Ray Zinn sits with Michael Canic to discuss Michael’s new book, Rutheless Consistancy and how discipline fits into the business consistency framework.
Ray Zinn: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another very exciting Tough Things First podcast. My name is Ray Zinn. I’m the host for today’s podcast. I’m an author. I’m the one that wrote Tough Things First, as well as the Zen of Zinn, I’m a adjunct professor, a lecturer, Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO of a public traded company. And I’m very excited to have with me today Michael Canic, who will be our guest speaker. Welcome. Happy to have you today, Michael.
Michael Canic: Great. Great to be here, Ray. Thanks.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. And Michael has just written a very, very exciting new book called Ruthless Consistency. Wow. What a title. And Michael is a coach. He’s been a teacher, and now an author, and also a trainer. I’m just so excited to have you on the program today.
So let’s talk about your new book, Michael, this Ruthless Consistency, as you refer to it. So in your book, you talk about developing the right focus, creating the right environment and also building the right team. So why all three of those?
Michael Canic: Well, what I found in my experience as a consultant and in the corporate world, also as a football coach, as you said, Ray, is that when you look at why organizations fail or succeed, what I found was that every case of failure I looked at and studying why organizations fail, either they hadn’t developed a clear focus, clear and sustained focus, or they didn’t create the right environment for their people to be successful in executing it, or they didn’t have the right team. And every initiative always comes down to those three things. Do we have the right focus, right environment, and right team? When you have all three of those aligned, those are the organizations that can win.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, perfect. I’m a big advocate of consistency. I think of consistency as being something that if you want to talk about being dogged and so forth… Ruthless, though, sounds a little bit ruthless. So how’d you pick the name ruthless as opposed to dogged or persistent?
Michael Canic: Well, just to say consistency, everybody goes, “Yeah, yeah. Be consistent.” But what I wanted to convey with ruthless was this unwavering commitment, this absolute unwavering commitment where everything you say, everything you do, all your decisions, all your actions are absolutely aligned with what your goal is, your intention. So the notion of ruthless really is just that unwavering commitment to being consistent with what your intended outcomes are.
Ray Zinn: I took a few minutes for me to really digest ruthless. I started reading, and then I kept going back, ruthless. Because ruthless sounds almost evil. Want to talk about [inaudible 00:03:42], ruthless. So then it caused me to really take a different perspective on ruthless because since you’re so dogged and you are so persistent in your consistency, ruthless is really the right word. When we think of this ruthless consistency, it sounds like you’re kind of anti-change, anti-modification. What if a company’s like Uber and they had the wrong kind of culture, the wrong kind of environment? You want to change. It sounds a little bit like you’re going to be stagnant if you’re just so consistent. So help me with that.
Michael Canic: Right. And it’s a good question. When I say ruthless consistency, I’m not talking about robotic repetition. It’s not about being mindless and mechanical just for the sake of being consistent. What I’m really championing, Ray, is a ruthless consistency of purpose. So one that’s constantly projected in a leader’s decisions and actions, and that might call for innovation and change and creativity, all in service of what your intended outcome is. I would even argue that innovation and creativity change is required by ruthless consistency. You can’t be successful if you’re just mindlessly repeating the same process or doing things the same way all the time. So really it’s a consistency of purpose, and it’s reflected in your decisions and your actions, as varied as those might be, but all in service of that purpose, that goal that you want to achieve.
Ray Zinn: So again, we could call it ruthless focus, ruthless innovation, ruthless creativity, ruthless devotion to your employees, ruthless in the way in which you approach a goal and the management of your finances. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Michael Canic: Exactly. So again, it’s more that unwavering commitment to make sure you sustain that focus, everything is aligned with what your goal is. Ray, you know this from business, you were an athlete, a competitive athlete, and you know that for anybody who’s going to be successful, you can’t just, “Well, I’m going to work out today, but I’m not going to work out tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll show up at practice, maybe I won’t.” That’s not it. It’s got to be that consistent, intense focus on what you want to achieve. And ruthless, again, has to leverage the human spirit. Ruthless doesn’t mean we’re crushing the human spirit. It means really we have to make sure we’re engaging people and helping them align and making it in their interest to align with what all of us need to achieve.
Ray Zinn: This is so important. I’m reflecting back on when I started Micrel and how do I keep that consistency going because I was afraid that the wrong kind of habits would creep in. And so I was just absolutely dogged and persistent that I wasn’t going to change the culture of the company, honesty, integrity, dignity of every individual, doing whatever it takes, no excuses, discipline, discipline, discipline. That’s what I focused on, and that’s what it took for me to be a successful athlete was that consistency in my practice and my routines that I had to follow. Change is good. I’m for change, but I only want change in the right direction. I don’t want change just for the sake of change. It’s got to be to improve. Change to improve. So in your book, Michael, you also talk about your anti-strategic planning. Now that kind of threw me off a little bit, but I’m going to let you explain that, about what your thinking about anti-strategic planning is.
Michael Canic: Well, maybe I’ll show that through a story, and that is years ago when I was with the Atlantic Consulting Group, I was running their consulting division, we would do strategic planning for companies. And we would go in and help them develop their strategic plan, and then we would leave, everybody would be amped up, ready to go conquer the world. And then they’d ask us to come back in the next year, “Help us update the plan, help us create a new plan.” Of course, we’d ask, “Well, what got done last year?” And that’s when, well, the hands started ringing and the feet started shuffling, and people said, “Well, we got busy and this happened and that. We didn’t get as much done as we hoped.” And I thought, “This is a joke. It’s a waste of time, money, and effort to create a plan and then it goes on a shelf or it doesn’t get implemented, and we go back to the day to day.”
So what I realized is it’s not about strategic planning. It’s about strategic management. Are we managing our businesses strategically? So it needs to be a process, not an event. Too often we treat strategic planning as an event. We go away for two or three days, or we do a little research, make a few decisions. That’s the event. Strategic planning puts the focus on the wrong thing. It’s really about strategic management.
Ray Zinn: And I agree with you. After I had a takeover try by a shareholder efficacy group, and I would have called them those adverse shareholders, my board said, “Well, we got to do more strategic planning.” Because one of the things that they complained about, the activist did, was that Micrel doesn’t really publish a strategic plan. And so we spent the days, as you said, went away and we focused on… just because we wanted to try to tone down this shareholder. So we went away and did that strategic planning, and it became really a thorn in our side because the shareholders kept coming back to, “Well, you’re not following your strategic plan.” Well, planning is a process. It’s not an event, as you said. You have to revise your strategic plan on a regular basis. And so that was a thing that I had to get across. So a shareholder’s, “Oh, hell, we don’t want you to change. No, we want you to stay. You said this, you said that. You said this, you said that.” And they were dogged about not letting us really, as you said, strategically manage the company. And it was painful. So how do we get around that, Michael?
Michael Canic: Well, one of the things we build into our strategic management process, Ray, is recalibration. We have to be always open to recalibrating given a change in reality. Now is probably the best example of that. With what’s going on with COVID, the idea of a three year plan, I mean, we don’t know what’s happening in three months, much less three years. So what I’m really emphasizing with my clients is quick cycle strategy where, yes, we have to make decisions based on the information and intelligence we have. However, we’ve got to be prepared to quickly recalibrate as new information comes to the table. And whereas before we might recalibrate midyear, we’re recalibrating now, Ray, every month and seeing what has changed in the past month. Do we need to accelerate this strategy? Do we need to defer another one? So recalibration should be a fundamental part of that strategic management process.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. No, you bringing up this COVID-19 pandemic, I mean, if you weren’t prepared to change or adapt, modify, innovate, create, you’re going to go out of business. I’ve had a number of my clients and associates saying, “Well, how do you plan for an epidemic? How do you plan for a disaster?” Well, it’s part of your model. It’s a part of the way in which you do it.” In fact, you talk about this modeling, you talk about a model for engagement and performance. So talk about that. What about this model for engagement and performance?
Michael Canic: Yeah. Once we’ve got the right focus, the question, of course, is how do you get your team aligned with that focus? And typically people say, “Well, get them through training, or tell them, communicate to them.” Well, the reality is tell them and train them doesn’t produce organizational change. In the interest of ruthless consistency, we have to make sure everything is aligned. So the model for engagement and performance essentially looks at the different elements. What are the things we need to do to get people aligned? How do we equip them? How do we coach them? How do we make sure the organization is designed to support them? And how do we make sure we always let them know we value them as individuals. So we’ve got a number of elements, Ray, under each of those that says, “Here are the things as a leader you need to look at to make sure your people are aligned, equipped, coached, supported, and valued.” That’s creating the right environment.
Ray Zinn: Even under a difficult time like we’re currently experiencing with this pandemic, that’s even more important, wouldn’t you say, Michael?
Michael Canic: Absolutely. Because what are people feeling now? They’re anxious. They’re confused. They’re uncertain. Now more than ever they need a leader to communicate. Let them know they’re valued, right? You’re playing a valuable role. Here’s the contribution you’re making. Here’s why what you’re doing is important. Thank you. So people need that sense of affirmation, they need a sense of belonging. Now more than ever we’ve got to make sure we’re doing that as leaders to keep them focused and aligned.
Ray Zinn: And also, I think we need to let them know that we’re still going to be around, the company is healthy and we’re strong. When they talk about the people who are most effected by this pandemic are the ones who are not healthy, who are unhealthy. They have diabetes or they’re overweight or they’re older, elderly, and that’s the ones that can’t make it. It’s the healthy people that are going to succeed through this pandemic, both financially, as far as physically. And so being healthy, being both financially healthy, being physically healthy, and your employees are healthy, your strategic plan is healthy, your management style is healthy, all these things have to be in place if you’re going to succeed during a crisis like the pandemic.
At Micrel I went through eight downturns during the 37 years I ran the company. We had to be prepared for every single downturn because they will happen. Now, they don’t happen maybe every year, but they’ll happen every three, four years. You’re going to get… A crisis is going to come along, and it’s going to put a hiccup in your parade. So anyway-
Michael Canic: Exactly.
Ray Zinn: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to…
Michael Canic: Well, I think you make a really good point on staying healthy throughout all of this because one of the mantras I like to use is, “Stay strong to be strong.” If a leader is going to be strong for others, he or she has to stay strong themselves. So I’m encouraging, again, my clients, make sure you’re getting the rest, make sure you’re eating well, you’re getting at least some amount of exercise. Do some things to keep yourself strong that will enable you to be strong for others.
Ray Zinn: And psychologically. Because if you’re discouraged, if you’re questioning your ability to survive, that’s going to also be sensed by your employees, and they’re going to get discouraged and they’re going to be wondering, “Well, why should I stick around?” So you’re going to be the cheerleader. The time you need to get up and really cheer and promote your company and get your employees fired up is when you’re down. The saying, “When the going gets stuff, the tough get going.” I think that’s that ruthless consistency that you need to have. They’re not always going to be good times. They’re not always going to be wonderful, happy days are here again. You’re going to have to get prepared for the downturns. But when they come, you’re going to make it feel like it’s a soft landing. It’s like landing on the moon. We have to have a soft landing, otherwise we’re going to crash. So I agree with you, Michael, that this ruthless consistency and managing your company and loving your employees, and just when things are down, you’re up. This is what it takes to really, I think, have a successful company.
Michael Canic: Yeah. Leaders are on stage 24/7, and their people are watching, everything they say, everything they do. So if they see you lacking confidence, or they see you wilting under the pressure, well, they’re going to play off of that. That’s going to bring them down. So they need to see a leader who’s consistent, who has a picture of the future. And it’s more than just saying, “We’re going to get through this.” Because that’s great; however, what’s the roadmap? I think they also want to see, “We’re going to get through this, and here’s why we’re going to get through this. Here are the steps we’re taking. Here’s what you can expect. Here’s what our intentions are. Here’s what our actions are.” So I think when they get that positive focus backed up by, “Here are concrete actions,” then people can feel more positive, more optimistic about any changes they’re faced with.
Ray Zinn: When your boat is sinking and you’ve got a hole in it, all you do is bailing, you’re just trying to keep from sinking, and unfortunately that’s not a good strategy is saying, “Well, I don’t have time to really be a strategic leader. I’m bailing.” And sure, that may happen. But either you’re going to have a spare bale pump in there, or you’re going to have some other way to take the pressure off of you so that you can still lead the company. Because if you’re sitting there baling, then your company is not going to succeed. Although you’ll keep the water out, what you have left is really still a boat with a hole in it. You got to lead when the chips are down. You got to be the one that really is there to keep it afloat. Now people are saying, “I don’t know how you’re keeping your boat afloat. It’s a massive hole in it.” You said, “Because I had the preparation, I’m ready. I’ll just keep that water out no matter what.”
Michael Canic: The funny thing, Ray, when you look at people who are successful and people who aren’t successful, they do have one thing in common. And that is all of them have the same amount of time.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, that’s true.
Michael Canic: The difference is what they choose to do with it, right? So we’ve all got the same amount of time. The people who are champions, who are highly successful, whatever, as those who aren’t, that’s the thing we have in common. You choose how to allocate it.
Ray Zinn: And it’s interesting you bring that up because I can remember when I was in a debate class, we were taught to keep our opponent off guard by just putting him on the defense all the time. That’s how you would win is keep your opponent on defense. Well, the same thing. If you’re kept on defense because of the pandemic or whatever other calamity is happening around you, all you’re going to do is be on defense. You’re going to lose. So you got to go on offense. You got to stay on offense. You know what it’s like. And you’re a football coach, so you should know this. If you don’t have a good offense, you better have a good defense. You don’t score any points being on defense. Is that right?
Michael Canic: That’s right. You need a solid defense to be sure, but at the end of the game, you got to score more than your opponents. You got to get points on the board. So if you’re just playing one or the other, if you’re just on the defense, yeah, what are you doing to look at the opportunities? Because, make no mistake, there are opportunities today. We have to work to find them, but there are opportunities out there. At the same time if we’re just looking for opportunities and not playing some defense and making sure our financials are in order, making sure our customers are taken care of, again, we’re vulnerable. The two of them go hand in hand.
Ray Zinn: Well, thank you for joining us today, Michael. This is exciting to have such a coach and just an all around good person on this podcast. Tell us a little bit about where they can find you.
Michael Canic: Great. Thank you. Well, go to our website, makingstrategyhappen.com, makingstrategyhappen.com, and you’ll see there where you’ll be able to pre-order the book and order the book there is on our landing page. So yeah, excited about it coming out. A lot of the ideas I’ve been working on for the past 20 years as a consultant and corporate leader and as a coach, as well, and have come together. Always great to be with you, Ray, because I know our thinking is very aligned on focus and alignment and commitment and discipline and all those good things. So thanks again for having me. I appreciate it.
Ray Zinn: Well, thank you, Michael, for being on this podcast today and sharing us your wisdom. You’ve been a great coach. You’ve been a great consultant leader, entrepreneur, yourself, and it’s just good to have you and people like yourself on our podcast so our listeners can grow and progress themselves.
Once again, join us for our next podcast. Love to have you with us. If you have any questions or concerns that you would like to get understood or need to get some clarification, obviously visit Michael’s website. He’ll be happy to answer them. And you can put them on my website, toughthingsfirst. Remember, you can pick up my book, Tough Things First at Amazon or any other stores that carry out these books. And also my book, Zen of Zinn, you’ll get a big kick out of that. You’ll get to learn strategy for the day as you would. So again, thanks, Michael, for being with us and look forward to having you again on the Tough Things First podcast.
Michael Canic: Thanks so much, Ray. Really appreciate it.