The hidden (and most important) information in every organization


hidden information

What is really happening here?

In my recent TEDx talk: Reclaiming Humanity at Work, I told a story about how when I started a new executive level job, that I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

A mentor told me, “Talk to everybody and you’ll know what to do”.

I took this quite literally, and in my first 2 weeks I did 100 one-one meetings.

In each of meetings I asked people, “What do you think is working and not working? What do you think we need to change or do differently? What do you think we should stop doing? What do you think is most important moving forward?”

This was life changing for me. After those 100 meetings I felt like I had a super power.

Not only did I know what I needed to do, but I had 100 people who were motivated to help me go do it because I had respected them enough to ask them “What do you think?”

I got the information about what was really going on.

I learned that we had duplicate competing efforts in the group.
I learned that I had a manager who was a bully on my team.
I learned that we were not effectively communicating across the organization.
I learned that we were waiting forever for commitments from another group.
I learned that people were unmotivated because they didn’t understand the strategy.
I learned that people did not know things that my managers told me that everyone knows.

The only way to uncover the secrets

The most important thing I learned is that the information about what is really happening is totally hidden from an executive if you only rely on your managers telling you things.

It’s not that the managers are actively trying to hide anything — most of the time they are not. It’s just that nothing can substitute for real interaction and getting information directly from people who are doing the work.

When I looked around and noticed that my peers were not doing this with their organizations, by comparison they looked like they were shooting in the dark — where I knew exactly what to do.

I have taken this approach of talking to everyone forever after — because it made me so much more competent, and it made everyone else so much more engaged and motivated.

When my organizations got bigger, I could not have thousands of 1-1 meetings but I always had some — every week. I always had small group meetings, and 1-1 meetings with some individuals every time I visited a site.

The ride in the car

One of the most valuable sources of information I got as an executive was from going to visit customers.

It was not anything that happened at the customer meeting itself, it was what I learned during the ride in the car to and from the airport with the sales rep.

If you want to know what is really happening in your business, spend some time with sales reps, sales engineers, and service people. Learn what they think, see and experience. They will tell you more about what business you are in than anything you can learn at headquarters.

Put aside the hierarchy for a minute

It is so important as a leader to step outside the hierarchy and to have real conversations with the people who are actually doing the work on a regular basis.

Those executives that instead, pretend to act like a big-shot all the time, and would never think of talking to people below them, are cutting off the most important source of information there is.

As I also mentioned in my talk…tragically, people have died on operating tables, and planes have crashed because the leader refused to step outside the hierarchy to listen to the people who actually knew what was going on.

You’ll never find this hidden, most information in your organization if you never take the time to have human to human conversations with the people doing the work.

Watch my TEDx Talk here: Reclaiming Humanity at Work

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


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

12 human conversations that drive strategy execution


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Will your strategy stall before it even starts?

One of the basic hazards I see that stops strategy dead in its tracks is a lack of real conversation about it.

Executives can be very clear on what they want to accomplish and think that have been very clear with their organization about what must be done and why.

But then something happens. Or more accurately…nothing happens!

Leaders are left thinking, “But I was very clear. Why am I not seeing action?”

Avoiding real conversation

One of the biggest issues I see is that executives often avoid what I refer to as unstructured conversation.

They want to say, “Here is the strategy. Please submit your plans.”

That is an example of a highly structured conversation that leaves no room for a real, human conversation.

Unstructured (human) conversation at this point would be to say, “Here is the strategy, before we go forward, what do you think?”

The need for unstructured conversation

The most valuable insights you can gain as a leader almost always come through informal channels and unstructured conversations. It is a gold mine of information about reality.

But it’s even more important in the case of kicking off a strategy because people need to have unstructured conversations in order to process what it is you are asking them to do.

The act of having a conversation where they get to say what they think, hear from their peers, and ask questions gives them the opportunity to tune their beliefs to be ready to go do what you need them to do. Without it they won’t be able to start.

Unstructured conversation also creates motivation because you are treating people like humans instead of programmable work robots, simply by being willing to have a real conversation.

A human conversation approach

Here is an approach you can use to drive very high quality conversations about strategy — conversations that will dramatically increase your chances of getting the thing done.

