People Stuff and GWC: The Fourth Dimension of Capacity

The dimensional perspective work of M. C. Escher
During the last couple of weeks, I have been talking about the notion that to get great people for your organization, all you need to do is get the right people into the right seats. The short hand for the right people part of the equation is do they genuinely clear your core values bar, and if so, do they “GWC™” it:

  • Get the job; that is, have the skills and experience to perform its roles,
  • Want the job, genuinely and for all the right reasons, and
  • have the Capacity (mental, physical, and emotional) to do the job well.

Today, I am introducing an optional fourth dimension to the meaning of “capacity”; something that goes beyond the mental, physical and emotional.

Content warning: what I am sharing is not pure EOS®. You don’t need to add this component to master EOS and achieve organizational well-being. That said, my clients find the additional dimension illuminating, so I feel compelled to share it.

So what is the fourth dimension?

It is the notion that every seat has a number of roles, and each role has an associated time span. Furthermore, every human has a time span limitation. That means there is a limit to how long one can effectively work a task without direction, using his own discretionary judgment, to achieve a specific goal.

The notion of time span capacity was developed by Elliot Jaques (pronounced “Jacks”), who some refer to as the most undeservedly ignored management researcher of the modern era. Jaques’ “stratified systems theory” postulated that just as humans differ in intelligence, we also differ in our ability to handle time-dependent complexity. In fact, Jaques, spent 55 years researching notions associated with time span capacity and consistently found that at least 85% of time managers and their subordinates would agree regarding the length of the longest task a subordinate could be reasonably expected to comfortably undertake without supervision.

For many (some have suggested up to 40% of our working population), the time span is less than three months, and it never expands. For others, it ultimately maxes out at less than one year. For a few, it continues to elongate as one gets older and wiser.  For some, it never extends much beyond two years. For an even smaller number it will run out to five years.

And then the percentages continue to decline as we move out to 10 years, then 20, then 50.  There are even a very select few who are capable of executing concepts that are 50 to 100 years out – thinkers such as Henry Ford, Einstein, Gandhi, Galileo, and the like.

If you stop and think about the implications, I suspect you’ll find the notion of time span exceedingly interesting in a host of ways, some of which I intend to hit on in future blogs, especially in terms of thinking about the time span associated with each of the key roles possessed by a seat, and consequently, the very structure of an accountability chart.

Until the next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

Getting the “Right Seats” Part of “Right People, Right Seats”



Last week we introduced the notion that getting right people, right seats is one of the most critical components of success in business, and we talked about how to identify the right people.  Today, I want to share what I call the “101” version of mastering the right seats part.

(If you missed, last week’s blog, first go here and read it so you have the background on core values and using them to hire, fire, review, and reward.)

Let’s start by defining what a “seat” is.

At its simplest, a seat is a role on something we call an Accountability Chart (“A/C”); a chart which shows who is responsible for what. This includes everything from who oversees sales to who is responsible for replacing the tissue paper before it runs out.

There is a host of reasons, why we use the word “role” instead of “title”, not the least of which is the fact that titles so frequently generate dysfunction due to resentment, frustration, politics, and the like. Because role-based descriptions such as “Head of Sales” simply describe what someone is accountable for, they eliminate 95% of the noise that typically is associated with titles.

So what makes a seat “right”?

Here is where the fun begins! The “right” seats are the collection of seats that an organization needs to get where it wants to be in six to nine months, and to attract and retain talent. That means the seats have to be both right for the organization and right for the talent.

Let’s drill into some of the obvious questions you may be asking:

1.  Why 6-9 months instead of today?  Or two years out?
There are several reasons why it’s best to keep this kind of mid-range mindset when planning right seats:

  • strong senior leadership teams should review and confirm or revise their A/C’s once every quarter during their quarterly meeting,
  • it often times takes at least three months just to fill a position,
  • great leadership teams create transparent environments and share their A/C’s with their entire organization so everyone knows who is accountable for what and what if any seats are open and/or being temporarily filled, and
  • hiring for a position that you know you don’t need for at least a year doesn’t work for either the company (it’s a waste of money) or the employee (it’s a waste of talent).

2.  What does “right for the organization” mean?
This simply means there are just the right types (e.g., roles and responsibilities) of seats and the right number of seats to optimize productivity; that the A/C is neither bloated to the point of causing excessive personnel costs, nor so lean that people are stretched to the point of making mistakes or making turnover an issue. It’s kind of like the beds in the Goldilocks fairy tale: neither too big, nor too small, but just right!___

3.  What does “right for the individual” mean?
For a job to be right for an individual, he or she must “GWC™” it:

  • Get the job; that is, have the skills and experience to perform its roles,
  • Want the job, genuinely and for all the right reasons, and
  • have the Capacity (mental, physical, and emotional) to do the job well.

