Strategy is often easier than execution.
In this episode of the Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn chats with Michael Canic of Making Strategy Happen to explore how an organization goes from planning to execution, all while remaining faithful to the underlying strategy.
Michael Canic, PhD, CSP is the founder and Chief Flag-Bearer of Making Strategy Happen®. Through high-impact consulting, action-inspiring presentations, and a wealth of resources, Michael helps committed leaders turn ambition into strategy, and strategy into reality.
Ray Zinn: Welcome to another Tough Things First Podcast. I’m so delighted today to have with me Michael Canic, who is a management consultant specializing in helping companies develop realistic strategic plans. And so Michael, welcome. Hopefully we have a great session today.
Michael Canic: Great. Great to be here, Ray. Looking forward to it. Thank you.
Ray Zinn: Before we begin, Michael, would you please just tell our audience, who you are, what your background is?
Michael Canic: Great. Thank you. Yeah, my company is making strategy happen. We work with committed leaders to turn ambition into strategy and strategy into reality and simply put, it’s the execution where we fall down, Ray. We’ve got good intentions, good ideas. And making it happen is the hard part. So my world, the past 18 years has been focused on making that happen.
Prior to that, I ran the consulting division of the Atlantic Consulting Group. I’ve got a PhD in the psychology of human performance and I’m a former football coach as well. And we can get into that as well. But lots of things that have led to this point. But it’s really around making strategy happen.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, it’s interesting, your experience as a football coatee is fascinating. So why don’t you just briefly tell us about that and how that ties into what you’re doing with your current company?
Michael Canic: Yeah. The big thing, one of the big lessons I took away from coaching is there’s a big difference between the will to win and the will to do what it takes to win. And you better understand that difference. All of us want to win. We want to be successful, we want to feel what it feels like to win. But are we willing to do what it takes, which is often the detailed discipline, difficult things. Often what we don’t want to do, what we don’t like to do, but the things we have to do to make sure we win. And you see this in successful people, whether it’s in sports or business, whatever field, there is no easy path. But that commitment, that focus, alignment, and commitment is key to success.
Ray Zinn: You know, I’ve heard that over half the athletes and especially in football become bleacher watchers as opposed to a players, because they just don’t have that burning commitment to do whatever it takes to become the best of the best. And so, they’ve done well in little league football or Pop Warner or whatever. But when they got up into the big leagues, college, and pro sports, over half of them are sidelined.
Michael Canic: Yeah, I think that’s right. And how that plays into business, just to take a brief aside here, when it comes to recruiting people, I like to look for people who are often former, whether it’s athletes or excelled in some field, but importantly, Ray, those who weren’t the naturals, those who are the overachievers. Who had to work hard, who had to dedicate themselves. They built the good habits and the good traits which transfer well in the business world. Often the great natural performers don’t have those traits.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, that’s true I think in life. Whether it be as a parent, a husband or wife, it’s the same. We all have to have that desire to see something succeed. We have what, over half the marriages in this country end up in divorce because they weren’t willing to make it work. And as you point out in your writings and your training that this research shows that 60 to 70% of all initiatives fail because of just that commitment. Is that correct?
Michael Canic: Exactly. Yeah. It comes down to what we as leaders don’t do. We lack the commitment. We don’t make certain that all of our decisions, all of our actions are consistently aligned with our intentions. Were unwittingly inconsistent and people pick up on it. So it’s really being, just very painstaking around, “Is every decision I make, every action I take consistent with my intentions.”
And when that’s reflected and people see that all the arrows are aligned, they pick up on that as well. And that’s when you create a focused and energized organization.
Ray Zinn: Well, you talk about commitment, and again, I remember as a college student, we had a hypnotists come to school and was teaching us about hypnotism and how it helps. And so I immediately, I could raise my hand, “I’d like to be one of the hypnotists”, or be hypnotized…
Michael Canic: Hypnotized.
Ray Zinn: Right.
Michael Canic: Yes.
Ray Zinn: And, and so, he did his thing, and he asked me to do some certain things and of course I didn’t do them. And so I looked at him and I said, “Well, I thought you’re going to put me under.” And he says, “You have to want to go under.” And I says, “Oh, I want to go under.” He says, “No, you don’t, by your actions. I can tell you’re not committed to what we’re doing. You don’t believe in what we’re doing.”
