Thinking & Strategery—Business Fuel Podcast #51
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As important as it is to have a great strategy for your business, execution is where the rubber hits the road. An ability to create a complex strategy plan might look good on paper or within the covers of a leather binder, but outside of the board room, it’s all about execution—getting stuff done.
By culling down strategy to a few simple ideas that everyone can understand takes strategy from the binder and into something that really moves a company forward. Cross suggests that great strategy includes logical elements, but takes mission and vision and creates an emotional impetus to move the business forward and offers direction.
Check out today’s podcast to learn how to capture your strategy on a recipe card and make your company great.
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Patrick Wiscombe: Serving 327,000 people, this is The Business Fuel Podcast. Good morning, I’m Patrick Wiscombe. Thank you for tuning us in and taking us along wherever and however you’re accessing the podcast. Coming up today, we will be talking to Dick Cross. But before we do, let’s bring in the producer and co-host of the podcast, Ty Kiisel. How are you?
Ty Kiisel: Doing great thanks.
Patrick Wiscombe: Let’s bring in Dick Cross. He’s the author of Just Run It. When is your new book going to be released?
Dick Cross: It will be released in April of next year. The title is 60 Minute CEO. I’ve spent two decades obsessed with how you do the job at the top. It’s something nobody talks about. And the trick is, it’s not a full time job. You can do a fabulous job running your company, one hour, three days a week. This book tells you how to do it. Then you can do whatever you want with the rest of your time – make sales calls or go to the beach.
Patrick: Who was your inspiration growing up?
Dick: It was my dad and a fella named Jack Glover, a professor at Harvard Business School, who hired me into his consulting firm and took me under his wing. Coming from very different backgrounds, they were very similar guys. Very humble, but very clear thinkers. I’m the product of a couple of very similar guys.
Patrick: Let’s talk about your new book, 60 Minute CEO. What’s been the most rewarding thing about becoming an author and committing your ideas to paper?
Dick: Two things: #1 When you do that, you simplify and sharpen your understanding of things you’ve been living for a very long time. #2 If you’re lucky, you get to talk to people about them. If you’ve learned things that can help other people, you get to share those things. That’s the joy of it right now for me.
Ty: Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with some real jerks and some really nice guys too. I’ve noticed that one of the things that the jerks have in common is that they can talk the talk. They can sit down and map out the strategies that make them look smart. But when it comes right down to it, they couldn’t execute themselves out of a paper sack.
Dick: I’m so glad you took off on this point. I came into the business world on the idea of big strategy. We made embarrassing sums of money writing big, fat loose leaf binders full of proprietary competitive information. They were right. But by and large, they made no difference in the businesses. We were the only ones that understood them. That doesn’t motivate people now. It’s a few simple ideas that everybody can grasp.
Ty: In my mind what resonates the most are two points. #1 You’ve got to be strategic in how you execute the function of your business, but everybody needs to understand it. #2 It doesn’t need to be complicated, it needs to be simple. I like the way you look at strategy. Will you share that with us?
Dick: I have a difficult time talking about strategy by itself. Good strategy doesn’t come out of logic. Great strategy has logic underpinnings. But what is has is the nitrous oxide of emotion. The emotion comes out of leadership of vision. An exhilarating sense of what that organization is going to accomplish over time. If you’ve got that in place, then strategy is, “What are the things that we’ve got to make happen or change?” In the fall, everybody does their strategic plan. 85% of it is justifying stuff that has happened in the past for maybe decades. Maybe 5% is, “What are we going to do to change the business?”
Ty: If I can interject something here, one more thing that seems to come out of that is a plan that as conditions change, doesn’t seem to change throughout the year.
Dick: How are you going to rewrite 300 pages in a loose leaf binder? You can’t do that every week. It’s difficult for us to know what our lives will be like 6 months from now. Strategy is the headlines of what we need to get done to make our company great. It puts the fences on the lanes that we then move down.
Ty: Have you heard of commander’s intent? Generals would articulate very complicated plans for deploying their forces. Then in the first 10 minutes of the battle, something unexpected would happen and their forces wouldn’t know what to do. So the army went to the commander’s intent philosophy where it was a more generic plan so the guys in the field could then adjust and execute on the strategy. It sounds like to me that’s what you’re describing.
Dick: Absolutely. You’re wasting time to overthink something before you start doing it. The flip side from commander’s intent is something I learned in the Marine Corps. If you’ve got 75% of the intelligence, attack. You’ll figure it out along the way. So many businesses get so detailed, they figure out it isn’t going to work in the first 2 weeks. Or they get so paralyzed that they don’t know every detail, they don’t get started.
Ty: Will you talk for a minute about the bullets and the index card?