 Consequently, all you need to do to master right people, right seats is:

  1. establish your core values,
  2. create an optimized A/C that enumerates the specific roles for every one of the seats, and
  3. put people into those seats that possess your core values bar AND absolutely GWC the seat.

In our next post, I am going to introduce you to an optional fourth, and somewhat controversial, component of capacity (i.e., in addition to mental, physical and emotional) and take the notion of mastering the right seats to the next level.

Until then, may you build with passion and confidence.

Three Keys to Finding the Right Employees

Jim Collines web header

In his bestselling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins popularized the notion that an organization’s success is highly dependent upon its ability to get the right people in the right seat. Easy, right? Well, yes… and no!  The secret to finding the right employees to work for you – and keeping them – is very straight forward; all you need to do is surround yourself with individuals who share and live by your core values.

There are three keys to mastering the “right people” part of your business:

  1. Establish a set of core values that you genuinely embrace and commit to live by week in, week out.

    • List them in your Vision/Traction Organizer (download one here);
    • Put them at the center of every one of your people processes, including hiring, reviewing, firing, rewarding, and promoting; and
    • During your quarterly update — where you review how you did the last quarter and roll out the updated version of your V/TO — share stories of your people exemplifying each of your core values._
  2. Establish a meaningful bar regarding what it takes to be a right person.

    We encourage our clients to use a tool called the People Analyzer (download here).  It’s an extraordinarily simple table that allows you to rate each employee in terms of how he/she lives each of your core values.

    • A “+” means and person exemplifies that core value;
    • “+/-“ means he/she lives that core value more often than not; and
    • “-“ means someone exhibits values that are antithetical to yours.

    Make it clear to your employees that they need to be genuine culture carriers; consequently, they need to have more pluses than plus/minuses, and there is no room for a “-” on the chart.

  3. Once the bar has been set, walk the talk. DO NOT keep the wrong people around, no matter what.

    If your top-producing sales person makes you a lot of money, but doesn’t live the core values, he has to go. Keeping him will tear away at your credibility and send the rest of your workforce the message that you’re not really serious about all this core values stuff.  When you identify someone who is “below the bar”, institute the Three Strike Rule:

    • Share the people analyzer with him and show him the issue(s);
    • support each issue with three examples (because it takes three data points to show a trend);
    • let him know this is Strike One and that he has 30 days to correct the problem (unless the issue is severe, like fraud);
    • document the meeting and both of you sign it; then
    • meet again on day 31. If the problem persists, let him know he will have 30 more days to correct the issue, and if it is not corrected at that point, you will have to let him go.

If you implement these practices and stick to them, in time you will find your right people issues are nominal. And you will be blessed to be surrounded by what my wife refers to as her “High Fives”: people who enhance our energy, passion, inspiration, enthusiasm, self-worth, hope, and curiosity; people who just make us better versions of ourselves.

Next week, we’ll talk about getting people in the “right seats”.  Until then, may you build with passion and confidence.

Getting The People Thing Right

Dan Pink web header

It is widely believed that the Arab Spring was sparked by a Tunisian food vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire; not because of religion, but because the powers-that-be consistently frustrated his attempts to build his business and earn a living. He didn’t die yelling, “Death to America!” or “Allahu akbar!” He is said to have died crying, “I just want to work.”

People are literally dying to work all across the world. Most are not dying for money per se, but for an opportunity to engage in meaningful work. Some seek meaningful work for themselves, but most are struggling to give their children the possibility of having meaningful work one day.

If you recall my well-being post from several weeks back, I believe we achieve well-being when we:

  • have something meaningful to do,
  • are surrounded by people we enjoy, and
  • have something interesting to look forward to.

That’s all our most of our friends in the Middle East want. That’s all any of us really needs.

And fundamentally, those three things are something that every organization in the world would be wise to provide every one of its employees if it has any desire to survive over the long term.

I believe we are at an extraordinarily interesting time in history; on the one hand, the vast majority of the people in the world – from the streets of Arabia to the walls of Hong Kong – want economic and social freedom. Conversely, I believe that capitalism is under attack from around the world, and significantly so even from within our own country.

I believe deeply in capitalism. But I also believe that the U.S. in particular has more than its fair share of short-sighted CEOs, and that the organizational health of our companies deeply affects the economic and social lives of not only our employees and our investors, but all of their families, our vendors, our customers, our communities, our nation, and ultimately our world.