And so he excused me promptly because it was ruining the whole thing by him not being able to get me to want to commit to it. Now, as I sit here today, I’m not sure I’m a believer in hypnotism, but it does reflect your comment about I wasn’t committed to it. I didn’t believe in that, at least deep enough. I didn’t believe in it to allow it to happen. Does that make sense to you, Michael?
Michael Canic: Absolutely. And it’s easy to fool ourselves, because we want to be committed. We think we’re committed. But the moments of truth are often the uncomfortable thing. So here’s an example. Holding people accountable is something many organizations struggle with. And we say we’re committed, but when it comes to holding people accountable, constructively accountable, we avoid it, we put it off, it’s uncomfortable, it’s confrontation. Maybe it’ll get better on its own. We come up with rationalizations. That’s a good example.
But if we realize no, to be successful, we need to hold people constructively accountable. And I’m just picking on accountability, now. There’s a lot of other things we need to do to reinforce people, and support, and train them, and develop them. But accountability, if we’re not willing to do that, we’re sending a mixed message, Ray, about our commitment. People pick up on, “Oh, I guess this is optional. I guess the leader really isn’t committed.” That’s why we have to be so consistent. And commitment is reflected in what I call ruthless consistency.
Ray Zinn: Even though I got my masters, 50 something years ago. I was taught that leaders get things done through people. In other words, if you can’t get things done through people, you’re not really a leader. You may have the title like CEO, or vice president, or some other fancy title that makes you sound important. But if you can’t get things done through people, are you really a leader? So can you address that Michael?
Michael Canic: 100% right. In my view, and I emphasize this with clients all the time, it’s not about you, it’s through you, right? You are only a vehicle. And if you do the things that you should do as a leader, that enables your people to perform at their best. And when people perform at their best in the right direction, with the right goals, the right objectives, that’s when success happens.
So leaders are great enablers. They create the right environment to be successful. So 100% agree, it really is. I think… John Maxwell, of course the prolific leadership writer wrote, “If you say you’re leading, but no one is following, then you’re really just going for a walk.” And that’s what we have to keep in mind.
Ray Zinn: Exactly. Exactly, and I think it’s important for our listeners to understand that you may be committed in your mind, but if you’re people that follow you are not committed, you’re again, you’re just going for a walk, and by yourself.
Michael Canic: Exactly.
Ray Zinn: So help us understand, Michael, how we can get people to follow us. Maybe you could share some guidelines, or some ideas that you’ve come across that can help our listeners understand how they can get people to follow us.
Michael Canic: Sure, in my model, Ray, it’s really creating the right environment, which is made up of five things. Have we oriented people, have we equipped them, have we coached them, have we supported them, and have we valued them as individuals? So let me just touch on each of those.
When I mean orient them, I mean orienting their heads and hearts in the right direction. Everybody today talks about purpose. Yes, very important. But have we linked purpose to goals and expectations? We have to connect the dots for them. It’s one thing to say we have this high level purpose as an organization, but do people see how that translates into goals and what we expect of them?
Orienting them also means taking away the disincentives that would keep good people from changing. The number one disincentive that keeps people from changing is fear. Fear of the unknown. So as leaders, we have to make sure we overcommunicate during times of change to remove that fear of the unknown. Letting people know what we want to accomplish, how, and importantly why. And if we can overcommunicate with them, take away that fear of the unknown, we overcome that disincentive.
So number one, we’ve got to orient hearts and heads.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, and go ahead. Yeah, I interrupted you. Go ahead.
Michael Canic: That’s all right. And number two, and I’ll just talk through each of these quickly here, but number two, in terms of equipping people, we have to make sure they have the knowledge, skills, resources, and authority to succeed, and not endless amounts, but sufficient amounts.
For example, one of the things we often do, we say, “Well, we don’t a lot of resources do the best with what you have.’ Well, the message we’re unwittingly sending, Ray, is that it’s not that important. Better to do fewer things but, sufficiently resource them so people feel they’re being set up to succeed, not set up to fail.
Number three, are we coaching them instead of just managing them? And the big difference here, Ray, is that coaches take responsibility for the performance of their people. Coaches to ask themselves, “What do I need to do to enable my people to perform at their best? How do I create the right environment? What buttons do I need to push? What levers do I need to pull to give them a fighting chance to succeed?” Coaches take responsibility.
Number four, as an organization, do we support them? Have we aligned processes and policies And our structure? Do we have the right infrastructure, again so they can and be successful?
