The Done Right Podcast
Episode 18

Strategic Leadership Principle 6––Maintaining Relentless Focus on Creating Vision

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half, I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

[Jordan] Trish, welcome back to that on our podcast, were so happy that you came back. 

[Trish] Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here

[Jordan] Why don’t you give us a little bit of an introduction for those that are jumping into the podcast and maybe jumping into this strategic leadership series that we're doing with you. Tell us a bit about you and your background. 

[Jordan] Thank you. My name's Trish Gorman. I'm the managing director of the Goff Strategic Leadership Center at the Eccles School at the University of Utah, where I also teach strategy and innovation courses. My background's a little bit unique, but it helps me in doing strategic leadership, to be honest. So I've worked in exciting industries like aggregates and textiles and a few other things. But the bulk of my career has been spent as a consultant with some large consulting firms or at least well-known consulting firms. I spend a lot of time with McKinsey and Company and I was fortunate to be able to work with Deloitte for a while. And on top of that, or I guess within that, I take an academic perspective on a lot of things. So I've been to school more than anybody needs to. And I also use my Ph.D. to teach and to translate academic research into practitioner applied frameworks and tools. And that really lends itself well to strategic leadership, which is about people who are getting things done but getting important things done that help their company position itself for future success. 

[Jordan] That's wonderful. Well, we're so lucky to have you. We've talked so far in this series about kind of the three tenants, if you will, of strategic leadership with the principles that are a part of those. And that is that there are the goals of strategic leaders, there's the role of strategic leaders, and there's a core of strategic leaders. And today we're going to focus on that first one, which is really the goal of a strategic leader. Do you want to kind of intro these principles for us? 

[Trish] Sure. And I think you did a great job there yourself. I love that they're becoming so fluid for you! So the core is who you are and what you bring to your work. And I think especially with your focus on the future of work here at Workfront, you do a lot of work on that, on building up the individual’s core, because then just like being fit in a physical sense, you're ready for whatever happens next. The role is how you interact with others. The role starts to be maybe you are a formal team leader. Maybe you're stepping into an opportunity to bring people together for a greater purpose. But the core and the role only really make sense if you have a goal. And we really believe that the goal is not just to achieve an outcome. It's not just to say I want to double the size of my company or I'd like to get 20 percent more customers. It's the idea that you're going to create and capture value like that, but in a way that builds momentum and leaves your team ready for more. So you're actually building a process that allows you to achieve multiple goals. And that's where we focus on your goal is really more like an ambition of where you want to be and how far you want to take your team, your organization. 

What does it mean to relentlessly pursue value?

[Jordan] That's fantastic. So within the goals, the principles that we're going to talk about over the next couple of episodes. The first is this relentless pursuit of value. Tell me what that even means, and we'll kind of sort of dissect this together. 

[Trish] All right, great. Well, pursuit of value is pretty common. And we're all trying to pursue value, whether it's trying to create great products for our customers, trying to generate revenue and net income for our firms, or even trying to build a healthy work environment. But relentlessly pursuing value means that as soon as you have some value in hand, it's already been effectively priced into your company. You know, people are very impatient and not just corporate shareholders to say we see where we’re going. We understand what the projected income or the benefits of what you just did are great. What else? And so the idea that to really compete and to sustain momentum in today's environment and tomorrow's environment, the focus on value needs to be relentless. And that's actually a term that has been coined and popularized by my colleague Todd Zinger, who's written an entire book about this, and done quite a bit of research about the old way of thinking, which was you could get to a place of dominance in your market and kind of sit at that. We have a picture of, you know, sitting in your castle at the top of the hill and just being happy you've created this value. Well, no, it's a much more dynamic and ongoing process. 

[Jordan] So can you give me just some examples of how strategic leaders do pursue value? 

[Trish]  That's a great question. So, strategic leaders, their role a lot of times is to decide which value to pursue. So in many cases, if you're in an opportunity-rich environment or even if you're in a challenging environment where you don't perceive there are a lot of opportunities, you can find them. It's a question of making the choice about what to do and what not to do. And that truly is what differentiates a strategic leader from other types of strategists and leaders and managers who are also working in this value pursuit. 

