I have never been happy with the status quo; at least organizationally and leadership wise. People who know me might argue that I can be stubborn in doing things certain ways for sure, and I have a tendency to default into some easy ways of doing things when it comes to workouts, cooking and house cleaning. But when it comes to work, leadership and performance, I am always looking to improve. It comes from a place that is a blend of always believing there is a better way to do things, that there are new things to take advantage of, being willing to put my hand up to be part of the change, and a naturally critical nature.
These traits have led me to take on leadership roles where I have helped move organizations into places of high performance, improved results and outcomes, and due recognition. I have helped push them into places that they never thought they could achieve. I have worked to create loyal fans and followers of these organizations. In short, I have helped make them remarkable.
The purpose of life, is a life of purpose. My purpose is et insigni, which means, to make remarkable; My purpose is to help leaders make their organizations remarkable. To move past the status quo. To be better. To adapt and to transform.
My aim is to help leaders address their challenges, their status quo, and to chart a path to remarkability. I have dedicated my career to this, and I hope that through this blog, and its contents, ideas and recommendations, I hope to support you in your leadership journey, and quest to make your organization remarkable.
My career of increasing leadership roles over the past two decades has led me to develop an approach and operating system that can help you to achieve organizational remarkability. My ability to help leaders is rooted in two strengths: being able to paint a picture of the changing world around you to understand what you face and think about how to adapt; and, the creation of a framework that I developed which will enable your organization to do its best work.
Imagine a world of more remarkable organizations, delivering their best work, and tackling some of the biggest challenges we face. Imagine companies and associations, non-profits and for-profits, working as high performance teams, clear on why they exist, who they serve and how best to do that. They measure what they do and put in place the platforms that enable them to deliver in ways that their customers or members find exceptional and extraordinary. Their customers or members are loyal and devoted fans with a true connection to the organization. Outcomes such as financial performance, brand affinity, satisfaction, awareness, impact, relevance – all are achieved.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
So, who am I to be doing this? Good question. I am a student of leadership, transformation, economies, business and high performance organizations. I say that because once you declare yourself an expert, you really aren’t one. Therefore, I strive to be a student – for that keeps me learning and growing in areas that are always evolving and adapting.
I have spent a career studying the forces that affect organizations at large scale – demographics, economics, technology trends, societal forces and others – and brought them to life in ways that were not biased – like banks and think tanks often are – so that people and organizations could actually do something with them. I started in the real estate advisory practice at pwc back in the 1990’s where I studied economies and their impacts upon real estate markets and economic development. I began to become highly knowledgeable about the Canadian, Alberta and Calgary economies with an eye towards what the opportunities were for economic development.
As Calgary Economic Development was formed, I was asked to join as the Director of Research and Business Information. There, I studied the local economy in even more depth and began to create sector profiles, sector analyses, economic impact studies and economic outlooks for the Calgary region. I will readily admit that my lenses were somewhat rosied by the fact that we were a promotional agency selling the city of Calgary from economic development purposes. However, in the crafting of the economic development strategy in 2007, I sharpened my ability to assess the realities and impacts on the Calgary economy. Back then, we were talking about what we needed to do to strengthen our global position in the world of energy, but from a broader notion of the term. I built the economic outlook that Calgary Economic Development now hosts annually – it started as a small PowerPoint presentation to maybe 100 people, and has grown to the over 1,000 person must-attend event it was in 2010 when I left the organization, and where it still is today.
What my time at pwc and Calgary Economic Development embedded in me is a high degree of insight and perspective on the nature of economies, and the incredible forces that exert themselves – some well-known such as demographic change, and others less known or more sudden, like economic failures, technological disruptions and commodity price collapses. This resulted in my heightened awareness of the risks of the status quo organizationally, for the amount, pace and scale of those forces that are exerting themselves on organizations is immense. And those that do not find ways to adapt, evolve, or transform in the face of those forces face ruin. Some may be quick ruin, while others may be painfully drawn out. But nonetheless, lack of adaptation results in failure. And so you could perhaps say that I became highly knowledgeable about the world around us, and the imperative to change with it. Thus were forged the roots of my first strength.
And as many careers evolve, so did mine. I accepted the role of President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber in 2010 to turn it around and address its brand problem. It was painted as “old, pale, male and stale.” I was brought in to help turn that image around. My knowledge of the Calgary economy would be the asset for public policy and advocacy work. But I was inexperienced in turnarounds, brand rebuilds and transformations. And so began the learning…
Over the course of seven years, there was not a part of the Calgary Chamber that I did not fix, replace, remove or transform; the perfect place for someone who has trouble with organizational status quo. It was a 120 year old organization when I took the helm and had a lot of parts to fix. Throughout my time there, I honed my leadership approach, honed a practice in organizational transformation, and built a framework that enabled the organization, and all its people, to do their best work. We changed our purpose, our people, our board, our policies, our strategies, our value proposition. All of it.
I believe I left the Calgary Chamber better than when I found it. We became a national and international award winning organization. Our staff engagement scores were through the roof – how many other organizations can say that 100% of their staff enjoy coming to work? How many organizations can say that 100% of their staff know what is expected of them, that they have the tools to do their work, and that they feel their work is having an impact? We achieved that at the Calgary Chamber. How many organizations have 92% of their customers or members satisfied with their interaction and investment? We achieved that at the Calgary Chamber.
Throughout that time I consulted and engaged with many different people – leaders, mentors, peers, competitors, random strangers, experts – all in an attempt to figure out how to fully transform this organization and enable it to become the best that it could be. I read a lot, listened a lot and took in everything that I could. And as I began to wind it all down, people said “you should write a book on what you did at the chamber.” And so I did. I wrote a book. In it, I have documented what we did and how we did it ultimately creating a framework for transformation and an organizational approach to doing its best work. And the remarkability agenda was born; the source of my second strength.
Why remarkable? Because people pay attention to remarkable. Remarkable gets the best people. Remarkable gets the best funding. Remarkable makes the biggest impact and leaves the greatest legacy. Remarkable is irresistible. Remarkable is a magnet. No one wants average or mediocre. No one wants struggling.
What are the benefits of transforming into a remarkable organization? Increased relevance. More impact. Better revenues and growth. Greater engagement. Enhanced profile and reputation. Greater retention. Better staff retention and recruitment. Improved morale and more high-fives around the office.
My hope is that I can help you as a leader; a leader tasked with making your organization remarkable. Tasked with transformation. Tasked with change, adaptation, improvement…whatever it is your board or you decide you need to do. I can help.
WHAT DO I BELIEVE?
Throughout my career I have developed set of beliefs that have helped forge my leadership journey and enable people and organizations to adapt.
I believe that futures are made, not predicted. Too many people try to predict the future or be a participant on the ride to the future. It is about understanding the forces you face, and then actively charting your path. It is about clearly defining your purpose and your brand, and then pulling together an amazing team of people to govern and operate your organization towards achieving your why and your targets. This takes dedication and diligence, rigor and discipline. It never ends – it is a constant process of adaptation and implementation to create the future you want.
I believe that leaders aren’t born. They are built; over time through challenge, learning, experience, drive, persistence and humility. Not everyone can be a leader. Not everyone should be a leader. To be a leader is not simply the title. It is a deliberate practice. As Cal Newport suggests in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, you simply cannot get to a position of leadership and responsibility by just putting in the time or performing the role. It takes focus, deliberate practice and commitment. And it never ends.
I believe that change is all around us, and is constant. And that if you do not adapt to the change, or you think it won’t affect you, get ready for irrelevance or ruin. I have a permanent dissatisfaction with the status quo as you may recall, for status quo is about stagnation and slide the irrelevance. You do not have the ability to sit this one out. The change happening all around us – whether it is climate change, artificial intelligence, societal movements like #metoo or #blacklivesmatter – they were either created by your organization and its actions, or affect your organization in some way. Understand that first, and then figure out how to solve the problems created by these changes. And recognize that it never ends. The change never ends and so the work to ensuring that you can stay relevant amidst the change never ends either. Create a process and a system to ensure you always stay on top of the change, and keep your organization nimble and responsive.
When I am working as a leader, or helping advise other leaders what to do with their organizations, my approach is always rooted in the following nine principles:
- Engagement and buy-in: you cannot make change and create remarkable unless you engage people – a broad swath of people, including the naysayers and strange bedfellows – and work to achieve buy-in with them. They need to see why the future is better for them, and they need to see themselves reflected in the future.
- Inquiry: I am always curious. Curious as to why the world works this way and not that way. Curious as to what worked in certain circumstances and what didn’t. I believe that by asking “what if…” or “why” we can find answers to problems we currently face.
- Root causes: I am not a big fan of band-aid solutions. If we are going to tackle a big challenge, let’s get to the crux of the issue. Let’s tear off the band-aid and go for the real reason that something is an issue or a challenge. Let’s deal with it once and for all.
- Reality: Too many solutions won’t work. This is because they have been built in a vacuum and have not been informed or built through a lens of pragmatism. No one has time for solutions or ideas that simply can’t work. Having spent the better part of a decade dealing with public policy agendas I can tell you that too many good ideas will die on the table of reality.
- The long view and the wide angle: Our world is suffering from short-termism. Stock markets. Social media. News feeds. Instant gratification. We can’t seem to think beyond the next tweet, image or story. My approach looks long term and thinks into the future, and uses a wide angle lens to incorporate all those factors that impact you and your organization, many of which you may not have thought of. Understanding, and covering, the landscape is critical to success.
- Action: One of my mentors has a saying; we have a lot of think tanks, but we don’t have enough do tanks. I couldn’t agree more. I am a firm believer in creating outcomes and action, as opposed to just talking about it some more. I would rather be part of action that didn’t work (assuming it was developed properly) than sit around and keep talking forever. The world doesn’t change through unending talk. It gets better through repeated actions to make it better.
- A line of sight: One of the hardest things for many people in an organization to do is see how their work contributes to the bigger picture. They don’t have a line of sight. My approach ensures that everyone on a team can see the big picture of where the organization is going in the future, and how what they do on a daily basis contributes towards that goal. It is like the story of when JFK was touring NASA and asked a janitor what his job was. The man replied, “Well Mr. President, I am helping send a man to the moon.”
- Accountability: nothing gets done unless someone is accountable for it. Making someone, or some department, accountable for a result is essential. For it makes sure it gets done. And not only that, my approach works to create accountability within the team. That people own what they do. I worry that we are in a culture of unaccountability. Where people are happy to blame, excuse and dodge their way through work. Those people don’t deserve a place on the team of a remarkable organization. I help you create that kind of team and that kind of culture.
THAT’S A WRAP
Thanks for reading this far. I hope that through my efforts I can help you can begin to make your organization remarkable, and to evolve your leadership practice. I will be supplying ideas, content, recommendations and helpful resources that will focus on leadership, transformation and remarkability. And let me know if you have any feedback, ideas or suggestions. After all, I am still a student, wanting to help create more remarkable organizations, and never happy with the status quo.