More to the point, I believe that most (dare I say 95%) organizations could do the “people stuff” so much better than they do for a host of reasons, not the least of which are weak people systems and some serious misconceptions about why people really work, how to motivate, and what strong leadership is all about.

And so marks the intro for my next series of blogs: The People Stuff. Over the next several weeks, I am going write on a host of people-related topics associated with creating and sustaining organizational well-being. I am confident I will provide at least a couple of contrarian thoughts for your consideration. And I will endeavor to give you some ideas, disciplines and tools that will help you enhance not only the organizational well-being of your company, but the overall well-being of our world.

Until next week, may you build with passion and confidence.

Why We Often Have to Repeat Things Seven Times


Photo by Hartwig HKD

Human beings are an interesting lot.  As a young man, I was fairly idealistic, but the older I get, the more realistic I become.  Today, I guess you could say I am more in the realpolitik versus ideologue camp when it comes to human behavior.  The “Rule of Seven” is one of my favorite realpolitik philosophies because it enables me to be at peace with the fact that as leaders, we often have to repeat things seven times before they genuinely sink in.

(Incidentally, Google’s Schmidt and Rosenberg say it takes 20 times according to their great, and very Traction®-like, book How Google Works.)

Truth is, the first time someone hears something — concepts like Core Values or Core Focus™, in particular — it flies in one ear and out the other.  Whoosh!

The second time, they say to themselves, “I think I have heard that before,” and then the brain snaps back to wherever it was.

Third time, they actually hear you because most of us need at least three data points to discern any trend, so naturally, we don’t really take anything seriously until someone says it at least three times.

The fourth time is really the first time they fully engage with the concept because it wasn’t until the third time that they actually listened.

And it is typically after sharing something for the fourth time that even the wisest among us need to call upon our internal Zen master and calmly say to ourselves, “Fantastic! I only have to repeat myself three more times before they actually get what I’m saying.”

The fifth time you say it, they have thankfully moved on to not just hearing you, but intellectually engaging with you.  Unfortunately, that’s almost always comprised of an all-out effort to find the error in the wisdom you are trying to impart.  And we once again call upon our internal Zen master: “Zen.  Zen.  Zennn.”  Because we need to repeat things even to ourselves!

The sixth time you say it, they conclude that what you are saying actually makes sense and that you must mean it since you have said it at least… what, three times?

And finally, the seventh time you say it, the little voice in their head goes, “Enough already, I get it.”

I am not just sharing the Rule of Seven philosophy because I hope you will appreciate the fundamental insight, but also because after you get your senior leadership team all on the Same Page with regard to the answers to the Eight Key Questions, it is now your team’s job to make sure that everyone in your organization is on the Same Page with regard to understanding and buying into the answers to the Eight Key Questions — the answers which now enable you to fill out your simple, but powerful, two-page strategic plan, the Vision/Traction Organizer™ (V/TO™) (download here) that I wrote about many full moons ago.

And guess what?  Yep, it’s absolutely going to take sharing your V/TO with every one of your colleagues at least seven times before you and the rest of your senior leadership team have mastered the Vision Component™.

Until next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

Smart + Healthy = Enduring Success: Long-Term Issues

"America would be a better place if leaders would do more long-term thinking." -Wilma Mankiller

We all have issues.  A shocking confession, I know!  By definition, an issue is an important topic for debate or discussion.   Consequently, issues aren’t just problems to be solved, threats to be thwarted, or obstacles to overcome, but they include opportunities to be grasped and challenges to be embraced.

One of the major differences between weak, good, and great businesses — and especially their senior leadership teams — is their ability to problem-solve.  And that includes being really good at deciding what problems they aren’t going to worry about solving.

Like effective marketing strategies — where being in agreement on who our target market is not is just as important as being in agreement on who it is — agreeing on what we are not going to worry about right now has a host of benefits.