Deciding what value to pursue:

[Jordan] All right. So deciding what to do, what not to do. Let's talk about the opportunity-rich environment. I think that one of the things that I've observed and experienced myself as a leader is that when you are in an opportunity-rich environment or even in a challenging environment, there are a lot of things you could do right to solve for the challenges or which challenges to focus on or which opportunities you want to pursue. Is there a way that you recommend that people prioritize and really decide, hey, this is what we need to focus on now? 

[Trish] Well, it's probably too much for this podcast, but I'll give you a high level because it’s a really wonderful question. Some companies come to mind. So if you think about Sony back in the day when there was Sony PlayStation, Sony Walkman, there's no real reason Sony was into television. They were into basically everything that Apple, for example, is into now. And even more, because they were really into gaming. So you had gaming, music, television, and everything that could have been. The idea that you have to make choices about which products and services to offer can actually blind you to opportunities to innovate and find new ways to deliver those.

So sometimes the choices seem to be framed in terms of which product should we put our investment behind, and we want to reframe that problem and actually think about in a different way in terms of what kinds of experiences and benefits do we want to be bringing the world? And then kind of rally the organization to do just that. Which is why Apple is so dominant in some ways because they have a different––and I'll use again Todd Zinger’s language––a different theory of value, a different theory of how you create value on an ongoing basis that has to do with well-designed, useful, everyday technologies that don't feel like technology. They feel like life. And they don't feel like products. They feel like part of you or your identity. 

So it's a theory that then would say, well, should Apple get into making office furniture? Well, you actually could immediately think there is a way Apple would do office furniture, right. It would be the Apple way and it actually might work. Should Apple get into TV? You know, there's a way, again, you know? But when a company has such a strong theory of value and when it's strategic leadership is great at articulating that theory of value, then choices, they almost make themselves. So another example we use that a lot of times is Disney because Disney is always looking to create value through family-friendly entertainment using their animation. And then, you know, should they buy Marvel? Should they go into cruise ships? You know, then it's not a question of should they or shouldn't they? It's can they create family-friendly, immersive entertainment, leveraging their animation on a cruise ship? Well, if so, yes. So then everyone in your organization suddenly has the power to make decisions because they know what those key constraints are. 

So if I'm working at, you know, QVC and we're making decisions about products that sell, that seem like gifts that we give ourselves, that create a moment of joy in our life or in others lives as we give them to others as gifts, then, you know, what kind of products do we want? And you don't have to then say, how much does it cost and can we make margin on it right away? You start with. Does it create the feeling that our company stands for it? Is it on the path that we believe will lead us to our unique (and there's a big emphasis on unique) value creation? 

[Jordan] That's really great. And I think of Amazon as the company who's in everything, you know, their kind of, and maybe this isn’t the right way to say it, but they’re kind of the new Apple in a sense where they're innovating, they're in a lot of different places, but they're trying to create. It's more about the value they want to create in the market than it is about what products they actually deliver. 

[Trish] Right. And I think you've put your hand on it. They are a market as opposed to a product company. But I have a really hard time using Amazon as an example because they are such an outlier. In some ways, they are almost a utility. Because right now they're enabling transactions. And so what we're transacting, you know, most of what they're doing right now is third party. So it's a different kind of model. And it'll be interesting to see how far it goes. And especially now that delivery and drones and lots of other things that are in there are in their sights. 

But if you look at more conventional companies from, you know, 3M, Johnson and Johnson, even if you look at some like design, there's a company that tries to take really high-end design, but bring it into your home. I'm blanking on the name for the moment. But having a really strong idea of why are we here? What are we doing comes first before you start thinking, what should we sell? Who should we sell it to? And that's the other principle in the goal. So we talked about relentlessly creating value, we also talked about crafting and sharing your vision. And that vision is what helps tell you what the theory is and where it's taking you to. So some school’s vision is that they'd like to help students who otherwise wouldn't get a good education to get jobs. And they're very focused on placement for jobs and working really closely with companies. Others, their philosophy is helping students to think and solve problems. And, you know, in some universities, literally 80 percent of the students go on to do graduate education and continue on. And job placement is not their big priority. So even not for profits have a theory of value. You know, what are you doing and why? Then it helps you make the choice and choose which opportunities are worth pursuing. 

Who are you creating value for?

[Jordan] And we talked about this question of, well, who are you creating value for? I think we've answered that. I mean, I don't know if you have anything to add, but how I would answer, based on what you just said, is that you're creating value for whoever your target market is. But it's defined not by your products or services as defined by what you're doing and why. 