And number five, and this is critical, do we value them as individuals? Because I can tell you, Ray, as somebody who’s, my wife and I have traveled over 40 countries. It’s a passion of ours, just discovering different cultures and countries. One of the things I’ve discovered, is that there are universals, and that is everyone wants to respected, everyone wants to feel trusted, and everyone wants to feel cared about as an individual. If we as leaders can truly value people, that will energize them, and again, help them perform at their best.
So quickly, the five things we need to do to create the right environment. We have to orient people, we have to equip them, we have to coach them, support them, and value them as individuals.
Ray Zinn: Perfect. You know, and I was taught that there’s a difference between ministering and administering. So ministering is where they feel your love, your compassion, your willingness to help. Administering is when you’re dictating you’re directing, and you’re more of checking the boxes as you would. And your employees know that, when you’re ministering to them or when you’re administering to them. They sound similar. But they’re not the same are they Michael?
Michael Canic: No, no, that’s a very good point. And you said people can pick up on it. People are bloodhounds for mixed messages, for inconsistency, for do you care about them, or not care about them. People pick this up. So as leaders, we have to recognize we are on stage 24/7, and the messages we send intentionally and not are being perceived by our people. So we have a great responsibility to make sure we’re very consistent in sending clear messages aligned with our values, aligned with our direction, aligned with winning.
Ray Zinn: It’s important that people understand what your motives are, in other words, where is your head? And are you being honest, or are you just doing your job? And so honesty and integrity is something so important. And of course you mentioned about respecting every individual because they want to feel valued. So you mentioned also to me that something about anything we do is everything we do. So what’s that all about?
Michael Canic: Well, yeah, what’s more important than anything we do then is everything we do, meaning any single mixed message can undermine our efforts. So let me give you a few examples. If we communicate with our people our intentions and we train them, but let’s say we don’t give them the authority to apply that training, then they feel powerless.
If we on the other hand communicate with them, but don’t give them sufficient resources, that one thing alone can undermine everything. If we spout our values, “Here’s what’s important”, but we don’t hold people accountable for violating the values, again, we’re sending a mixed message. So all to say that you could do a hundred things right, but do they remember the 99 times you’re honest, or the one time you are dishonest?
Any single thing misaligned can undermine everything. Again, that’s why as leaders, we have to be very consistent, and very aware that we’re sending messages continually.
Ray Zinn: What’s interesting is that we use this word, hold them accountable, hold them accountable, and so holding them accountable is more than just saying, “Hey, you did this wrong”, or, “We need you to apologize”, or whatever. So I think this “holding them accountable” is a overly used a phrase. So how do we truly, honestly, hold people accountable? How do we do that, Michael?
Michael Canic: Right, the number one thing I would say to your listeners, Ray, is whenever you think of the term accountability, put the word constructive in front of it. Constructive accountability. And that changes your mindset to one of accountability, like, “You were wrong, you were bad, you didn’t perform”, negative, to how do we help people improve?
Because really the reason we hold people accountable, the right reason, is to help them improve, help them get better. It is intended to be a constructive purpose. So again, thinking we are coaches, we’re not just managers. If as coaches, we think, “Okay, what do we need to do to help get better performance? What do I need to do to enable the person? What leavers do I need to pull? And then what do I expect of them? What’s required of them?”
Part of this is just a mindset about accountability being negative. I think we need to think in terms of constructive accountability.
Ray Zinn: Well it’s just interesting and I’m glad you headed me down this direction that when you hold someone accountable, it’s got to start with yourself. In other words, if they work for you and they’re performing one of your responsible areas, then you have to hold yourself accountable, because accountability doesn’t start with the person who you’re directing. Accountability starts with you as the individual leading the organization. Is that correct?
Michael Canic: Absolutely. And again, you have to look in the mirror. The story that comes to mind here is many years ago, a guy named Bill Walsh who coached the San Francisco 49ers ultimately to, I think it was three or four Superbowl wins. Before they had won their first super bowl. I think it was the previous year, and they lost in the playoffs. He came into the dressing room at the end of the game, all the players, face him and they had performed very poorly. They were thinking he was going to chew them out. What he said to them was “Fellows, what I need to do is go back and look at how I can be a better coach and help prepare you better for these kinds of games.”
He first took responsibility, he looked in the mirror, he held himself accountable, and when you as a leader do that, that not only sends a very strong message to your people, but it also is more likely to encourage them to hold themselves accountable.
