Talk vs. Action: Collectively Admiring the Problem


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The Monday MOVE Idea

Each Monday until the launch of my upcoming book MOVE, I’ll be sharing an important idea from the book. This week: Talk vs. Action: Collectively Admiring the Problem.

Big Goals

Think about the really important goals your team talks about all the time. When you talk about them everyone agrees they are critical. We must improve quality. We must innovate. We must respond to a competitive threat. We must evolve our business model to provide better service.

Talk vs. Action

To move your team from talking about important stuff in a vague way, to actually making progress on these things in a real way, the first step is to realize that you are stuck because you are still only Talking.

It’s vitally important as a leader to recognize when your team is falling into the pattern of accepting smart sounding ideas and inputs instead of measurable forward progress.

The most effective way I have found to break through this is to recognize when you get stuck only talking about the Situation.

Situation Discussions

Sure it’s important to use some time to note and understand the situation, but you can just sense it when everyone has internalized the situation and then … you keep talking about it! Talking and talking and talking about it.

You can feel it in your stomach when the meeting is not going anywhere and you’re still talking. The talk gets smarter and smarter sounding and the forward motion everyone is craving never happens.

Situation discussions are basically: Collectively admiring the problem.

You need to change the nature of the conversation to become one that drives action, instead of just more talking.

I outline the specific steps to do this in MOVE. I’m really excited to share it with you!

Pre-Order MOVE and win a 6 Hour 1-1 Coaching Program with Me

MOVE will be available February 28, but if you pre-order your copy now you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a 6 hour executive coaching program with me. There will be TWO winners!

Click to pre-order and enter.

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I’m really excited to share the important ideas, and all the tools I put in my upcoming book MOVE to help you get your team (at any organizational level) to execute your strategy more decisively.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

The hidden cost of a business review


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Too much time spent on internal reviewing!

In the last two weeks alone, I have had 3 different organizations at 3 different companies tell me that they are preparing for an executive business review and therefore can’t do anything else for the next 2 – 3 weeks.

Regularly, when I talk with mid-level managers about time management challenges, one of their biggest challenges is the fact that they are required to spend so much time preparing for business reviews for executives, that they can’t get their actual work done.

The Expensive Business Review

When you ask an organization to do a business review, you might put 2 hours or half a day on your calendar a few weeks out. That’s what it’s worth to you, on your calendar.

But you need to be aware that this one request can completely paralyze your whole organization. The internal review (to impress you), becomes the urgent business priority, and virtually all work on the business itself stops for weeks to prepare.

Of course, business reviews have their place.

As an executive, especially if you are on the board, you need to satisfy yourself that the business is running properly, and that the work you have committed is getting done.

Getting (only) what you need from a business review

But you need to find a way to ask the questions, get the answers, and feel like you are in the loop of how the business is doing, without creating risk by how you ask.

It’s important to realize that way you review the business may be one of the biggest risks to actually succeeding in your business.

Don’t just ask for “A Review

When you ask for a business review, it’s like throwing a grenade into your organization. There will be many meetings where people get together to debate, “What do you think our boss wants to hear? What are the key messages? How much do we share? What do we feature?”

Once they decide, your team will spend however much time you give them between the request and the review itself, preparing — and doing little else.

This open ended request of a “business review” will give your team a lot of stress, and will not guarantee that you get the information you truly need. And you’ll likely get a lot more non-useful information than you truly need.

Steps to a good review process

Here are some steps to having a productive business review that doesn’t cripple your team to prepare for.

1. Sit down with your business team to discuss what you truly need to learn from the review. If possible, provide a template.

2. Budget the amount of time that preparing the review is worth. Let then know that you only want X number of people to spend Y amount of time preparing. Make it clear that the work is the priority, not the review.

3. Make the amount of time spent on preparing the review part of the review. Shine a spotlight on this and decide with your team what is reasonable. Put in the template a place to record how many people worked for how many hours.

