I was able to spend a full week opening up a new, extraordinary client with one of my super-hero partners, Mike Richardson – based in the greater San Diego wine country (nice).  Our client is a major player in the interactive entertainment industry and routinely designs, programs and packages incredible super-hero epic experiences!  We worked with some of their emerging leaders  doing two day Team Agility workshops in their southern and northern California operating centers.

We helped introduce them to some of the concepts and “super powers” that truly AGILE organizations build to help them speed by their competition, create extraordinary “vision” across their enterprise worlds and even finding the strength and power to defeat the most formidable opponents.  In large, globally distributed organizations it can also sometimes feel like our interdependent teammates at other locations are almost like aliens on different planets with different cultures and speaking different languages (even when it is the same).

Over the more than fifteen years that we have been dedicated to understanding the idea of agility, we have discovered that the most extraordinary super powers that leaders, teams and organizations can build to capture real, sustainable competitive advantage (maybe even dominance) – can be framed as the capacity to become more FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE than all the rest of the “would be” super heroes.

The real “breakthrough” capabilities that matter most can be called the AGILITY FORCE™ … the power to Anticipate Change like you have SUPERMAN’S incredible vision, the ability to Generate Confidence for any battle like you are CAPTAIN AMERICA;  the speed for Initiating Action like you are THE FLASH; the capacity to Liberate Thinking like YODA; and of course the super-capacity to generate and Evaluate Results like LUKE SKYWALKER.  All of these superpowers are captured and framed in THE AGILE MODEL®.

If you want to find out the secrets to cracking the AGILITY CODE … you will have to contact us on the special frequency … the Agility Bat phone, Green Lantern beam … or just send us an email to set up a call?  What are the super powers you need to adapt and thrive in the VUCA world?   We have some insight on this topic … let’s talk.


Life is About Interactions

“Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: Life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.” – His Holiness Pope Francis

One benefit of my unusual career path is that I’ve had the chance to interact with and learn from numerous people across the worlds of business, academia and the military. 

I’ve listened to top executives describe their triumphs and their challenges, both personal and professional. 

I’ve worked alongside some brilliant researchers, who opened my eyes to new ways of seeing the phenomena of human behavior in organizations. 

I’ve followed and led military professionals whom I’ve trusted with my life because I knew they trusted me with theirs. 

I’ve been lucky. 

Another benefit of these diverse experiences has been the realization that time marches on without ceasing and material success is fleeting (and grossly unimportant in the grand scheme of things). What’s important is how you treat people and how you make their lives a little bit better. 

What’s important is to remember that in every interaction with our fellow humans we have the choice to breathe life and hope into that situation or not. 

Every interaction is a chance to do that. And those interactions themselves are often fleeting. We have a few chances here and there to encourage a coworker. Moments to recognize someone for a job well done come and go in a flash. Even the opportunities to help people or their organizations with our products or services are often momentary, hinging on a few key conversations to build trust and understanding.

But any insight or perspective I’ve gained pale in comparison to those shared recently by His Holiness Pope Francis in his TED talk, which focuses in large part upon the importance of our interactions. 

In his talk, he speaks to all people—regardless of their faith tradition. 

He highlights the value in recognizing our human interconnectedness: 

“None of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I,’ separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.”

He praises creativity combined with both courage and a respect for the past: 

“Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The ‘you’ is always a real presence, a person to take care of.”

He reminds us of the power of hope in the face of despair: 

“Through the darkness of today's conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle; a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.”

And he suggests that humility is central to avoiding the corrupting nature of power: 

“Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: ‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, powerthe highest, the strongest one—becomes a service, a force for good.”

Such insights have numerous implications for us in the workplace, particularly for those who hold positions of authority. We must never forget that leadership is fundamentally about our relationships—and our effectiveness is often a function of the quality of our interactions with those around us. 

Watch the full TED talk here


Customer Focused Agility

Easter is always a good time for reflection on the things that matter most.  Living in North Carolina makes Easter-time extra special with the full bloom and aroma of colorful azaleas, dogwoods, flower beds of irises and of course, fragrant Easter Lilies.  For many, Easter is also filled with special services and reminders of the kind of “operating principles” that help lead meaningful, purpose-driven lives.

One of those reminders comes in the form of a wristband that some wear with the initials … WWJD … “what would Jesus do”?  These wristbands became popular over the years in youth groups and retreats as a guide to help young people facing tough choices of teenage years. The symbolism in those wristbands is as a reminder for a set of core beliefs, mindset and values for shaping a way of life.

Something similar came to mind recently as I was working with a client on how to accelerate the value drivers in his business transformation from being just another "average player" in the industry to the hallowed ground of being the “most customer centric and responsive” player in the industry.  As I waited for him to return to his office, I noticed his white board filled with lists, graphs and mission critical decisions to be made.  For some reason, I pulled out a blank piece of paper and wrote these letters, WWC³D, and placed the paper as a banner atop the white board.

My client came in and sat down at the conference table in his office and noticed something different about his white board.  He looked over to me with a puzzled look as his rapid processor was working through possible solutions to the mystery.  He got the syntax right away but struggled with the C³  meaning … so I broke the code by saying … Customer Centric Company.