[Trish] Right. And some people call it the pain point that you're alleviating. You know, what is it about their life that they don't even realize is as annoying or obnoxious and it needs addressing. But I would also say if you're doing this well, if you're truly activating your own strategic leadership, you're also creating value for your teammates and your employees if you're in a position to have other people working for you. You're creating value for your suppliers because it's crystal clear then, what kind of quality level do you need? Why is on-time delivery important or not important? For your distributors to be able to know crystal clear when are you shipping materials or products or when are you delivering services and how do you stand behind them? And it doesn't mean you always have to, you don't have to do everything. All of the above is not a strategy. So you could say, you know, we have low-cost products that wear out quickly, but they capture today's needs and they're really convenient. Great. Another might be we have perennial pride products we want to be handed down as heirlooms and they take a long time to deliver, and we back them up with a lot of maintenance. So what most people call the business model of how you figure out how to operate and how to interface with your customers and how to hire and retain your talent is all part of this.

What is relentless pursuit?

[Jordan] So we've been talking a lot about like really defining value and understanding what that value is. But I want to go back to the principle of relentless pursuit of value. So that's very action-oriented in terms of that relentless pursuit, and tell me what you mean by relentless pursuit. 

[Trish] It is really moving before you're ready to move. It's being comfortable with uncertainty and doing small experiments. So maybe I do say I have a clear theory of value and I'm going to spend a few years thinking about how to build my school to target exactly the right parents of the right students with the right jobs and so on. We say relentless pursuit because immediately we want people to go out and start doing experiments and trying to gather information. Silicon Valley says, you know, fail fast and fail often or I don't know their little mantra. And where we're not always talking about failure, but we're trying to say learn fast, learn often and do. And it's all about really being a doer. 

The leadership part is also about motivating others to do things, and often things that are perceived as risky. And you're asking them to do things before they're ready, before they feel 100 percent confident, before they're sure they're going to have some positive outcome. So that relentless pursuit is this idea that you're moving and you're after it. And you're also not daunted by the fact that you might have some failures, you might have some missteps, you might have some times when you're chasing the wrong target and you're going to adjust on the fly and keep going. 

[Jordan] So from your experience, and from what you've seen, how do you make that adjustment culturally? Just because I hear so many people talk about failing fast and, you know, Google several years ago, had that study come out that everyone quotes about psychological safety is like the number one thing for your team's performance and all those things, which is what you're talking about. But I mean, if it's part of your process to learn fast, and to learn from whatever you do is, you know, is not going to create an environment where that's just part of your process, that it’s not risk. 

[Trish] It may or may not. There has to be risk involved to have reward. So at some level, if it's something you really know how to do, so let's use the metaphor of a fisherman who goes out fishing every day and relentlessly pursues the value of... we're going to call it catching the fish. Fair enough? So whether this is a salesperson who's out on the road cold calling, or if this is someone who's tinkering in a lab, trying to figure out a new combination for, I don't know, bio nutrition, whatever they're after, let's just call it the fish. So I'm on my boat everyday fishing and I'm not catching any fish. So one way of thinking about relentless pursuit of value would be just keep getting in the boat. Keep trying. But we don't really mean that. We mean coming back and being able to say, can I move to a different fishing hole? Can I try different equipment? Can I get a different guy, meaning bring someone else onto my team, and can I get new information? Can I try a different kind of fish? Is there a new technology to help me locate or catch the fish?

So relentlessness is also relentless learning. And I think if you build that kind of culture, maybe relentless becomes normal. But it's, what have you learned today? Where have you gone? What can you tell me that will help me with my quest to catch my fish? And, you know, maybe it's you know, you've been doing everything right, but you don't check the weather. You know, there are so many pieces to this. And if you can bring that back to something you're actually trying to do, sell a product, launch a new service and distribute more effectively or efficiently. It is relentless. And if you're a publicly-traded company, your shareholders expect that they're going to price in everything you've already done. And they're waiting for the next thing that you're going to surprise them with, a new unique way to generate value. But even your employees, if they don't see opportunity for growth and learning and then having new experiences, especially now with unemployment so low, they're gonna go somewhere where they can get those experiences. 

