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Ken Keller: Getting crystal clear about your business

Posted: March 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Ken Keller

 

There is a terrific exchange in the courtroom drama “A Few Good Men.” Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicolson, turns from being a witness in a court martial to being the prosecutor when he asks Lieutenant Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise: “Have you ever spent time in an infantry unit, son?”

Kaffee replies he has not. Jessup asks, “Ever served in a forward area?” Kaffee again replies he has not. Jessup says, “Ever put your life in another man’s hands; ask him to put his life in yours?” Kaffee says no for the third time.

Jessup tells Kaffee: “We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It’s that simple. Are we clear?” Kaffee answers: “Yes, sir.” Jessup, as only Jack Nicolson can barks: “Are we clear?” To which Kaffee replies as only Tom Cruise can, with a gleam in his eye, and a smirk on his face: “Crystal.”

Patrick Lencioni has written several excellent books, including the best-selling The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In his latest book, The Advantage, he outlines six critical questions to gain clarity in any organization.

Clarity helps an organization in many ways, including attracting talent, compensation, alignment, motivation and a sense of belonging. As an example, Steve Jobs successfully lured John Sculley to Apple from Pepsi by asking him a question: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

The first question is “why do we exist?” While many owners might immediately reach the conclusion that the correct answer is “to create a large paycheck for me” or “to make a profit” - they would be wrong.

The core purpose has to be altruistic. Owners and employees alike need to grasp the concept that what they do all day, every workday, is something grand and aspirational. There has to be a larger purpose behind what they do, something that has meaning for others.

The second question is “how do we behave?” Lencioni says that when it comes to behavior, intolerance is essential. For an organization to have solid alignment, up and down and across, behavioral norms have to be established and enforced. This also ties to my column last week when I wrote about the Immutable Laws outlined in The Pumpkin Plan.

The third question is “what do we do?” This is a simple, short sentence that anyone on the planet can understand. If the reason you are in business is explained by the answer of the “why do we exist” question, then the business is defined by the “what” statement.

The fourth question is “how will we succeed?” To some extent, this is a query about strategy. Strategy is the company’s plan for success. It is collection of intentional decisions a company makes to give itself the best chance to survive and grow, and set itself apart from the competition.

The fifth question is “what is the most important, right now?” Every employee in a company could answer this question differently, which does nothing to enhance alignment. Lencioni uses first responders as a sterling example of how, in a crisis, the silos disappear and everyone is focused on the most important thing, at the moment.

The final question is “who must do what?” In organizations there are people who run from work and those that want to hoard it. The leaders must decide who does what and when it is due, allocating resources as required accomplishing the job.

Organizations that are successful don’t do it with brute force; they grow through using brainpower and getting everyone aligned and engaged. These six questions are a great way to get the process started.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

 

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