Step 1: Be willing to step outside the hierarchy and get input from your team and others
Step 2: Ask: “What do you think?”
Step 3: Be genuinely interested in listening to the answer

Here are 12 questions that will create the type of unstructured conversations that will allow people to move your strategy.

“Here is the strategy….

  1. What do you think?
  2. What do we collectively think as a group?
  3. What scares us about this?
  4. What are the easy parts?
  5. What are the hardest parts?
  6. What do we see as the risks?
  7. What do we see as the most important part?
  8. In what areas do we feel best prepared?
  9. In what areas do we feel unprepared? What would we need in order to feel prepared?
  10. Is there anything that we need to fix, create, invent or change before embarking on this strategy?
  11. Is there anything that we need to stop doing to enable this strategy to work?
  12. Are there any groups (internal or external) that might have a problem with us pursuing this strategy?

Don’t miss out on the magic

Executives often avoid opening the door to this type of unstructured conversation because they are afraid that it might get messy or waste time. Or they might hear disagreement or doubt or dissent.

But my view on this is, if there is disagreement, confusion or dissent….Wouldn’t you rather know? !!!

The alternative is to have a “safe”, closed conversation and embark on strategy which will either stall or fail, because people never had a chance to talk about it.

By avoiding unstructured conversation you will embark on your strategy thinking that everything is clear and great, and you will get stuck you missed out on learning the most important information about what was necessary to succeed, and/or people were simply not on board and ready to go.

Truly magic words: “What do you think?”

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


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

Getting big gains from improving small habits


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The power of small habits

Doing hard things is hard!

Doing big things is hard!

Doing small things is not as hard.

The big idea for me, is that developing good habits on small, easy things, can have the direct effect of making bigger, harder things easier to do.

Organizations struggle with execution. Execution is hard!

One of things that sets organizations with a high capacity for execution apart from those that struggle, is that they also pay attention to creating good habits on small things.

Changing attitudes and expectations with small habits

One of the things that made me start observing this in business was reading about something described really well in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point.

(I’ll paraphrase A LOT here, to get quickly to my point — I recommend reading this directly from The Tipping Point if you are interested.)

He talked about how serious crime in New York City was greatly reduced in the 80’s, not by directly going after the big crimes, but by making a concerted effort to eliminate two small crimes, 1. Jumping the turnstiles to avoid paying subway fare, and 2. Graffiti on the subways.

Police started relentlessly arresting people for turnstile jumping, and every single night, any train car with graffiti on it got pulled off the track and painted over.

The point is this: People with intentions to commit bigger crimes saw this enforcement of these minor things, and the culture changed. They sensed that “if they are that serious about these small offenses, they must be really serious about bigger ones. This is not an environment where crime is tolerated.”

It worked.

Small Corporate Crimes

Two small-crime analogies I see in corporations are late meetings, and not addressing missed deadlines.

1. Late Meetings

Late meetings may not seem like a big deal, in fact most organizations laugh it off, “yeah, we’re really bad about that around here”.

When everyone is chronically late to meetings, and you don’t address it, you are sending a cultural signal that: we are not serious about what we say we are going to do.

If, instead, you set and enforce an expectation that meetings will start and end on time, and they do – not only do you get the huge benefit of cost and time savings, and more productive meetings —

– You get the additional, even-bigger benefit of an expectation in your organization that it matters here what we say and commit to.

– If our reaction is this serious to someone being late to meeting, it’s going to be a really big deal if we don’t deliver!

The good, small habit of reinforcing on-time meetings can directly lead to the important bigger habits: We are very serious about managing our schedules, commitments, and business.

2. Missed Deadlines

The other related, rampant behavior I see is that deadlines come and go, and nothing happens…

Often it may seem like a small thing… We agreed to review the new website landing page on Thursday and we didn’t. The world did not come to an end.

So no one mentions it.

This seemingly small non-reaction to a small missed deadline, when multiplied over and over again, sends a very loud and strong signal that: There are no consequences here for missing deadlines.

By not communicating, you are communicating: We don’t really care about missed deadlines. It’s no big deal.

“This is Unacceptable”

No matter how small a deadline seems, if it is missed it should be addressed.