How to deal with change fatigue and burnout:

[Jordan] That makes a lot of sense. And it's interesting to think about this relentless pursuit of creating new and getting better and continuous improvement and creating value both not just for the market, but for your team as well. So the other side to this though is this kind of relentless pursuit. I get what you're saying. Question is there is this issue of burnout and there's this issue of like I've heard this phrase of change fatigue when it comes to, you know, always improving and changing and learning, growing, that kind of thing. There's the part that we all like about that. But then there's the downside. Can you talk to that for a minute

[Trish] Oh, yeah. Because we're not expecting one person to do it on their own. That's why it's a leadership construct. That's why we talk about your role when you work with others. So imagine if you had to play, I don't know, every minute of a professional basketball game and you could never sit on the bench and catch your breath. What if you had to play every minute of a hockey game? You don't! And you're not even handling the puck the whole time. Even sometimes on the ice, you're not the person who's relentlessly pursuing the value, if you assume you're trying to score goals or defend against your opponents trying to score a goal. So the idea is teamwork and even, more and more, we're seeing people who are being really creative about having a tour of duty that maybe a team goes after something and once they have their tour of duty, you know, think about it as a foray out to bring back as much value in as much knowledge as they can. Then maybe they have a chance to either take paid time off, or to work in a different area that has a lower stress level, or to consolidate that learning, or to work in knowledge areas before they go on another tour of duty. And in some companies, I know those tours of duty mean international travel and time away from your family and burnout. But that's not continuous. I think we learned our lesson on that from the 90s and even maybe the early 2000s. Even with your star employees and your star talent, you've got to have some time to rejuvenate, to be human, and that's why hopefully you build a kind of team where somebody is always ready to take up the torch. Somebody is always ready to jump up and meet that next customer need or answer that phone or fix what's broken. But it's not the same person all the time. So we're not telling you you need to personally always be at the edge of your human possibilities, or always at the edge of exhaustion. But pursuing value might sometimes mean you’re back at the ranch, you know, waiting for the group to come back.

[Jordan] It’s that relentless pursuit of value where it's just like a sports team, right? And that actually reminds me... years ago when I was doing interviews with some sports performance experts. You'll hear this today like recovery is one of the most important things in terms of improving your performance. You know, it's all the workouts and everything you're doing, like sleep is huge and recovery is huge for you to get into better shape and to perform better. You know, on the field or on the court. 

[Trish] Exactly. And so every strategic leader needs to figure out for themselves and for their colleagues or their team what is that sleep? What is that rest? Is that active rest? Is it true, you know, passive, real rejuvenation? And it's going to be different for different people? Because for a researcher who might be an introvert, just going to one conference a month might really be a draining activity. Whereas for somebody who has a different personal style and skill set, it might be sitting and listening that wears them out. And they love being out on the road, meeting new people and doing new things. Just as with all good leadership, knowing yourself and knowing your people is vital to knowing what is stimulating for them, what's exhausting and when they've done too much of a good thing because too much of a good thing can be a real negative. 

Goal setting and pursuit of value:

[Jordan] Sure. So this kind of leads me to think that we're going down this path of talking about goal setting. Tell me just from your experience, what does good goal setting look like and how does this work to foster this collective continuous, relentless pursuit of value? 

[Trish] Well, for goal setting, I think you've hit on something, the collaborative nature of goal setting is really important. But then we also have the constraints of the organization may have limitations on its scope and what it will pursue. So maybe, you know, I like to say, goal setting in business, is not just a dream board. There are some real constraints, and constraints can actually make you more creative. So we also have a lot of research that says once you give me a few constraints in design or anything else, it actually brings out a lot more creativity. And it is very generative. 

But I do want to touch on maybe a couple of things that people do that are that are less than optimal. The mistakes we all make. So when you are in a position of strategic leadership, it's easy to be very directive and to say, you know, let's do this, let's go pursue this particular value! And there’s lots of writing about this that talks about, you know, getting buy-in. Well, if you're going to first think of something and then go get buy-in, you’ve got to be really careful that you're not being too directive, too controlling. The next thing is you might say, ok, well, I won't just decide and tell my people I'm going to actually work with them to develop something. But then you've got to be really careful that you haven't just substituted your directive problem with a manipulative problem. So, you know, here's six things I'm going to show you. One, two, three, four, five, SIX. How about number SIX? Let's do number SIX!  I'm asking you your opinion, but actually, if your opinion isn't six, I'm not listening. So there's a lot of this kind of process stuff that goes on or where you're really pretending that you're collaborative and you really care, but it's a little bit manipulative. Then you can get to real collaboration through collaboration, which is bringing people early into the process, really listening. You know, at some point there's going to be a decision taken, and that may be a power play. But this idea that we craft our goals and we consider our direction with input from others who have the right to be part of that dialog is true collaboration. So if you think of this as a spectrum, we've got the directive way over on the side, we're coming closer to collaborative, but we might be manipulative. So let's get to true collaboration. Now, what happens if we overshoot that mark?

[Jordan] And it’s more democratizing your goal setting where it's more by vote.

[Trish] Yes, and now you get to something that is kind of, you've lost the plot in the other direction and you've become too adaptive and you're giving everybody a voice. It's too inclusive. 

[Jordan] Too many cooks in the kitchen.

[Trish] You've been there, it sounds like. 

[Jordan] Well, maybe. 

[Trish] We all have. So whether that's adaptive or whatever you want to call that kind of emergent process. It can be very messy, very time consuming and in its own way, demoralizing. So maybe at that point, I crave please go back to manipulating me. 

[Jordan] Tell me what to do. 

[Trish] Yeah. Be directive. Give me some goals. And then if you go past that democratization, as you called it, the passive thing is next. It's sort of well, let's just figure it out as we go along and let's just, you know, put some smart people in a room and something good will happen. So this spectrum is and again, like so many things in leadership, we call it the Goldilocks problems. You know, when it's too hard and then it's too soft, but you don't know when it's just right. And maybe you do... you know it when you see it. But how do you build a just right process? How do you build a just right motivation that just right collaborative culture? And that's why we all work in this area, because it's that elusive when you have it is wonderful, and you can just see how high performing the team is and how much you get done. But to stray too far into, you know, sort of the passive democracy or the directive autocracy, those are both terrible.

[Jordan] Are there other things on the list of things we shouldn't be doing?

[Trish] Well, I think that that right there, a lot of people are hopefully going to see some opportunities for improvement. And even just to name it, because I've been in those meetings where everybody has a voice, everybody's talking, and we think we're actually doing something good. And instead to actually say, wait, I think we've gone too far. We need some constraints, we need some more clear guidelines. We need some, you know, timelines to hold each other accountable, move more towards productive collaboration. 

Today’s best next action:

[Jordan] Sure. So let's end with this. What are maybe a couple of things that our listeners can do to really optimize their relentless pursuit of value? 

[Trish] I would say think of something that you plan to do in the next two to three months and do it today. Do a piece of it today. Think of something that your team is going to present to somebody in the future, even if it's next week, and tell someone about it today. Don't even necessarily present it, just get it out there and get feedback. 

[Jordan] Find something that you're going to be delivering to the stakeholder or whatever in a couple of months, and get a piece of it out there in front of them today is what you're saying. 

[Trish] Right on. And it doesn't have to be those exact people, but get it out in front of somebody. Try it out. Don't wait till––you've heard all my baked goods analogies––don't wait till everything's baked and bring it out at the bake sale. You know, be testing and tasting and, you know, flavoring your recipe as you go along and making sure other people have some input into that. Because once it's baked, now you got to go all the way back to the beginning as opposed to making midcourse adjustments. And I think often people will be surprised. I do this with students all the time who have a project and they don’t even want me to see it till they’re getting ready to hand it in. And I say, show me an early draft, show somebody an early draft. And it radically changes the way they––it's not always that it changes their grade or it doesn't change the output––it changes the way they frame the problem. If you really listen, when people see your early work or see your work in progress, oftentimes you can make framing changes that you suddenly go, oh, this isn't really about giving you something that makes you look good. It's about giving you something that makes you feel good. And we can't go ask those questions. We have to actually get reactions. 

And so anyway, so I would just encourage everybody, take something you think––and the other piece is just act. Don't wait till you've got all the answers, the world will be so different in two or three months. You'll be different. Your team will be different. Get out there right now. Think about it like sports. If I'm thinking, boy, I want to have a really, really good game of tennis. I think it'll be on December 15th. Or maybe I'll have a really good week of playing tennis. The week of December 15th. Why am I not out right now either getting more in shape, or reading a book about tennis, or practicing with a ball machine, or finding a pro, or doing something? You know that magical thing we want that value we want to capture or create, you’ve got to start yesterday.

[Jordan] That's great. Trish, always great to have you. Thanks for your time. 

[Trish] Thank you. My pleasure. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at donerightpodcast.org. The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

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