The header for the white board begged the question … WHAT WOULD A CUSTOMER CENTRIC COMPANY DO?  As any behavior modification scientist or psychologist would tell you - if you are trying to shape new behaviors, there must be constant awareness of the desired mode and a means of getting real-time feedback, bio-feedback if you will, to reinforce the desired behavior.  The implications for your transformation comes down to CHOICES.

•Are you aspiring to be the MOST customer-centric player in your industry or just an above average CC player?

•Are you planning to partition this behavior and reserve it ONLY for when you are meeting customers at trade shows, or do you mean it for everything your company does  as a regular operating system?

•How do you define customers?  Are they only the external bill paying variety, or do they include your employees, suppliers, investors and resource partners?

•Do these C³ behaviors only apply to the sales team or executive team, or do they apply for everyone?  Who should be wearing the wristband and making a PIVOT in their thinking and acting?

•How will you monitor and learn how your team is doing in this transformation?  Is there a rapid-resolution C³ Genius Bar or GEEK SQUAD to help figure out C³ solutions?

Customer Focused Agility is not an easy level to reach … but the ROA (return on agility) for getting there can be significant in the form of  higher Net Promoter scores from customers, higher win rates on new programs, higher levels of team engagement and retention … ultimately higher growth and mutual profitability rates according to MIT Sloan School business agility study.

As you begin to face your next round of tough strategic choices, what are the key questions that you should ask to help you look through the lens of a Customer Centric Company?  Maybe it will even be worth doing some scenario planning … looking at your normal way of looking at things vs. the Customer Centric Company way of looking at things and making decisions.    Evaluating the differences in outcomes should also make for interesting conversation.

I welcome your feedback and perspective … especially any success stories that can help shed some light on new ideas.

What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change

Models for planning and executing organizational change abound—for example, Kotter’s eight steps, among many others. These models are helpful in highlighting many of the critical aspects of organizational change, and I highly recommend immersing yourself in them. 

That being said, I find that such models often deal more with planned organizational change than with unplanned or continuous organizational change. 

And in an increasingly turbulent world, it’s important for human resources (HR) professionals and the HR function overall to take a more fluid, proactive and strategic approach toward change. The realities of the business environment continue to drive changes within organizations, and it’s time for HR to get up to speed. 

From what I’ve observed and experienced in HR during the past decade, the HR profession has an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to how organizations adapt. But we in HR may need to consider organizational change from a slightly different angle. We must start with connecting with the organization’s strategy, and we can then use that direction to guide what we do. Furthermore, we’d be well served to think about what we do a little bit differently, adopting some of what’s working well elsewhere, to get things done quickly. 

Specifically, those of us in HR would benefit from the following regarding our approach to organizational change:

1. Know your terrain. 

It’s critical for HR professionals to understand their environment, or their terrain, both within and outside of their organization. While it’s important to know what people in HR care about, it’s even more important for HR people to know what their top leaders outside of HR care about—what are the main concerns of the c-suite? We in HR also must start thinking much more than we do currently about the environment outside of the organization—where does your organization compete? How does it win? What are the big trends in your industry, and how can HR address them? These questions and others like them allow HR professionals to better understand what’s ahead and anticipate change. 

2. Think like a startup. 

The ambiguity of working in a startup is extreme. Everyone has advice; most of it seems plausible, yet some of it is contradictory. Yet you must forge ahead and create that which has never existed. Given the nature of startups, it’s worth thinking about how they deal with ambiguity and change to see what lessons we may glean for HR. I advocate for a more strategic, proactive, entrepreneurial and agile HR function that will quickly add value to the business. In addition, startups can deal with change in a more iterative fashion, taking some of the lessons we know from design thinking to develop fast prototypes, test them and continually improve—instead of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. 

3. Embrace agility. 

As organizations attempt to cope with a turbulent business environment, they may need to move from continually seeking equilibrium to being nimble. Agility, generally speaking, is the capability to sense and respond quickly to the forces of change at all levels within the organization. HR would be well served to assess its own agility, along with the agile capabilities of the organization overall. But agility isn’t about reckless flexibility. Rather, we all need some “North Star” to cling onto as our organizations adapt and evolve. As such, HR can help provide stability through working with top management to clarify and communicate continually its core values. Additionally, “agile HR” involves moving from some of our tried and true dogma (e.g., job descriptions) to practices that reflect how people actually work (e.g., project and team charters). 

I see the next 10 years as ones in which HR will likely go through a number of dramatic shifts—because if it doesn’t, it may become a victim of accelerated obsolescence. And when it comes to remaining relevant through a different understanding of change, having an increased focus on (a) knowing the terrain, (b) thinking like a startup and (c) embracing agility will serve the HR function and those who work within it well. 

I’ll be discussing these topics in much more detail next Tuesday, April 18, from 3 to 4 p.m. EDT in a webcast with the Human Capital Institute. Click here for more details.

I’d love to have you join the conversation. 

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


HELP … our worlds are dominated with new technology and devices that are trying to control our lives!  Well, at least that is how I feel sometimes … just ask my daughter Meaghan who helps me with most of my technology related questions and issues. I hope you each have a Meaghan to help you in your challenging technology worlds. 

Over the past year, mostly at Meaghan’s behest, I finally crossed over from the PC world into a fully MAC ecosystem.  I already had an iPad and an iPhone … so making the complete transformation to a “seamless” technology world made sense.  In doing so, I had to learn another language and discovered the need to set a whole new lexicon of default settings and “preferences”. 

