All posts by MSS

Mature Innovation

My family can tell you that I consider myself one of the great armchair innovators. Among the many things I believe I invented before they were actually invented is the Keurig coffee dispenser, Netflix (streaming AND original content), and the Amazing Race. The problem I always told myself was that I never had access to the resources required to put my ideas into the market. So when I secured a position managing innovation at a global mega-company, I was excited. Here, I would finally have the opportunity to launch my great ideas, become massively famous, and change the world. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

What soon became clear was that managing innovation for a mega-organization is not about creating great ideas. Of course we had our chance to develop some ideas, but mostly our role was to capture the ideas of leadership, cut through the noise, politics, and disruptions, and push them forward.

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9 Tenets for Achieving Change through ERP Implementation

Post ERP implementation blues are problematic for a number of reasons not the least of which is the decline of the collaborative and empowered culture that the implementation tends to create. A common cause for ERP sub-optimization is that most companies do not plan sufficiently to sustain the culture required to achieve the full benefits if the system. While leaders often consider the need for ongoing technology development and maintenance, it is just as important that they plan for cultural sustainability.

Generally, leaders will make a false assumption that an ERP implementation will be plug-and- play, that performance will come naturally, and that the culture will adapt as a result of the technology. But the research is clear. Having a great company culture is no longer optional for companies who want to compete.

Click through to read the full article 9 Tenets for Achieving Change through ERP Implementation

Your Digital Future Begins Now

The digital future for your company is right now. In all industries and businesses, we are reaching the point when systems are no longer tools just to automate processes and drive efficiencies – they are also a core component to achieve business strategy and integral to establishing customer relationships.

Unfortunately, far too many technology initiatives start with the development of a long list of requirements and selection of vendors. Or, executives are “sold” on the bells and whistles of a solution and the business’ underlying needs are lost in the excitement.

Conspicuously missing are some key steps that integrators and vendors may omit because they are not experts in these areas. And yet, they are the steps that go the furthest to ensure that you get your return on investment.

Link to the full article Your Digital Future Begins Now and learn what 3 key components your digital transformation might be missing.

Planning Your Transformation Journey

Two summers ago, my family and I went on a backpacking trip in the Olympic National Forest in Washington state.  The trip started as a potential idea, then we did a large amount of research to determine the most interesting trails to hike, and we mapped out a path.  We created a packing list and determined what backpacking and camping gear we already owned and what we needed to buy or rent.  We planned our route and the distance we would travel each day, so we could plan where we would stay.  As the trip grew closer, we had to change direction and find another location to hike, due to weather and a problem with bears becoming too comfortable around humans.  We had two objectives for our trip: have a great time as a family and hike two days along the Hoh River trail and then head back out for the remaining two days.  This ensured we were able to stop and camp at specific locations along the way.  Because we planned ahead it paid off and we had an awesome family vacation.

Planning, including planning for a business transformation, does not guarantee success. An example of failed transformation is the American automobile manufacturer.  They were unable to distinguish their brand during a highly competitive environment against foreign car companies who forced cost and fuel efficiency battles.  Their transformation methodology focused on cutting costs but resulted in brand confusion.

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10 Red Flags That Your Change Management Program is Poor

One of the greatest challenges of helping organizations with Change Management is that they often believe they are already doing it. After all, if you have a good leadership team that communicates with employees, they must be capable of leading change.

But when you dig down and ask the leaders what they are doing to ensure their organization is prepared for and executing change strategies, we often find clear indications either they do not truly grasp change management, they do not understand the risks, or that their program is not robust enough for to handle the change.

Learn what are the 10 red flags

#CyberAware for Small to Medium Sized Business: Cybersecurity is More Than Compliance

Cyber warfare is real, is here, and America is losing. Military personnel, law enforcement, and private security use bulletproof vests to protect themselves in hostile zones. These vests minimize injury and provide a means of security and safety of life. Additionally, they use intensive training, mindfulness, and combat skills to defend successfully against an enemy. This combination enables them to be effective in combat. Make no mistake, the Internet is a hostile zone and in a state of cyber warfare. Being compliant is simply the bulletproof vest, and needs a cybersecurity program to provide the training, visibility, and techniques to combat cyber threats.

Link to the full article here

The Case for Ambiguity – How to Set Your IT Project Up For Success

I really enjoy playing guessing games – you know, the types that you would do in a case interview, in business school, or with your nerdy, analytical friends (and yes, my friends and I would fall into this category). It’s fun to try and give your guesstimate on how many golf balls could fit into a 747 or how many cigarettes are smoked a day in Montana. Even though I enjoy it quite a bit, I couldn’t imagine having my job hanging in the balance based on the accuracy of a hypothetical exercise. However, that is exactly what happens to an overwhelming number of leaders on a regular basis with their technology projects.

A McKinsey-Oxford study found that large IT projects go over-budget 45% of the time, over-schedule 7% of the time, and under-deliver 56% of the time¹. This translates to an awful lot of Steering Committee meetings where a Project Sponsor is forced to have an uncomfortable conversation with company executives on why their project is not meeting the metrics that were promised. But why does this happen? Why do very capable individuals (who called in experienced implementation teams) consistently find themselves in the hot seat with their projects? In many cases, the projects were doomed from the beginning due to basing the foundation of the project off of hypothetical exercises and guesstimates. Let me show you what I mean…

Link to the full article to find out

The Nuclear Way: Submarine Leadership Challenges

How would you adjust to transferring from a self contained organization with a command and control leadership style to one with a distributed leadership style? How would you adapt? How would you prepare? And how would you be received?