4. Articulate the key control points in the business, and what the desired outcomes and measures are for those, before the review prep starts. Don’t send your team off to debate what should be included. Tell the up front.

5. Identify key risk areas you want to see the plans for. Make a list of the risks, ask for the next top two if they are not on your list and ask to see the plan to mitigate them.

6. Create a 1 page dashboard that the team needs to report on. In addition to a template that guides the preparation process, a one page dashboard can be valuable. You could say for example that any element of the business that has been green for the past two reviews and is green again does not need to be included other than in the dashboard.

Don’t invent too much new stuff

The key thought here, is that the materials you use to review the business should be ones that the business is using to run the business, not some special 100 slide presentation that was only prepared for your review, that has no value otherwise.

My guideline when I was running a $1B business software business, was that I never wanted a team to spend more than 1 week elapsed time, and no one person should spend more than 2 hours preparing for an internal review. I want to see what you are actually doing, using the same artifacts you are using to run your part of the business. Don’t create new stuff. Let’s talk about what’s really happening, not some artificial presentation designed to impress me with it’s polish.

Get over your addiction to detail

The other thing that I see becoming a huge time sink in organizations is when the executives are so addicted to detail that they insist that even the lowest level of detail be dragged up and vetted through every level of management and reviewed and inspected over and over again.

Moving too much detail up kills organizational effectiveness, is hugely expensive, and introduces more risk than it averts. Managers should be creating insights not just moving all their detail up.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on the Azzarello Group Facebook page.

Who else would like to see this?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

One big warning sign that your team won’t execute



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Lessons from a high school musical

I learned a big lesson about business execution during rehearsals for my high school musical.

An unlikely take-away for sure, but I’ve always been interested in what makes groups of people able to get things done, and for me I got a big aha on the stage of my high school production of George M. Cohen. Give my regards to Broadway…

Anyway, at the first day of rehearsal, because my character was in Act I, Scene I, I was so excited to be up on the stage at the very beginning of the first rehearsal.

But much to my dismay, in the first moments of the first rehearsal, the director jumped to Act II scene 7, as the very first thing we rehearsed.

The big production number

Act II, scene 7 was the biggest production number. It involved the whole cast learning choreography, lyrics, harmonies and dancing.

In those first moments I thought it was very strange to start in the middle, but then I realized that my opening scene was simply a conversation between 2 people, that could be probably be rehearsed for the first time 10 minutes before the curtain went up on opening night… or never… because it wasn’t difficult or time consuming to get right.

But on the other hand, the big production number would require weeks of learning and practice for everyone.

Backward vs. Forward Planning

The director was doing what I’ll call backward vs. forward planning.

With a goal of delivering a final performance (and not being thoroughly embarrassed by it!) he looked specifically at the size and shape of all the work that needed to be done…and the first thing he did was to arrange the biggest chunks of work out over a timeline that would ensure we could get them all done. He was doing effective Backward Planning.

Backward Planning

Backward Planning is starting with the end in mind and then committing to some targets along the way.

Every business strategy has its equivalent of “the big production number” — the thing that will take a lot of people a lot of time to do in a choreographed way.

With backward planning, you could say for example:

If we want a $40M run rate revenue coming through a new OEM channel by the end of the year, what are the big chunks of work we need to do and when do we need to start them?

Even if you don’t know up front what all the things you need to do are, you can still put some stakes in the ground in terms of intermediate outcomes.

If we meet that goal one year from now, what needs to be true 9 months from now? What will we see that is in place at that time?

Then you can start to see what you need to change, fix, or invent to make that happen?

Putting the stakes in the ground that define mid-point outcomes is what helps you define the work that needs to be done.

Well… 9 months from now we need to have 8 partners selected and joint business plans in place that demonstrate they will each do an average of $5M next year.

…That means that 6 months from now, we need to have the general program in place, and have agreements in place with our 8 OEM vendors.