Dick: Yes. That was a life changing moment for me. It happened in the early 1990’s. I became very well known as a guy that constructed these big, detailed plans and defend them because they were right. I was on the west coast in Silicon Valley. I lined everyone up and explained in detail what everyone would be doing for the next 6 months and they looked at me like I had two heads. I was sitting down with the CEO of one of these companies and she was a very slight woman with very thick glasses and as smart a person as I’ve ever met. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “Cross, if you can’t put your strategy in 5 bullet points on one side of an index card, you haven’t thought about it well enough.” She was right. At that moment, I saw my life collapse. What I’d become very good at, in that moment, was irrelevant. It started me off on a new course. It’s not all about logic. It’s logic and emotion. It started me off on my tri lense goggles of vision, strategy, and execution.
Ty: I like the idea of 40 words or less on an index card. I’m sure there are business owners listening to this thinking, “Isn’t that the medium dictating the strategy?”
Dick: No. I think it’s the strategy demanding nothing less than clear thinking. Until you can boil it down to a few simple ideas, you haven’t gotten there. So much of strategy is offline. It’s the executive committee going to a retreat, listening to someone for a few hours in the morning, playing golf in the afternoon, then going back and doing the exact same thing. It’s the mindless ritual that’s part of running an American business. Strategy is not offline, it’s visceral and it comes from the heart. The best strategy is a handful of ideas that everybody looks at and says, “Yea, that’s right.”
Ty: I know that you equate strategy and mission. One feeds the other, right?
Dick: In my little model, mission inspires vision. It should have enough edge on it to be a little scary to think about.
Ty: Strategy without execution is just words on a recipe card. How do you define execution?
Dick: Execution is the handful of things you need to do differently to make the strategy work. Strategy is only about making your business different. If you’re happy with your business, you don’t need strategy. That is honing execution. If you want to make your business different, that’s where strategy comes into play.
Ty: In a previous organization I was at, we had a quarterly and yearly plan. There were times when the market changed or there was an event that basically caused us to pivot from what our quarterly strategy might have been. However, the quarterly strategies had to be executed even though they had proven to be irrelevant. What do you suggest if execution plans are unattainable and if they don’t mean anything anymore?
Dick: That’s no big deal because that’s going to happen all the time. Things are moving so fast that if you’re not talking every day, you’re just not doing your job. You’re going to get left behind. The beautiful thing about strategy is that it convolves every day. What you try to do is be like a school of beautiful tropical fish. They take off on a different baring instantaneously.
Ty: The importance of the CEO in this process is critical.
Dick: It’s critical in two regards. There are two important roles in the job at the top. #1 – Thinking. What’s my business today and does it make any sense? Where is it going? #2 – Character. Do people trust you and want to help you succeed? The role at the top is big. This idea of strategy needs to be an obsession of the person at the top. It can’t be a once a year, golf outing.
Ty: If you were to give a piece of advice to the small business owners listening right now, I assume that would be it regarding strategy.
Dick: If you pick up a copy of Just Run It, you will see some frameworks in there for thinking. Things like the back of the envelope, things like the renewal curve, things like the trifocal lenses. If you can discipline yourself to spend 60 minutes, 3 times a week thinking about your business, you’ll do a great job. After 25 years, I’m convinced 95% of CEO’s spend their time doing things someone else could and should be doing and not thinking about their business.
Ty: I think that’s a fair statement for sure.
Dick: Thinking is hard. But to think is why you get paid more than anyone else. But most people don’t.
Ty: If you’re aspiring to be the CEO, you’ve got to learn that skill before you become the CEO.
Dick: Yea, very cool idea. If I’m a young person working in an organization and I work with a CEO who does think, I watch everything that they do. But if I’m not, I have to think about that by myself. What would I be thinking about if I were in his shoes?
Ty: That’s great advice. We really appreciate what you contribute to our audience. I hope everyone that’s listening is paying attention. You won’t pick this up just anywhere.
Dick: Thanks. This is really fun for me. If anybody wants to get in touch with me, go to Crosspartnership.com or shoot me a note at [email protected].
Patrick: We’ll go ahead and wrap up this edition of The Business Fuel Podcast. Be sure to check out Dick’s writings at crosspartnership.com. You can also check out Ty Kiisel’s writings on Forbes.com, just do a search on his name. And check out Lendio.com/blog. If you’re looking for business financing, be sure to spend some time on Lendio.com. It’s free to sign up.
Ty: Yes, it’s free and it doesn’t ding your credit. See what your matches are.
Patrick: So for Dick Cross, Ty Kiisel, I’m Patrick Wiscombe. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week.
Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to help fuel your American dream. This has been the Business Fuel podcast, with your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe, heard exclusively on Lendio.com