You don’t need to fire someone every time something goes wrong, but you do need to address it. Have the conversation.

This is unacceptable. You did not deliver. What happened? Do you realize the downstream problems this causes? What is your proposal to recover? How do you propose we now get this finished AND address the customer/sales/market issue this has created? How will you ensure this does not happen again?

Even if the end result seems the same…the new date has still slipped 2 weeks out, the fact that you had the conversation will resonate far beyond this one deadline.

If you always have the conversation, (a small habit that is easy to do) it will help your organization see and feel that you are serious about execution, and that schedules and commitments really do matter.

And then the next time people will think, if I miss a deadline, something uncomfortable is going to happen.

Sure, it can be uncomfortable to have a conversation about missed goals and consequences, but if you miss a goal, you should be uncomfortable! That’s the point.

People will start self-managing, and delivering on time, to avoid those conversations.

Having a conversation (a small habit) makes execution (a big, difficult thing) easier to manage.

Boring and Required (but worth it)

Sure, this is not the fun and exciting part of any job — keeping track of commitments and following through when things go wrong.

But I have found that it actually doesn’t take a lot of enforcement to create better habits, and move the culture in this direction.

The small things automatically drive the big things.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


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

Avoiding Decision Stall: Debate vs. GO


debate vs go

Decision Stall

Many companies that I talk to have issues with effective decision making — They want to make better decisions. They want to make them faster. And they want them to stick.

While leaders often need to make decisions with incomplete data, one of the common issues I see is that decisions are made without learning all the data that IS knowable, and without enough support of the team.

Then the decisions are questioned, stalled, made over — and then questioned, and made over and over again.

The technique I use to avoid this decision stall is called Debate vs. Go.

This implies that there are two necessary and separate phases. The DEBATE phase and the GO phase.

The need for Debate

Many executives avoid opening up an issue for debate because they just want to be able to say, “Make it so,” and have their team execute.

They fear that if they open up a conversation, that it might raise conflict, doubt, disagreement and dissent.
And they see these things as a challenge to their authority, or a waste of time.

This is a shame.

Because in this type of environment, people who know important things won’t always speak up when they should, because they feel like their input is not welcome.

So important information that the leader really needs to know remains hidden, and people also feel dis-empowered. So both the decision and its execution are compromised.

Conflict improves decisions

But in reality, healthy debate and conflict is useful, as it yields the important information necessary to make a good decision.

When people are arguing, you get the deepest and richest understanding of an issue.

If the leader is unwilling to allow this open, rigorous conversation to happen, they are missing critical information about the issue.

The Debate Phase

By naming and creating a DEBATE phase, people feel like their inputs are welcome — and that they have permission, and won’t be punished for speaking up.

So at the end of debate phase, not only is everyone smarter, but also, everyone has had a chance to personally process the issue.

The debate itself gives everyone time to tune their belief systems to get ready to go, and they are more likely to be motivated since their opinions were considered.

Without the debate phase, you will not make the most informed decision, and your team will not be as ready or motivated to move forward.

The inability to progress

The other big issue that happens if you skip debate phase is that you don’t have a mechanism for ending the debate phase!

Management teams waste huge amounts of time by revisiting decisions over and over again, questioning the direction and circling back for more data.

The leaders might think they have made a decision, but the organization is reluctant to engage because you’re still talking about it!

Everyone perceives the continued discussion to mean that the issue is still in question, and well… open for debate.

So people wait for the final answer instead of moving forward. And they continue to add to the conversation, raising even more issues and questions. Decisions remain unmade.

The Transition to GO

One of the beautiful things about having a formal debate phase is that you can end it.

I make it clear that for every initiative or decision, there is DEBATE time and there is GO time.

1. Debate Time: Talking, Questions, Input, Arguments are welcome.

During debate time, I make it clear that I want to hear people’s opinions. I want to hear the arguments. I want everyone to fight for their point of view.

2. Make a Clear Decision

After debate time is over, I make it clear who owns the decision, and make sure the decision gets made.

3. Initiate GO Time

Go Time

Then I make it clear that we are in GO time. The decision is communicated and the action is officially kicked off. This is the time to engage in the work, not in the debate. The debate phase is over.