Here are six reasons to keep a long-term issues (“LTI”) list:

  1. An LTI list provides additional context with regard to what our priorities are.  Knowing what isn’t important makes clearer what is.
  2. It prevents us from sweeping problems under the rug.  Issues that are not acknowledged eat away at the fabric of trust that binds any organization.  Keeping the issues you can’t solve now in a “public” list, as in our Vision / Traction Organizer™ (download here), assures us that issues we feel are important are not being ignored.
  3. It helps us let go of what we can’t do now.  We all have issues that don’t need to be solved during the next 90 days.  Having a formal process for acknowledging them makes it easier for us to let go of those we might otherwise want to address immediately, but which need to take a back seat so we can focus on more urgent ones.
  4. It saves time and energy.  Many LTIs magically disappear over time, so keeping them on a list saves us lots of effort that would otherwise be invested in trying to solve issues that would either simply vaporize or come out in the wash with other issues.
  5. It simplifies things.  Many long-term issues initially seem complicated – they’re ambiguous, amorphous, political, emotional, etc. –  but they become simpler over time.  Especially when they disappear as in reason #4.
  6. LTIs provide additional context for our longer-term strategies.  They ensure that the entire organization has a sense for what potentially lies on the horizon (see my well-being post on the power of having something to look forward to).

Do you and your team have a place for documenting your long-term issues?

Until next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

Smart + Healthy = Enduring Success: Rocks

"Stop setting goals.  Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them."  -Stephen Covey

We have been discussing how truly smart and healthy organizations have leadership teams that are 100% on the Same Page with regard to the answers to Eight Key Questions.  Previous posts covered the first six questions, and today we are talking about question #7: “What are our rocks?”

“Rocks” is the term we use for the key priorities you and your colleagues will focus on for the next 90 days.  Instead of being overwhelmed with how to accomplish the “big stuff” (the goals associated with the 1-Year Plan), we live in a “90-Day World”, meaning that we focus each quarter on what we can get done in the next 90 days.  This helps goals and priorities become much more manageable.

(Incidentally, if you’d like a refresher on why we call these “rocks”, watch this video demonstration on Franklin Covey’s YouTube channel.)

The first step in setting quarterly rocks is identifying between three and seven “company rocks” that have to be accomplished if we are to remain on target for the 1-Year Plan, and assigning each rock to an owner who is responsible for making sure it gets accomplished.  Once the company rocks are identified, we take the rock-setting process all the way down through the organization so that every employee is responsible for at least one rock that is supportive of the company’s goals.

Here are seven reasons why using quarterly rocks is the healthiest and most effective way to reach the short-term goals that will lead to achieving your long-term goals:

  1. Since every rock has an owner, rocks help ensure we are all on the same page with regard to what our priorities are and who is responsible for each of them.
  2. Great Rock setting processes ensure that we are all on the same page with regard to what’s urgent, what’s important, and what can wait until the next quarter.
  3. People are more inclined to embrace and own a “rock” than a goal or objective.  “Rocks”, oddly enough, actually seem more personable and less intimidating than “goals” or “quotas”.
  4. We can track rocks at our weekly meetings by asking whether they are “on-track” or “off-track”.  We add the off-track rocks to our Weekly Issues List (which we’ll discuss in a future post), then we can have a constructive conversation regarding why it is off-track and what we need to do to get it back on-track.
  5. We can measure our rock completion percentages by person, by department, and by level to get objective data that helps us identify what’s working, what’s not working, and who may need some help.  A completion rate of less than 80% is usually a sign of trouble.
  6. Good rock-setting is a team effort done at a peer group level.  Many of us are prone to over-committing, but peer involvement helps prevent any one person from taking on too much or signing up for priorities that are misaligned with the bigger company rocks.
  7. It’s easy to make rocks fun!  Try this:  set two clear bowls in your office or in some other visible place, and give everyone on the team his/her own uniquely colored rocks with a word or two describing the specific priority.  Put the new quarterly rocks in one bowl, and then celebrate transferring the done rocks to another bowl as they are completed.

That’s my pitch for rocks.

Until next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

Smart + Healthy = Enduring Success: 1-Year Plan

"Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan." -Tom Landry

As you may recall, we have been exploring the notion that enduring success is achievable when one builds an organization that is both smart and healthy, and that one of the major aspects of creating a smart and healthy organization is getting every member of the senior leadership team on the “Same Page” regarding the answers to what we call the Eight Key Questions.

Today’s post is about the power of a simplified one year plan.

After you have infused your vision with the inspirational might of a 10-Year Target™ and have established a clear and compelling 3-Year Picture™, it’s time to simplify your short-term goals with a 1-Year Plan that will propel your organization toward your longer-range goals.

An effective 1-Year Plan must do four things:

  1. Establish goals and Key Measurable targets that are consistent with, and help legitimize, the 3-Year Picture;
  2. Be comprised of only 3-7 goals for the year – because less is more, and the probability that any goal will be achieved is inversely proportional to the number of goals set;
  3. Provide a clear framework for creating great processes for quarterly planning and goal-setting; and
  4. Be shared with all the employees so that everyone has a clear sense for how his role, measurables, and goals relate to the organization’s key priorities.