…That means that 3 months from now we need to have reached out to 15 vendors with a marketing plan.

…That means that right now we need to assign resources to do the marketing plan, and select or recruit our internal partners for these OEM’s, and create list of 25 targets.

Where business teams go astray

In many situations when I am sitting in a conference room with an executive team, they will be stuck on forward planning instead of backward planning.

If I say, “OK, if you want a $40M run rate of OEM revenue entering next year, what will need to be true 9 months from now?”

Their answer is, “We need to create a plan.” or “Jeff is working on a plan”.

I’ll say, “OK, but let’s put some stakes in the ground to guide the plan to make sure that we can actually execute it.”

“We can’t do that until we have a plan”.

But let’s think about what would be true 3 months before this was finished. What would we see? What would be in place?

“We can’t do that until we have a plan. Jeff is working on a plan”.

A major red flag that your team won’t execute, is if the only thing they will commit to is “working on a plan”.

Planning vs. Execution

While I admit that a plan is necessary, this idea of “We can’t put any stakes in the ground before we have a plan” is dangerous, and often fatal to effective, on-time execution.

What typically happens is that someone works on a plan for a few weeks. But then once the plan is presented, the rest of the team has lost the appetite for it.

And it’s often a forward plan that doesn’t account for the time it will take to do the biggest chunks of work.

The forward plan will say something like, First we need to identify partners who meet these requirements, then we need to develop partnerships, then we need to develop marketing and business plans, and so on…

Stakes in the ground create momentum and accountability

In this example, people will say, “But since we don’t have a plan, we don’t know how many parters or how much revenue each parter can do, or what we’ll need to do to secure them as partners — we need to do a plan first.”

The issue is that without putting stakes in the ground up front, and working backwards from the end goal, your forward plan won’t create enough momentum or accountability.

People will just start marching forward in a vague way — or they will hang around waiting for more information.

And you miss the opportunity to start the big chunks of work early.

In this OEM example for instance, even without a finished forward plan, with effective backwards planning, you could put in place milestones that drive action.

The marketing department could start working on a killer partner package well in advance of knowing exactly how many partners you will have. You could start re-working your IT systems to enable OEM deals. Your product development organization could start tuning the product to make it more configurable.

You don’t need to have a complete forward plan to be able to put stakes in the ground and to commit to some of the big chunks of work that you will need to start before you have all the answers.

Stakes in the ground do not have to be accurate

Putting the stakes in the ground for 8 partners lets you ensure that you will have more than zero partners on board by a specific time, and that you will do all the things in time that you need to do to get ready and support more than zero partners.

If you find out 6 months in that you really need 10 partners or 4 partners instead of 8 partners that’s fine — You’ve changed the lyrics, but you’ve already learned and rehearsed the dance steps.

Committing is way scarier than planning

It’s scary to put stakes in the ground because it becomes very obvious at that point that you are committing to do something specific.

And because you have put the stake in the ground with what feels like not enough study or planning, it might feel like you are committing to something you don’t know how to do. But that’s OK.

It’s the willingness to put concrete milestones in your backwards plan that initiates forward movement and enables the ability to execute.

Without concrete targets, you can study and study and craft a what seems like a perfect plan, but you run the risk of embarking on your forward plan only to realize that to execute on time, you would have needed to start the big elements of the program 6-9 months ago.

…You’ve run out of time to rehearse the big production number.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on the Azzarello Group Facebook page.

Who else would like to see this?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

Long term goals are hard for humans


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The Monday MOVE Idea

Each Monday until the launch of my upcoming book MOVE, I’ll be sharing an important idea from the book. This week: Long Term Goals are Hard for Humans

Think of your strategy like your New Years resolution

Oh, wait…that’s the problem!

The reason we break so many New Years resolutions is that as humans, we are easily excited about the end result, but the long and steady process to get there – not so much. The same thing happens with our business strategies.