As I worked my way through this learning process, largely by trial and error, I would regularly have to search for solutions and would periodically discover new gateways to answers to reduce the frustration associated with learning a new operating system.  It recently dawned on me that this is very much like what many people in organizations today … especially those entering new employment ecosystems.  Their changes are much more significant than simply moving from PC, Android or Mac operating systems but make no mistake – each organization has it’s own operating system.  Some are highly effective and efficient …. but some are like VISTA which had many flaws and kept breaking down at inopportune times. 

As we explore the nature of organizations and shape how they operate in today’s faster paced VUCA world, some are adapting and thriving but more are struggling to recognize the right issues to address.  Last week, Nick Horney, one of my partners and the founding principal at Agility Consulting, shared a good roadmap for how to make sense of your organizational climate and priorities in his article BUSINESS AGILITY DEEP DIVE

We all have been learning about how to find and set the default settings and preferences with all of our technology devices.  For example, what channel do you want your TV to be on when you first turn it on?  What font color, size and style do you want your emails to use?  What ringtone do you prefer and do you want to set different ringtones to differentiate your callers?  The list of possibilities is endless in our burgeoning “have it my way” consumer world. 

The question is … are we learning to discover and set the right “default settings and preferences” in our operating systems at work?  These factors relate to how our leaders and team members behave, how our business teams interact and how our organizations succeed … or not?  It would be nice if could have a table of default settings and preferences we could click the switch and set our preferences. 

Even more important is understanding the right modalities in the operating system.  Your TV modalities include picture, sound, connectivity, etc.  Some of the right modalities to consider in organizations include the workforce personality profile – much like what we describe in our Agility Personality Profile dimensions.  Are we selecting and developing our team members who are focused, proactive, confident, optimistic and inquisitive?  Are we building organizational capabilities to make agility a competitive advantage as guided by The Agile Model® to anticipate change, generate confidence, initiate action, liberate thinking and evaluate results … all better and faster than others. 

Question remains – what are your default settings and what are the important preferences to help you and your organization be successful.  Our assessments and tools provide you insightful frameworks to examine, diagnose and discover whether there are key inflection points in your leaders, teams and business units along with HOW to accentuate the modalities that matter.  Love to hear your feedback and invite you to participate in discussion – what has been your perspective and experience? 

Keep Your People Informed

By nature, we humans continually seek to reduce the uncertainty and ambiguity around us. We’re all different to some degree, of course, but we generally like to know what to expect each day, and we like to have clarity about what’s going on. 

As a result, we’re information seekers. 

We look for cues in what people say and how they act. We try to figure out what’s important and what’s not important in part through the words and actions of others. 

And when we don’t have much information to go on—for example, when our direct supervisors don’t communicate with us on a regular basis—we tend to fill in the gaps. 

We guess. 

We assume.

We interpret—and sometimes contribute to—rumors among our peers. We do our best to reduce our own uncertainty and ambiguity. Sometimes that works. 

Sometimes it doesn’t. 

That’s why keeping your people informed—number four of 11 in the list of the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles—is so critical to being a high-quality leader and manager. 

In my experience, both firsthand and in working with other leaders, managers and the report to them, it’s easy to fall into some variation of the three types below when it comes to keeping their direct reports informed. 

Three Common Approaches to Keeping Your People Informed

Type 1: The Quiet Majority

Many leaders and managers fall into this category, but they probably don’t realize it. But if you ask their people, they’ll likely be quick to say that they don’t hear enough from their supervisors or other leaders. The Quiet Majority comprises those leaders and managers who think that they’re communicating enough with their direct reports. They share a few updates when they deem it necessary; they provide comments and direction at staff meetings. By many accounts, they’re doing OK. The problem is that they simply aren’t communicating enough or through enough channels simultaneously to make their people (a) feel involved, (b) understand how they fit into what the team or organization is trying to achieve overall or (c) have enough of an idea about what could happen in the future to anticipate and plan accordingly. 

Type 2: The Firehose

Firehose leaders and managers are on the opposite end of the communication spectrum from the Quiet Majority. They, often under the best of intentions, provide an excessive amount of information to their people. This may come in the form of excessively numerous forwarded e-mails, long meetings or phone calls that come so frequently that they become a serious distraction and hassle. A frequent result is that people start ignoring information that’s provided because it appears to them that there is no clear prioritization of the communication they’re receiving. 

Type 3: The Data Bomber

Some other leaders and managers are what I like to call “Data Bombers.” These people may be part of the Quiet Majority for some periods, but then they sporadically subject their people to a deluge of information. Whereas the Firehoses maintain a continual stream of excessive information, the Data Bombers do so in a more punctuated fashion. A potential result of data bombing your people is that they’ll get confused about what pieces of information are truly important and which ones are not, as they’ll have limited ability to sort through the data bombs as they arrive. Other employees may set aside their current priorities to sort through the data bomb and make sense of it, potentially resulting in delays in making progress on their projects.

A Better Way

It’s tough, but keeping your people informed can be more effective if you consider a few of the following:

  1. Assess your communication. Many of the people in the Quiet Majority think that they’re communicating enough with their direct reports, but their direct reports think otherwise. You can find this out through a simple anonymous survey, supplemented perhaps by directly asking a sample of your people. Ask them if they’re receiving enough communication from you about the strategic direction of the team or organization, about potential changes that affect their work and about personnel-related matters. Also ask about their preferred channels of communication—e.g., your use of e-mail, meetings, memos, phone calls or others ways of passing along information. 
  2. To avoid becoming a Firehose, actively consolidate, summarize or interpret information prior to sending it to everyone. If you’re forwarding information to your people via e-mail, consider including a sentence at the beginning that states the people to whom the information most closely applies. Is it everyone, or just a few specialists? Also, keep in mind that when you treat everything as news, nothing is news. So it behooves you to be selective in what you choose to pass along to your people. 
  3. Whenever you encounter a new piece of information that affects what your team does or what some of your direct reports do, ask yourself the following questions: (1) What do I know?, (2) Who else needs to know?, (3) Have I told them? If you apply these rules consistently, you’ll avoid having a large backlog of information that will require you to deliver a data bomb. 

Clearly, keeping your people informed is an art that you’ll need to hone continually depending on the information you receive, the nature of your team and the preferences of your direct reports. There’s no magical solution, but by assessing your communication practices on a regular basis and actively working to help reduce uncertainty and ambiguity as appropriate through your communication, you’ll be on the right track. 

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
  5. Set the example
  6. Make sure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished
  7. Train your unit as a team
  8. Make sound and timely decisions
  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!

Ready to SHIFT Your VUCA to VUCA Prime?

Whew! 2017 has certainly taken the VUCA WORLD to some new levels over the past few months.  The stock markets have reached all time highs and yet the VUCA index may also be at an all time high as well.  It is easy to point to many examples of the growing volatility (e.g. North Korea), uncertainty (e.g. Russian activities), complexity (e.g. future of healthcare) and ambiguity (e.g. finding one version of the truth).

What also seems to exacerbate all the dynamics in this turbulent world is the growing polarization and hardening of perspectives on so many fronts … this tends to make open discussion, trust, collaboration and cooperation harder than ever before.  While these dynamics play out on the global stage … many of them are also confounding everyday organizational life as well since it is difficult to partition the tensions, fears and frustrations that exist in various segments of life.

A few years ago Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, developed an effective leadership framework as a “VUCA counterweight” he called VUCA PRIME. Kirk Lawrence, an Executive Education Program Director at the UNC-CH Kenan-Flagler School of Business, does a good job of outlining the VUCA/VUCA Prime leadership corollaries in a 2013 white paper entitled LEADING IN A VUCA WORLD.  Lawrence also extensively referenced a People & Strategy Journal article that ACT Partner Nick Horney and I wrote in 2010 with Bill Pasmore, Columbia University Professor and SVP at the Center for Creative Leadership …”Leadership Agility: A Business Imperative for a VUCA World”.  I think that you will find that this article provides that provides additional valuable insights.

Johansen’s VUCA PRIME (VP) calls for leaders to focus on building Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility as the pathway to coping and overcoming the daunting and somewhat paralyzing impacts of the VUCA WORLD.  I would go so far as even suggesting that VP represents the core of a real executive job description and key accountabilities.  Johansen says, Volatility can be countered with Vision as leaders provide and reinforce the way forward and navigate the turbulence to achieve success.  As any good skipper knows, you always strive to define your point of sail by compass setting or a fixed landmark to help guide helmsmen and crew …  no matter the conditions. Vision requires explicitness to answer the seminal three questions … Why are we here? How will we be successful? What are our success measures?

From Vision comes the opportunity to transform Uncertainty to Understanding bringing all team members into a shared mindset and understanding of how they can contribute to success along with the key operating principles that will promote active communication and widespread involvement practices.  As with any transformation that aims to shape new individual and team behaviors, continual and consistent two-way communication is essential.  It’s not just talking at folks - it must involve active listening to gain as well as give understanding.  Capturing the key elements of Vision to include core values, strategies and success measures into a broadly communicated and engaged Strategy Map that is alive, interactive and dynamic helps fuel continual understanding … it is not a once and done campaign.  It is a living, breathing and intrinsic way of leading and believing.

Complexity can be countered by Clarity that comes from building disciplines around the core basics, constantly reinforcing the real  priorities and avoiding the cul de sacs of non-value added activities.  Dedication to being truly customer-centric and staying connected to giving and getting internal and external customer feedback can eradicate unnecessary complexity. The VUCA world brings tremendous complexity everyday - so organizations must be mindful of not creating mountains of internal complexity and keep a shared commitment to simplicity.  Clarity can come from re-examining and rebooting your meeting regimens and ownership (why does it exist and who responsible for its quality?).  A major opportunity area to reduce complexity and increase clarity relates to your internal information and data integrity.  How many versions of the “truth” exist within your organization. I have one client that recently concluded they needed to call for “TRUTH SUMMIT” … a collaborative workday with cross-functional “senators” tasked to define “one version of the truth” so all functions can work off the same set of assumptions. Sure would be useful in Washington these days.

Finally, Ambiguity can be countered with Agility!  Changing the metronome of organizational cadence from a slow “schmaltzy” waltz to more of a riverdance-like jig (like at my recent St. Pat’s Party) will help invigorate the energy to search and destroy the swamps of ambiguity that we often tolerate by creating a faster iteration cycle to sense and respond throughout the organization.  Here is where THE AGILE MODEL® kicks into bring a real roadmap for building agility.  Organizations that systematically examine, measure (e.g. using our AGILITY ANALYTICS) and then strengthen leadership and organizational behaviors using our development guides, coaching and interactive workshops find themselves in a position to make their AGILITY a competitive advantage in this increasing fast-paced VUCA WORLD.  Agility with your leaders, teams and business units can be effectively measured and charted using visual heat-maps to clearly highlight and locate your gaps.

So, how are you doing in creating Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility in your organization? 

Take a look at some of the free self-assessments you can use for yourself and your teams in the Agility Analytics link above.  You will get an email copy of your results along with some links to some of our free articles based your responses. The one CERTAINTY we all can agree on is that our future world will continue to get faster, more turbulent, and much more VUCA!  The question is … what are you prepared to do about it for yourself and your team?  Love to hear your thoughts.

Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things

“Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process. Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”

- Atul Gawande, Better, p. 246

Health care in rural India would shock most of us in the United States. As Dr. Atul Gawande describes in Better—his fascinating book about improving performance in health care—many hospitals in rural India are overcrowded and under-resourced. The demands upon their services continuously outstrip their resources. 

They continuously must do more with not just less, but in some cases with nothing at all. They must improvise. They must make use of what is available and do their best. 

Despite their circumstances, these doctors and other healthcare providers innovate. They quickly move from case to case, sometimes sending patients themselves to purchase commonplace medical supplies. And they develop much broader areas of knowledge and skill than most doctors in the United States. For example, Gawande describes his astonishment at the ability of the surgeons in these crowded hospitals and clinics to perform chemotherapy, a task typically reserved solely for oncologists. 

Certainly, the overall quality of health care is better in the United States than in the places that Gawande describes. He readily acknowledges as much in the book, and he provides numerous examples from within the United States of what it takes to get better in the practice of medicine. His chapter on improving outcomes for cystic fibrosis patients is particularly gripping.

As someone typically on the outside of the healthcare industry looking in, I see three specific lessons from Gawande’s observations that apply to organizations and teams of all types, in all sectors, in all industries. 

First, getting better requires perspiration and an obsession about, not surprisingly, getting better. Getting better is sometimes less about big ideas than it is about doggedly executing the little ones. 

Getting better requires a relentless desire—the discipline, diligence, persistence—to perform basic tasks perfectly. It also requires a relentless desire to push the bar higher, to refuse to accept the status quo as good enough. This style of leadership might be what some characterize as “micromanaging” and “intrusive.” Yet it’s often the hard-working, hands-on leader who pushes performance to new levels. It’s the leader who knows that perspiration is often just as (if not sometimes more) important than inspiration. 

Second, getting better requires a focus on the basics. I often find that executives can become distracted by “shiny things”—be they technologies, fads or other attractive diversions. And yet, many times all they need to succeed are the basics. They don’t necessarily need the fancy new enterprise software they heard about at a trade show; they don’t necessarily need to pivot toward a new strategy. Instead, they may simply need to understand the basic resources their people need to do the job well or to execute their current strategy with gusto.

As Gawande describes when talking about his experiences in India: 

“More than one doctor told me that it was easier to get a new MRI machine than to maintain basic supplies and hygiene … Having a machine is not the cure; understanding the ordinary, mundane details that must go right for each particular problem is.” (p. 242)

I had a similar experience while serving as an adviser to the Afghan National Police in 2013. A human resources information system was being built for them—at a huge expense. Yet most of them couldn’t read. And those who could read would have likely preferred some really great filing cabinets, folders and paper office supplies over a complicated computer system. 

Third, getting better requires courage. People aren’t going to like it when you question their standards or performance. People aren’t going to be happy when you push them out of their comfort zone. People aren’t going to like it when you perform at a level that makes them look bad. 

So you’ve got to decide: Is it worth it? And if it is, go for it, with a renewed appreciation for diligence and perspiration, a focus on the basics and listening to your people, and the courage to forge ahead even when you think people might get upset or when you’re just plain scared. 

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


So what are some of the thoughts and images that come to mind when I say the word SYCHRONIZED?  For some, like my daughter Meaghan, I will bet it could be swimming … she was on the Synchronized Swimming team in college and to this day it remains her favorite Olympic sport.  For others, it might mean NASCAR and the latest incredible photo finish at the Daytona 500 made possible by the amazingly fast and furious pit crews replacing worn tires and slurping high octane fuel into gas tanks as the vehicle speeds back into the race.

For me, I think of the America’s Cup Sailing teams cranked to the high performance edge of disaster and awaiting the captain’s shout to “shift the jib” which will unleash a flurry of human activity that appears to be chaos in motion but actually finely tuned to release, shift, sheet-in and tie down a combination of genoa, spinnaker and possibly a main sail at precisely the “right” moment to pivot to the next tact on their way to hopefully win the competition.  Seconds matter and a minor flutter can result in a major flounder.

SYNCHRONICITY – is one of the six key Agility Operating Principles – along with speed, simplicity, scalability, connectivity and fluidity that will help build more aerodynamics in your business and help reduce some of the “drag” that keeps you from being better and faster.  In our lexicon, operating principles represent part of the algorithm in how you engineer agility into your business model or organization.  These are most closely aligned with The Agile Model® driver – INITIATE ACTION and especially the BIAS FOR ACTION capability.

Many organizations want to build greater sense of urgency or “bias for action” but do not take the more clinical step of examining … what is preventing us from operating with a collective urgency all the time?  Each of these operating principles exposes or informs some of those obstacles if you probe and ask the right questions … where does speed matter most?  What and where does our organizational dexterity or synchronicity either help us or hurt us the most?  Where do we have key cross-functional “hand-offs” or inter-dependencies … that either are winning us championships or causing us painful defeats?

Examples of great synchronicity involve when the product development team completes their market research, prototype development and sample production ON-TIME to then train, educate and equip the sales team to confidently go-to-market at the annual trade show where all the category buyers are present and make their big purchase decisions.  Could simply mean that the senior leadership finally completed their strategic planning session early enough to give the rest of the organization the right kind of guidance to inform their budgeting process.  Getting at least to this synchronization might actually help them ratchet next year to a higher level of FAST STRATEGY and a more fluid planning process.

MATRIX ORGANIZATIONS have been operating for more than twenty years now and they often are the battlefield of failed synchronicity.  Unclear roles and responsibilities; obscure decision-rights; weak ethic of cooperation and low collaboration team aptitudes in critical skill areas (e.g. real-time communication, influencing, conflict management, project management, problem-solving and decision-making); unclear integrated business calendar requirements or time-based expectations.  These are all some of the common and almost universal short-comings in most stale matrix organizations that have not been tuned up for the Agile World.

Our book, Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World – helps to further illuminate the dynamics, tools and approaches that can help any leader strengthen the key drivers, capabilities and operating principles that will help you adapt and thrive at the speed of business today … and get ready for tomorrow.

Love to get your feedback and learn about your stories involving WHY SYNCHRONICITY MATTERS!


SUPER BOWL LI will always be remembered as the super bowl of major turnaround and “transformation”.  I am not sure how many millions of folks concluded that the game “was over” at half-time with the score 21-3 in favor of the Falcons from Atlanta over the perennial winning New England Patriots from Boston.

So, all there was left to do was watch the acrobatic, energetic Lady GaGa at half-time and move on … especially when the Falcons scored first in the second half to make the score 28-3!  No team had EVER come back from more than a 10 point deficit in the history of the Super Bowl … so a 25 point deficit clearly signaled “game over”.

So, what happened during the halftime break to cause such a dramatic PIVOT with the Patriots? Clearly they came out a highly resilient, focused and determined group of men who began executing in a noticeably different way than the first two quarters.  No more dropped passes.  No more leaking offense line protection.  Resurgent running attack coupled with a re-energized defensive team that suddenly looked like they remembered what it takes to win championships. A worn out Atlanta defense helped also.

I am sure there were many factors involved – but clearly one word that applies is CONFIDENCE.  They reclaimed a sense of confidence that they knew how to be champions and what it takes to win.  Reports have it that some of the veterans stood tall and reminded the newer teammates that they had been in these games before and had the quarterback that knows how to win … if the rest of us do our job.  It was an extraordinary display of team confidence grounded with a foundation of excellence in execution … and I am actually not a Patriots fan but have to admire the discipline involved.

Generating Confidence, in my view, is the #1 priority for leaders and an on-going challenge.  In my travels and work with clients, I get to see lots of examples of leaders who do this very well … and more leaders who still have much work to do.  Our VUCA world and its speed of play are a constant battering ram trying to tear down confidence and weaken the resilience of leaders and their teams.

Just like a world class athlete, it is essential that leaders keep working actively to stay fit in the leadership muscles and skills that build authentic trust and confidence … speaking ground truth far and wide, creating transparency, enabling growth and empowerment of teams, fostering active decision-making at all levels, recognizing, developing and rewarding positive values-based behaviors and creating accountability for success throughout the organization.

Generating Confidence in our THE AGILE MODEL involves building real capabilities and  culture for connecting, aligning and engaging all associates, customers, supply partners, communities and stakeholders into an ecosystem to shape future success of the enterprise.  When you have this in place, then you have the potential to win championships in your own space … in the best way.  It’s all part of what we call … BEING YOUR AGILE BEST.

Love to hear your perspective and stories about how CONFIDENCE transformed the day in your world.



I bet many of you have some version of “simplifying your life” somewhere in your 2017 resolutions list … I know  I do.  Complexity continues to grow exponentially in all walks of life and has been a mega-trend for some time.  Combined with the rampant acceleration in the pace of everything, this complexity leads to a daunting sense of anxiety and occasional panic for many.  As we start this new year, it is a good time to stop, reflect and attempt to rebalance your scales.

At the start of every year,  I love looking back over the legendary singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie’s New Year Resolutions from back in 1943.   I shared them in one of my blogs a couple years ago … but think they are worth repeating.  I love how Woody gets down to the real basics in life … like “stay glad” or “learn people better” as he attempts to rebalance his scales.

As I travel about, I see many organizations who have gotten all wrapped up in their own complexity – often losing sight of the most basic tenets that helped them grow and be successful in the first place.  The start of any year is a good time for all of us to rebalance our scales and “reboot” our teams … much the same way and why you might reboot your computer.  Our computer devices get so bogged down with overloaded cache from downloads, cookies (not the edible type) we haven’t cleared out and temporary “short-cuts” in our operating systems causing them to act and respond very slow while using a great amount of resources.

The same thing happens in our organizations as, during the course of the year, we pile on information overload, launch a multitude of over cooked (and sometimes conflicting) initiatives and allow constant “by-passing” of standard operating procedures with “temporary short-cuts” designed to “fast track” things. Many of these practices leave totally dazed and confused organizations that act and respond very slow using a great amount of resources.  And as leaders, we often wonder how did that happen and  why?  

In our 2015 book, Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World, we outline seven operating principles for supporting and sustaining agility that include: simplicity, speed, synchronicity, fluidity, modularity, and scalability.  Simplicity is a good place to start as you look to REBOOTING yourself and your team to face the challenges of 2017.  You might consider getting your team re-grounded and energized by engaging them in discussion about … why are we here (our central purpose), how will we be successful this year (our core enablers) and what will be the outcomes we aim to achieve for our journey this year (vision for our success).

What obstacles or complexity (or drag) can we eliminate to make our success and team more aerodynamic?  You might use those seven operating principles as a framework for exploring your aerodynamics … probing into discussion about where and how much more speed of play do we  need to build?  How can we become more synchronous across our functions?  Where do we find fits and starts and lack fluidity in how we do business?  How can we create more plug and place modularity in our business model … maybe exploring The Gig Economy concepts?  Which parts of our business growth require greater and faster scalability?  All very rich and potentially powerful conversation flow.   

Yves Morieux from BCG shared a good TED talk a couple years ago where he spoke about his Six Rules to Simplicity … this is worthwhile to watch and explore how his six rules might be opportunity areas for you and your team to rethink and re-engineer for simplicity.  Many of us are discovering the joy and elegance to be found through simplification. 

How can you make this a positive year for you and your team?  Every step you take to help ratchet yourself and your organization to become more agile – helps you come closer to making your agility a real competitive advantage.  I would love to hear about the outcomes of your discussions as well as your 2017 Resolutions and thoughts.  

Siri, Drive the Kids to Soccer Practice

Siri, Drive the Kids to Soccer Practice

Touchscreen ordering at McDonald’s. Self-checkout at the grocery store. 

Programmable logic controllers that guide manufacturing processes. Industrial robots that weld, assemble and, even, inspect. 

And perhaps one that really sparks widespread imagination: driverless vehicles. We probably have some time before we can get a positive result from telling our iPhones, “Siri, drive the kids to soccer practice,” but

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This past weekend I attended the 2016 National Conference for the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) in Washington D.C. and it triggered the reminder of my long term commitment to a simple but formative phrase … being your best.  This phrase captures a mentality and gift from my father, son of an immigrant from Ireland who came through Ellis Island looking for a chance for a better life.   As I arrived in Washington last Thursday, I first stopped at Arlington Cemetery where both my mother and father reside because of his thirty year career in the Navy.  Coincidently, it turns out that day was the 26th anniversary of his passing.  You cannot go to Arlington Cemetery and not come away with the reminder of how many “gave their best” for our freedom and security.

The conference included keynotes from two of the most renowned management consultants in Peter Block – author of Flawless Consulting and Alan Weiss – author of Million Dollar Consulting and many more.  It was definitely an excellent opportunity to get a glimpse of what the “best” looks like in my profession.  It was a clear reminder of how important it is for all of us to reset our calipers of what being the best actually involves. This awareness is also so very relevant to our business clients as they try and calibrate “how good” should we strive to become and why?

BEING YOUR BEST is a mindset that fuels a free standing belief system for continuous improvement.  Why? Because nothing less will satisfy those committed to being the best.  As my children (and others) will attest, this goes back even to days of coaching their teams in youth soccer.   Winning or losing was less important that doing your best for yourself and the team.  Whenever we used to place our thumbs and index fingers into that triangle shape … it was a non-verbal reminder that what mattered most was playing with your head, heart and guts … we called it grit and its all about being your best. I don’t use exactly those same terms with my business clients and coaching charges this days … but it actually is very much the same thing.  Being driven to be your best … always.

Throughout this weekend, I strived to sharpen my axe … learning from the world famous guru’s as well as my other highly talented IMC colleagues from all over the globe.  The opportunities to learn new content, techniques and style were abundant.  I also had the opportunity to share insights and experiences since I was chosen to serve on two distinguished discussion panels … one on being a Thought Leader and one on Consulting at a Higher Level.

Alan Weiss gave the closing keynote and definitely further reinforced everything I had already conjured up – like the icing on the cake.  Alan spoke about generating confidence in ourselves and our consulting ecosystem – even if not using those terms.  For me, that is what being your best is all about … enabling all of your clients and community of practice to be the best and always striving to improve yourself.  It is an on-going journey for all of us.

I once had the privilege of doing leadership coaching with a series of country managers for a well-known global consumer products company.  I think i may have gotten as much nourishment from one particular executive in India as I provided him.  Ajit was the head of consumer and governmental affairs and he told me that he was in process of writing his book entitled “Being My Best Self”.

We had great conversation exploring the concept and meaning of your “best self”.  What does that look like and how does it feel when you are in that zone?  What are the benefits and obstacles to staying in the space?  Discovering the insights from such reflection can help feed what Mahatma Gandhi once defined as “true happiness” … when what you think, what you say and what you do … are all the same thing.  I am thinking that comes close to describing what Ajit meant by “being” his best self.

I believe both leaders and organizations become more aerodynamic when grounded by their core belief system and values.  Their vision and pathway for success becomes clearer and helps them think, believe and act in accordance.  The keys to success – clarity, unity and agility.