Ray Zinn: I call this looking in the mirror rather than around the mirror.
Michael Canic: That’s very good.
Ray Zinn: And so that’s the term I use. So when we look in the mirror, then we take responsibility, even for the failings and the frailties of our organization. When we look around the mirror, we’re pointing at them, we’re pointing at someone else other than ourselves. And so when we hold our organization accountable, it’s got to start with ourselves as the leader. And again, on this podcast we’re talking about the leaders. And so those of you who are listening to this, who have a responsibility for leading your organization, when you say holding someone accountable, look in the mirror, not around the mirror. And who do you see? You see the problem. Yes, it’s you. So the more successful you are, the more successful will be your organization.
Michael Canic: Exactly right. Yeah. And it all comes down, in my world, it all comes down to committed leaders, committed leaders. If a leader is truly committed, they will develop the focus, they will get the right team, they will create the right environment, and they will work to improve themselves and surround themselves with good people if they are lacking in capabilities.
But it really comes down to commitment, and we see stories like this all the time, again, whether it’s in business, in sports, in entertainment, whatever. Those with that real deep commitment find a way to make it work.
Ray Zinn: And the example you used of Bill Walsh and him taking responsibility for his team as opposed to just blaming them as players is a good one. I was going to ask you for a story but you came up with one, which was this one about Coach Bill Walsh. So anyway, do you have any questions for me, by chance, Michael?
Michael Canic: Yeah, one thing that comes to mind, Ray, you’ve got a tremendous background and really clear from your past that you were shaped by your upbringing in terms of work ethic and discipline and some very admirable traits. I guess my question is for people who haven’t benefited from that kind of early life experience, and I had a similar experience in terms of work ethic and discipline, but for those who haven’t benefited from that early life experience, how have you seen people develop those traits?
Ray Zinn: It’s again, they have to be committed. They have to be willing to look in the mirror rather than around the mirror. And so that, that’s what I think is the key is whether you have been brought up and had the exposure to accepting responsibility as a young person, or whether you’ve taken on this leadership role later on in life.
It’s a matter of commitment, as you pointed out earlier in our podcast that if that person is committed, and if they’re willing to, to listen, and so we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. And we should use them proportionally. We need to listen more rather than just talk, because we can’t listen while we’re talking. And so if they’re willing to seek out a good mentor, and I think that’s another key of a person willing to learn, is they want to get a mentor.
Maybe they’ll find somebody that’s been down that road before, and people who say, ‘Well, I don’t need anybody telling me how to do it then”, then they’re not going to be the committed a leader that you need them to be. So, seek a good mentor is another suggestion that I would have, Michael.
Michael Canic: Very good. Yep. No, I agree. We can’t do it on our own, and whether it’s a peer advisory group, whether it’s a mentor, or it’s a coach, and there are lots of resources available there, online and otherwise, yeah, find the tools, find the resources to help make you a stronger leader.
Ray Zinn: Yes sir. So any other thoughts or are you just about it?
Michael Canic: Well, that’s great. I know it’s a lot in a short time. Yeah. I would just say if your listeners are interested more on our website, makingstrategyhappen.com, I have over 400 blog posts. There are lots of downloadable tools, models, resources, a lot of things that people can access to help them on this journey. And I would just leave people with the idea that ruthless consistency, the more you can be committed, and the more that’s reflected in a ruthless consistency in your decisions and your actions, then the more likely you are to enable your team to be successful.
Ray Zinn: Oh, I love it. Ruthless consistency. Ruthless. Oh boy, that has a strong connotation to it. So once again, what is that website?
Michael Canic: makingstrategyhappen.com.
Ray Zinn: makingstrategyhappen.com. Okay. So those of you who want to learn more about committed leadership and developing the right kind of habits with a ruthless commitment, then please go to Michael’s website. So again, thank you so much Michael for joining us today. I appreciate it, the time you spent here with me today.
I hope that our listeners get a big learning session out of this. And again, appreciate the time you spent. So with that, please come visit our website, toughthingsfirst.com. Get my book, “Tough Things First.” You can get at any a book retailer. This, again, we’re willing to take your questions online. If you have questions or thoughts, please don’t hesitate to send me an email or Michael at his website. Again, I sure appreciate you being with me today, Michael.
Michael Canic: Fantastic. It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you, Ray.
Ray Zinn: See you later everybody.