I get that this seems way too simple, but our experience shows that establishing a simple 1-Year Plan is typically one of the easiest parts of creating your V/TO because of all of the great work that has already gone into setting an inspirational 10-Year Target and a compelling, yet realistic, 3-Year Plan.

Truth is, the real work goes into establishing the organization’s 90-day priorities — we call those “Rocks” – which we will address in our next blog post.

Unit next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

The “80% Rule”: Making Good Decisions Easier and Faster

Napoleon - Decide - web header
More often than not, we have to make decisions with less-than-perfect information or insight.  That’s just life, especially as a leader.  The biggest common denominator of great leaders and great leadership teams is the ability to make good decisions with less-than-perfect information.

But how do we make a decision when there are “gaps” in our information?

One of my favorite decision-making guidelines is the 80% Rule.  The essence of the rule is that 80% solutions are usually good enough – especially in business, since we typically make dozens of material decisions every week as we deal with the myriad of issues afflicting every company.

Shooting for “good enough” might seem counter-intuitive or even lazy since, for many of us, the idea that it is unacceptable to aim for anything less than perfection has been deeply embedded in the psyche.  We’ve been taught that “good enough” isn’t good enough.

But there are two things wrong with striving for perfection:

  1. It’s a fool’s game.  When it comes to the world of people and business, perfection doesn’t exist, and chasing it is almost always a huge waste of time and resources.
  2. Setting a standard of perfection can be crippling.  If we cannot give ourselves, our colleagues, and employees permission not to be perfect, we can become too afraid of failure to do anything. Then how will we ever make any decisions, get things done, or learn anything?

The 80% rule works because 80% is close enough to 100% to convey the idea of striving for excellence without requiring absolute perfection.

Further, if you have the right kind of people in your organization, they will have an innate desire to exceed your 80% expectations and strive for perfection anyway, but it’s only your permission to miss the bulls-eye that gives them the freedom they need to aim for it.

The 80% Rule doesn’t just apply to decision making.  It also applies to setting up the facts we use to make decisions.  Can you imagine how many hours in the history of business have been wasted debating and worrying about the exception to a rule, trying to come up with a solution to a problem that will work 100% of the time?  It’s usually impossible to devise a solution to a problem that will work in all cases without exception.

One of the beauties of the 80% Rule is that it respects and acknowledges the exceptions.  In fact, it enhances our ability to make the larger point. For instance, 80% of the time, I think you will find that the 80% Rule works extraordinarily well!  Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but given the probabilities, doesn’t it make sense to at least consider the 80% Rule?

Until the next time, may you make good decisions swiftly, and build with confidence and passion.

Well-Being = Vision, Traction, and Healthy

Years and years ago, I became attracted to the notion of “well-being” and embarked on a lifelong study of the topic.  Since then it is difficult for me to not dig into any article or book that passes my eyes on the subject or related topics like “happiness”.

Candidly, I am sure I have bored more than a few friends, family members, clients, prospects, partners, and even passing acquaintances with my thoughts on the subject. I tend to go there not only because I find that most people are also intrigued by the topic, but because I see it as the single most defining principle of what I do.

So what is “well-being”?  How do we achieve it?  And how does it relate to how I help senior leadership teams turn good businesses into great ones?

There are many definitions, but generally speaking, well-being is defined as, “the state of being comfortable, healthy, and happy”.

According to Martin Seligman, one of the leading authorities on the subject, well-being is typically obtained when we possess the following:

  • a positive attitude;
  • engagement in activities that leverage our strengths;
  • relationships that are supportive, nurturing, and enduring;
  • meaningful work; and
  • achievement.

Being one who has come to embrace “short and sweet” whenever possible, I am drawn to the simplest definition of well-being I have ever heard: Someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.

So what does “someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to” have to do with building great companies?

Quite simply, it’s just a different set of words for framing the three abilities we believe companies need to master if they want to build great and enduring businesses: Vision, Traction®, and Healthy (VTH).

  • Vision: getting everyone in their organization on the same page with regard to what the business is, where it’s going, and how it’s going to get there (something to look forward to);
  • Traction: creating a culture of discipline and accountability so everyone knows who does what and can count on one another to fulfill their role (something to do); and
  • Healthy: creating an environment where everyone genuinely enjoys working together (someone to love).

It’s really that simple.  VTH is the key to organizational well-being, and organizational well-being is the foundation for long term success.

Make sense?  I hope so.

Until next time, may you build with passion and confidence.


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