Agility Comes to DC!

Wow … if only it could be true … now more than ever before.  It is only fitting that the 2016 National Conference for the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) will be held in Washington, DC from October 21-23.  IMC is the premier global professional association for serious-minded consultants to management across the globe.  So, there is a gaggle of management consulting problem-solvers descending on our nations capital later this week … unfortunately the issues outweigh the flock.

We live in the VUCA era … volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.  As such, IMC is a great international resource for trusted advisors on many topics.  In this time of great uncertainty around integrity, ethics and professional behavior, I think it is also reaffirming and comforting to know that there are organizations like IMC which also has the only ISO sanctioned certification process for its Certified Management Consultants designation (CMC) which includes a strong ethics dimension.  I am proud to have earned and maintained my CMC for more than 10 years now and also to have been twice President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Institute for Management Consultants.

I will be speaking on two different panel of experts sessions during the conference - Thought Leadership and Consulting at a Higher Level.  I am honored to have been selected for both of these topics which is also a sign that what we have been doing at Agility Consulting has been relevant and impactful.

Going to Washington this week … and especially as we are only a few weeks away from a pivotal election (in many ways), it reminds me of an article I wrote a few years ago entitled WHAT IF THE USA WERE AGILE.  Let me invite you to share your thoughts and perspectives on the benefits and obstacles to the USA becoming a more agile country … again.


About Tom O'Shea

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. 


Whenever my computer begins to freeze up and its clear that it is overloaded and not able to respond to my commands … I know it is time to REBOOT.  Reboot is a cleansing action that clears the cache of old, useless information which slows down the operating system performance.  Reboot can also be a refreshing and energizing action that reinvigorates the machine and brings back rapid response sensation.  Pull the plug on the old ways and reinforce the new ways.  Oh, if it were only that easy! Nevertheless, when we feel things spinning out of control or your operating system freezing up – it is worth calling TIME OUT and revisiting THE FOUR ESSENTIALS FOR REBOOTING YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM …

    1. What is your definition of success on this project, in this function or with this enterprise?  Sometimes this comes down to even agreeing on success measures for sub-elements within projects.  Getting all key stakeholders to reaffirm and realign to the primal imperative of success helps us get re-grounded.  When we clarify the frameworks on how we define success – it usually also helps us in Making Sense of our current situation. The clearer everyone can see and understand how to define and measure success, the more self-evident it will be in understanding how you are doing based on that yardstick?
    2. What are your mission critical priorities now becomes the next progressive question in this crucial conversation.  That question starts at the top of the enterprise and cascades down with a series of “therefore” statements.  If THIS is how we define success and if THAT is how we are doing, then THEREFORE “these" must be our mission critical priorities.  Making Priorities better and faster than others is one of the differentiating factors of AGILE teams.
    3. What is your traction plan for each of your mission critical priorities? Just because you are able to make sense of your strategic situation and even create the right priorities in a clinical, analytical way, it still doesn’t earn your team the right to be called AGILE unless you are able to pull it ALL together to Make It Happen … better and faster than your competition.  Getting the right sequence and synchronicity of actions across functional silos is critical for success and not easy.  Maybe the juggernaut for driving success here is the ability to establish strong ownership, accountability and commitment.  Ambiguity is the cancer of operational excellence.  It can foster fuzziness and lead to organizational mediocrity.
    4. Are you staying alert to sense and respond better and faster as team action plans are being finalized and implemented?  Being ready to Make Revisions brings the right dynamic mindset to the team operations.  We know that we will have to tweak success and we are ready to make that happen also.  Operating in a mindset of continuous improvement maintains a continual commitment to success as well as we ratchet ourselves to higher and higher levels of performance.  Don Sull from MIT Sloan School of Business does a nice job of further expounding on these four essentials in his work on strategic agility.

There is an ethic of excellence involved – do all you people share this?  That is always the first place to start in your journey to create Agility as a competitive advantage.  Do we have a shared mindset that values customer-centric and team-centric behavior and thinking?  If not, then it will be a constant battle of instincts and reflexes. Reaffirming your  core belief system and operating principles is an essential ingredient in the successful REBOOT.  Your AGILE 2.0 operating system requires it as a pre-requisite.


I look forward to your feedback and discussion.

What Leaders Can Learn From Mr. Olympia

What Leaders Can Learn From Mr. Olympia

Imagine that you’re about to interview for the job of your dreams. Or that you’re about to give a high-stakes presentation. Or take an important test. Or simply focus on getting a few things done in the next hour. 

What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself in your mind? 

If you’re anything like 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, you’re telling yourself, “Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.” 

Coleman is widely considered one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, which is impressive enough, but what I find compelling is how he talked. In particular, how he

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Are You “Rewarding A While Hoping For B?”

Are You “Rewarding A While Hoping For B?”

Incentives matter. Rewards motivate people to behave in certain ways. Using incentives, therefore, is one great way to influence the form, direction and intensity of how people act. 

Goals also matter. They help us clarify where we’re headed and how to focus our efforts. Setting difficult, specific goals, therefore, is one of the best ways to motivate yourself and others (see the numerous studies on the topic, particularly those by Gary Latham and Edwin Locke). 

But goals and incentives can—and sometimes do—run amuck. 

And when that happens, it’s often in the form of

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