By setting this structure, you can make it clear that during debate time, the expected and valued behavior is to speak up.

Then once you announce the decision and make it clear that it’s GO time, people know that the expected and valued behavior is action, not more talking.

I talk more about Debate vs. GO and other ways to improve decision making in Chapter 21 of my book MOVE: Decision Stall. And the next chapter is how to identify and recover from setbacks.

You can get your copy of MOVE or download a preview:

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

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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

A big thank you — to YOU!


I want to thank everyone who helped make the launch of MOVE such a huge success!
I also wanted to stop for a moment to fully appreciate this truly extraordinary experience for which I am enormously grateful, by sharing this short photo/video diary.

In Italian I would say, “Sono grata” which is what Italians say to express a joy of your whole self and a deep gratitude that comes from the heart.

MOVE Launch in New York City

I had the incredible opportunity, thanks to my publisher Wiley, and Barnes and Noble in NYC, to have MOVE featured in the storefront of Barnes & Noble facing 5th avenue for 2 weeks!

Speaking of things for which I am grateful, my long time friend and mentor Al Fasola not only flew in to join the party, but directed a photo shoot on 5th avenue, with the talented Julia Blaukopf.

Patty and Al (click to enlarge)
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Barnes & Noble NYC, 5th Ave and 46th Street!

It was a bit surreal frankly, to be featured in a store front on 5th avenue in NY!

I’m really excited about what I got to share in MOVE to help business leaders create bigger success and feel more sane along the way. I talked about this in a live Facebook Broadcast right out on the street. Thank you for all who tuned in and stopped by…and the crowd that spontaneously formed!

And a shout out to my big sister Kerry, who served as the camera man. Nice work!

VIDEO: Watch this video shot live from the very cold store front of B&N

MOVE at 5th ave and 46th street! (click to enlarge)
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Inside the store…

The Barnes & Noble staff were fantastic giving MOVE great featured in-store positioning throughout the store.
There are a few signed copies left at the 46th street location!

Having a laugh with Al while signing books (click to enlarge)
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MOVE Launch Party NYC!

Then came the NY Launch Party at Estancia 460 in Tribeca. Many thanks to Katie, and the staff. It is a truly wonderful venue with incredible food and wine.

There were people there from literally every decade of my life, including my 4th grade grammar school teacher and grammar school music teacher, and my friend Wendy who I have known since I was 4 years old! There were friends from high school and college, work friends and colleagues, and members of Azzarello Group who I had the chance to meet in person for the first time!

NY MOVE Launch Party (click to enlarge)
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More NY MOVE Launch Party (click to enlarge)
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Launch Party in CA

The launch continued in California at Kingfish in San Mateo.

David Spark of Spark Media Solutions and a long time friend created this fun video: “What’s the best advice you ever got from Patty Azzarello”? There are some great bits of wisdome in here! Thank you everyone for playing along, and for the kind words.

VIDEO: Check out these bits of wisdom from leaders already getting benefits from MOVE

Video by: David Spark, Spark Media Solutions

Long time friends and colleagues came out to help celebrate and again, I had a chance to meet members of Azzarello Group in person for the first time and get to learn about their experiences and breakthroughs that came applying my work. That’s why I do this! It was really wonderful to meet everybody.

New and old friends helped to celebrate (click to enlarge)
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Clients, members and friends came out in force! (click to enlarge)
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Eat, drink and be Merry! … (click to enlarge)
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#DecisiveLeadersMOVE

It would seem that we have created a MOVE-ment. People from all over the world are posting selfies with the #DecisiveLeadersMOVE hash tag. Again, I am very grateful. And you can still join the MOVE-ment! I’d love to see you photos with MOVE!

MOVE Selfies… #DecisiveLeadersMOVE in New York!! (click to enlarge)
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MOVE Selfies… #DecisiveLeadersMOVE worldwide! (click to enlarge)
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THANK YOU!!

So again, a deep heartfelt thank you to everyone for the huge outpouring of support for MOVE.
We hit 100 reviews on Amazon in the first month. The people at Wiley, and the people at Amazon were amazed.

–Sono grata.

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What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


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