We can all more easily deal with important things that take a short time.

But keeping progress going on an initiative or transformation that spans months or years is really hard for any human (let alone a whole organization full of them) because you can’t see or deal with the whole thing right now.

Build a timeline by working backwards

Think about a new way to start your new initiative (or your new year’s resolution). Instead of progressing it from the beginning, work backwards from the end — and define what you need to do at each point along the way.

Human nature: When you get a task that will take a year, on any Monday early in the process, you kind of still have a year. If you don’t start it for a month, you still have most of the year.

The common problem is that without this timeline process, people will be nodding their heads and thinking,

“Yeah, that’s important, but we have a year to get it done, so I don’t need to worry about it for a while.”

But this thinking can repeat over and over again. Suddenly you are 10 months in and still have 12 months of work left to do!

Create clarity, motivation and urgency

But if instead you define the whole timeline up front by working backwards from the end goal, people can’t simply just go back to work and feel like they have a year to make it come true.

With a clear and concrete timeline in place, instead of the team thinking they have plenty of time on a 12 month goal, they realize that they are already late on a 1 month goal!

When you create a timeline of specific concrete, see-able checkpoints, strategic progress, and a sense of urgency are ensured because you have clearly mapped it all out and put it on a timeline.

Read MOVE

I’m really excited to share the important ideas, and all the tools I put in my upcoming book MOVE to help you get your team (at any level in the organization) to execute your strategy more decisively.

MOVE will be available in February, but you can download a free preview now or pre-order your copy now.
Click to download
Click to Pre-order
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What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

Who else would like to see this?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

Burn the Ships at the Beach


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The Monday MOVE Idea

Each Monday until the launch of my upcoming book MOVE, I’ll be sharing an important idea from the book. This week:

Burn the Ships at the Beach

Leading Transformation is Hard

One of my more challenging leadership assignments was to lead a transformation in a software development organization for how we developed products. It was a process improvement initiative.

As we got into it, people would tell me, “You are being stupid, you are killing our business, we’re going to lose our top people over this”, and I’d say, “I understand your frustration, but this is what we are doing, and I am committed to it. I promise you in the long run it will be good for the business, as we discussed at the beginning.”

I would go to my boss and say, this is really hard, everybody hates this, and they argue with me every day. And he would say to me, “Patty, you have to burn the ships at the beach”.

There is no turning back

He taught me that you have to make it very clear at the beginning of a difficult journey that there is no turning back

If you go back, there is nothing there for you. You can’t get back. The only way through is forward – Even though forward may appear threatening.

And he taught me that the way you “burn the ships at the beach” is to be completely consistent in your message and your decisions.

Don’t undermine yourself

There were so many times it was tempting to cave in to the pressure and go back to the old way. It takes Valor (V=Valor in my MOVE model) to not undermine your forward progress by making inconsistent decisions about it.

In the end the change we were driving worked. (The whole story is in the book)

Everything was better.

We began to deliver on time, the quality was higher, the product was more competitive, the customers were happier and the morale of the team skyrocketed — Because we finished our transformation and it paid off.

But it’s can be really hard as a leader along they way through the long Middle (M=Middle) when people are discouraged. You need to have the Valor to stick to it.

**The brief historical reference: 1519 AD, during the Spanish conquest of Mexico Hernán Cortés, the Spanish commander, scuttled his ships, so that his men would have to conquer or die, no matter how hard the mission became and how much they might have wanted to turn back. There was no turning back because the ships were gone. Forward was the only choice.

Read MOVE

I’m really excited to share examples of moving from Situation Discussions to Outcome Discussions and all the tools I put in my upcoming book MOVE to help you get your team to execute your strategy more decisively — including building your own confidence and courage as a leader.

MOVE will be available in February, but you can download a free preview now or pre-order your copy now.
Click to download
Click to Pre-order
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What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

Who else would like to see this?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook