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

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

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

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!


“Whenever I talk with leaders of companies in (all) industries …  I hear a consistent theme: Frustration that they can’t move FAST enough, given the organizations they have, to stay competitive.  They know that capabilities like SPEED and AGILITY are becoming the core of competitive advantage …”. 

This is the context for why Jim Whitehurst, CEO of the $2B Raleigh, NC based open source software leader called Red Hat, wrote the book entitled THE OPEN ORGANIZATION and shares his open source code of operating principles that have helped make Red Hat incredibly successful by all measures. Not bad to generate $2 Billion in annual sales revenue and yet have a market value of over $10 Billion.  Lots of positive things have to be aligned and sustainable to generate that combination.

Whitehurst took over as CEO at Red Hat back in 2008 after a successful turnaround run as COO of Delta Airlines.  As he was being recruited to join and lead Red Hat, it was clear that the culture of an “open organization” already existed at Red Hat therefore required a significant transformation from Whitehurst to move from more traditional command and control zone to what at first felt like a totally out of control zone. It makes perfect sense that the company founded and built on the premise and manifesto of an “open source”, hyper-collaborative model of software development would instill those same tenets into how they develop and operate their organization as well.

The juggernaut to Red Hat success has been the capacity to connect all the dots – their people (both internal and external), purpose and passion in an energized ecosystem of a high engagement, full contact, transparent, authentic operating system that thrives on innovation, speed and accomplishment.  Some might call that culture – but it really is so much more … smart and activated culture or maybe enabled, dynamic culture.  Or maybe just an open organization.

Cultivating passion does not come naturally to all leaders – for many it requires a super conscious effort to give themselves and others permission and encouragement to show the emotional involvement needed to make it real.  Whitehurst’s leadership tips for leaders looking to create a more passionate, open organization:

  1. Passion is contagious … is yours positive, evident and noticeable for others to follow?
  2. Is there a clearly stated purpose or mission … real purpose (beyond profits) fuels real passion?
  3. Add passionate words to your vocabulary … like love, excited, amazing … what evokes positive future sense?
  4. Look to hire folks that are passionate … questions like – what are you passionate about … what inspires you?
  5. Create regular vehicles for people to show their “unvarnished” passion … outings, team building events, etc.

Red Hat believes in a different starting point than the traditional hierarchical organization … turning the typical pyramid upside down and placing their emphasis on the Purpose (WHY) along with a much more AGILE and engaged operating method (HOW) to achieve extraordinary outcomes (WHAT).


This organizational model is much better suited for the rampant change and extraordinary speed of play in the business world today … and tomorrow.  As we outline in our book, Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World, organizational success starts with the strength of your Core Belief System.  At Red Hat, their core belief system is nurtured, massaged, activated and energized everyday which makes it stronger, truer and more potent as a success enabler with nuclear capacity to attract and retain a full network of talented contributors … a community of success.

The Open Organization and the Agile Organization share more than core belief systems – they share the realization that activated and empowered organizations need tools and capabilities to support decision making ownership and speed expected from all levels in the organization.  Interestingly, both of us also promote the use of a simple yet elegant decision making tool first introduced by AF Colonel John Boyd back in the Korean War called the OODA LOOP.  The OODA Loop framework (Observe, Orient, Decide & Act)  enables rapid and rigorous engagement to support decisions and action closest to the front lines of customer engagement.  Click the link above for more background on OODA.

So, how are you doing in your organization in all of these dimensions? I encourage you to take a deeper look at The Open Organization and challenge yourselves on what you can learn from this open source of success.  You will find the combination of our two frameworks to be quite complimentary. You can take a free self-assessment to explore your Organizational Agility Profile as well.

I would love to get your thoughts and feedback as always.

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. 

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.