Look forward, Reason back

Yesterday morning, I had a 7 am coffee meeting with a high energy entrepreneur who shared his growth dreams for his company. Not a start up, they had been around almost a decade and had a wonderful brand and reputation in their niche market. His challenge was to translate that reputation into a new growth trajectory. He had his BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in place. However in the year I have known him, he was merely inching forward towards the achievement of his goal.

Have you the same experience? You know clearly where you want to go – but seem to be making very slow progress? You have been spinning like a top all year and yet have not achieved the goals you set for yourself.

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Over a lovely cup of freshly brewed south Indian coffee and sitting in my back yard in the gentle morning sun, we explored the situation further.

Exploring the situation: 

We reflected – is it because the “market” is bad. Is it because the team I have put together, while it looks wonderful on paper, is not delivering on the ground? Do I have the right products or services? Are the experiences we are delivering to customers not matching up to the promises we have been making?

Are the rapid changes in customer expectations catching us flat-footed? Are the premises and belief systems on how to run or grow our business blind siding us? How have more successful businesses managed to negotiate similar challenges?


By the end of the conversation, we decided that while looking forward into the future, it was very important to reason back to actions that must be taken today to convert that future into reality.

What this decision means – Actions:

Today morning, reflecting on the conversation, I thought it important to elaborate what “looking forward – reasoning back to action” really means. This is what large organizations who have learnt to scale and stay sustainable have learnt:

  1. We look forward – and have a vision for the future – and set boundaries and priorities, so all the energy in the organization is focussed on realising its ambitions. This means, knowing what we will say yes to and even more importantly all the things we will just say no to. This is because the world is full of interesting, shiny new things to play with – but may not create the results you have decided to create.
  2. We look forward – and decide on which customer need we will focus on – and then reason back to build the capabilities which will deliver on that need. We do not take on board that interesting person we met at that networking meeting or that charismatic leader who just retired or resigned from that Fortune 500 company, if they can not contribute to achieving our vision. We build those relationships for the future – yes. But our core team is structured to deliver the results we have decided on.
  3. We look forward and around – and scan the environment, to understand which competitor is winning those projects we bid for and why. We reason back to evaluate our products, services, customer experiences, policies, pricing and plan how to acquire and keep our customers. 
  4. We look forward to anticipate inflection points in our business – and reason back to the changes and course corrections we may have to continuously make – to stay the course.

Four simple ways to create the results we want. The trick is to make those decisions, commit to it and take those actions on a daily basis.

Think about it and do reach out at 91-8197291755 if you need any help in this reflection and action process for your own business.  I enjoy using design thinking tools and processes when working with teams and coaching as a process when working with individuals.


A Leader’s Call to Action

The leader’s challenge

How do you translate your ideas and thoughts into action on the ground?

Many of our “leadership actions” are based on the “stories” we have read of “mythical, heroic, larger than life” people

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A leader’s Sisyphean task

We hope that the books, movies and YouTube videos about successful CEOs and what they do – starting with Jack Welch, winding our way past Sam Walton, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg, Indra Nooyi and most recently Satya Nadella – will help us decode the secrets of leadership success.

A moment of reflection quickly brings the realisation that no leader has achieved greatness by just reading inspirational stories. 

On the other hand, it is the actions that leaders take to change their own behaviours and the behaviour and environment in their teams and organisations that creates success.

How do we move to action? Obviously this requires more commitment. It is easier to read inspirational books and listen to motivational speeches and feel good about our efforts to become better leaders. It also makes us complacent as we feel we have done our bit. This approach of course stops us short from taking real actions on the ground.

Let us briefly touch upon three distinctly different approaches to move to successful action.

1. Curiosity

“Curiosity” is a valuable leadership trait – making you more social, human and…..effective. It leads to more informed decisions.

How can the “stories” of the “ordinary” people around you – your customers and employees inform better leadership decisions? Can we do this systematically? It goes beyond talking to the handful of people we are comfortable with and who just cross our path during the course of work.  This is important to eliminate “conformation bias” and helps us come to terms with reality.

2. Priming

The art of priming – presenting the right information, including physical cues at the point of behaviour/ action has a huge impact in creating the desired actions. Extensive social science research, most famously by Dan Ariely, Marc Meredith, Chen-Bo Zhong, Francesca Gino, Max Bazerman, Nicholas Christakis and a host of others clearly points out that this is an important part of moving to sustained action.

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The actions you choose could be

  • something personal like exercising (priming would lead you to place your walking or gym shoes next to your bed and wear it the moment you wake up in the morning),
  • to actions that lead to team success (prime to acknowledge the contributions of team members the moment you see it, leading to high levels of engagement)
  • or organisational values like acting more ethically (get everybody to sign an honour code).

Deciding the specific actions, having a way to observe and measure the actions helps us change our behaviour patterns.

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3. Changing the social environment

Who we interact with regularly, profoundly influences our actions. It is important to understand that we are the company we keep. 

Successful change at the individual, team and organisation level highlights the importance of

  • peer support and pressure, 
  • providing sponsors or mentors to help maintain accountability, encourage progress, and acknowledge small improvements.

Is there an action you want to take? Do you want to call your team to action?

When you want the help of a coach to use these behavioural strategies Call or Whatsapp me on 8197291755 or write to me at usharaghunath@gmail.com