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Ten Things Clients Taught Me in 2014

by Dr. Linda Henman

This year my clients have made enormous gains, some hiring top performers into key positions; others executing demanding strategies; everyone challenging the ordinary. But not everything happened seamlessly. Here’s what my clients taught me this year:

1. Most clients don’t lose to the competition; they lose to the status quo.

Fear of change, an unwillingness to change, and ego entrenchment with traditional approaches cost clients more dollars this year in lost opportunities than the competition could have taken from them.

2. To channel Mike Tyson, “Everybody’s got a strategy until they get punched in the mouth.” Prepare for the punch by creating alternative futures.

While everyone accepts that taking a hit is part of boxing, too few people realize that business leaders take hits too. Business pugilists, like their heavy-weight counterparts, define success in the same ways: strength, reflexes, speed, endurance, and sheer will.

3. Fear overshadows all other emotions in business.

When people don’t change, it’s often because they can’t change, don’t know how to change, or fear any reality not like their current one. Fear immobilizes.

4. Successful companies focus on success, not perfection. When you’re 80% ready, move.

This year a client lost a strong candidate for a key position simply because the company took too long in making him an offer. They stuck to their conventional protocol: every senior team leader needed to meet the candidate, but that system took too a month too long. They were 80% ready but didn’t move.

5. Don’t “vet” decisions. Make them. Consensus cripples organizations.

People don’t always agree on the best course of action, often because they have an agenda. Popular decisions frequently conflict with the excellent ones.

6. Contrary to the common myth, talent isn’t your greatest asset. Only some talent is.

You can afford average talent in non-key positions, but you can’t afford below-average performers in any situation. They cost you inordinately in redo work, attention, lost productivity, and lower morale among the top performers who have to deal with them.

7. Hire for brains. Everything else you can buy by the pound.

As the economy continues to improve, more top candidates will start to move. If you hire for anything other than smarts, you will doom your organization to the status quo. Only clever people will be able to solve unknown problems of the future and to make decisions that no one has taught them to make.

8. Too many organizations have strengthened their “business-prevention units.”

Not every function in an organization makes money; everyone accepts that. But no area should cost you money either. Without strong leadership and clear expectations, Human Resources, Quality, Legal, Risk, and Compliance can create unnecessary roadblocks to success.

9. Don’t blame culture. Bad leadership or bad decision-making caused the problem.

When an individual, merger, or organization fails, culture takes the blame. We use the word fairly arbitrarily, citing it to explain why things don’t change, won’t change, or can’t change. Yet, the evidence tells a different story. Look closely. A bad decision or a series of bad decisions started all the trouble.

10. The problem isn’t not knowing what to do; it’s not wanting to do it.

We know what we should do. Doing what needs to be done, however, proves more difficult. The discomfort of change happens now when we deprive ourselves of the things we want, so we postpone the improvement.

Even when you hire the best people and embrace the loftiest of intentions, change can visit your organization as an unwelcome guest. Only leaders who accept the fact that 2015 will bring both new challenges and opportunities will leverage the good and mitigate the bad.


 

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