This is exactly what happened to me when I reported to be the Chief Engineer onboard the USS Santa Fe, a fast-attack, nuclear submarine based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Read the full article here

Podcast: Navigating the Current of Decentralizing Leadership in a Nuclear Sub


Paul Colwell, a dynamic and collaborative leader in high stress and highly technical environments, meets with Podcast host David Lee. Discussed in this podcast is Colwell’s experience as a Naval Nuclear Submarine Officer and the contrasting styles of leadership he experienced from a centralized submarine to de-centralized one. Colwell examines his direct exposure with the Navy’s decision to elevate to a Responsive, adaptive leadership environment that encourages flexibility fit for unpredictable conditions.  This shift allowed Colwell to experience the interworkings of a truly Responsive organization in the high-risk environment of a Nuclear Submarine.

The book “Turn the Ship Around” by Captain David Marquet is discussed as well as Colwell’s personal experiences that relate to the book’s concepts. In “Turn the Ship Around” Captain David Marquet imagines a workplace where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity, a place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work—a place where everyone is a leader. Colwell expands on his similar experience with the Responsive environment brought into the Naval Forces. (View for more.)



Download this podcast: Navigating the Current of Decentralizing Leadership in a Nuclear Sub


4 Radically Practical Strategies to Elicit Commitment & Accountability in Today’s Climate of Change and Disruption

It is challenging to get people’s attention in this age of information overload. If the title of this article got your attention, it probably means you are experiencing the turbulent environment of overwhelm and change that many companies of all sizes are experiencing today. Do you ever feel like you are experiencing Class III, IV or V waves and you are paddling fast and hard to get through them on what you hope to be your sturdy river raft?

In the midst of the whitewater, it feels like the only way to survive is to release your raw adrenaline to produce superman’s (or woman’s) strength. But what is needed to survive (or better yet, to thrive) in the whitewater climate we are experiencing in business today is calm command of your mental, physical and emotional intelligence. Adrenaline might be sufficient when the rapids are few and far between and distanced by long smooth stretches where it is safe to be on cruise control. But in today’s business climate, whitewater is the norm and the calm waters are rare.

Today’s “whitewater” includes technology that allows us to be on 24/7, technology that can do some of the work better than people, globalization which means business opportunities and threats can come from anywhere, new generational influences entering the workforce, and on and on. It is also the disruption that constantly changes our business models, our strategies and our world as we know it. Some of the more popular examples of business “disruption” include Netflix disrupting the video rental world, Amazon disrupting the retail world, and streaming technology disrupting the music world.

For companies to thrive in our current business climate, operating from and with true commitment and accountability is the road to success. Sounds easy, but as you already know, even with the best of intentions, it is not easy to achieve. If it were, we would be making our commitments 95% of the time. Are you achieving that standard? Personally? Professionally? As an organization or team?

Most of us have very good intentions when we take on commitments or when we assign people work. We don’t intend to take on more than we could possibly do or give people more than we know they can handle (with a little stretch). But there are customers to please, deadlines to meet, new products to develop, etc., etc., etc. What is a leader to do in this untenable situation?!

Everyone knows that true commitment and accountability does not come from back to back meetings, piled on tasks and shallow commitments. But good intentions and the same old approach lead to the same old results. True commitment and accountability comes from implementing strategies that take into account that we are not just heads walking around on stick figure bodies. We cannot just analyze our way to success. True commitment and accountability comes from the realization that we are human beings with heads, hearts and bodies and that to thrive in business today, we need strategies that encompass all of these. So we are inviting leaders to engage your heads, hearts and bodies by first putting your oxygen masks on, breathing deeply and doing what it takes to operate from commitment and accountability yourselves. Then invite your employees to join you in creating this culture. We propose that you start with these four radically practical strategies:

Strategy 1: Focus on What Matters
In this day and age, we are pulled in so many directions that it seems that everything matters. However, “the everything matters” strategy will not lead to a culture of commitment and accountability. What will lead you there is determining what really does matter…to you and then to your employees.

If employees engage their hearts in their work (not just their heads) then they will be able to make strong commitments and be willing to hold themselves and others accountable. Leaders who have tied their work to their purpose, what they truly care about, tend to be inspirational leaders. If you are coming from that authentic place, it will be easier for you to help others come from that place as well. Have you ever said to yourself that you are going to do something (e.g., start working out, eating better, leaving work at a decent hour, write that article or book, etc.) and you really thought you were committed, but day in and day out you didn’t do it. Unfortunately actions speak louder than words and as it turned out, you were not truly committed. Whatever you commit to must be tied to something you truly care about or you will keep prioritizing other things. We’re sure you have noticed the difference between an employee with whom their work is tied to what they care about (e.g., learning and growth, achievement and responsibility, changing the world in a valuable way, etc.) versus the employee who is not engaged and is watching the clock and there for their paycheck. External performance is ultimately a reflection of internal commitment.

Strategy 2: Focus on Energy
This strategy seems simple enough, but in reality most of us don’t follow it. Instead we often work until we are ready to drop, fitting in one more meeting or to-do into our already full day. We don’t have time for exercise or healthy meals, but amazingly we do have time for the impromptu meetings that occur or the extra request that landed on our already full plate. We work with many leaders that are double or triple- booked in meetings, and have more on their plates than one could do even if they didn’t sleep. Which by the way is getting less and less of our time, even with the realization of how important it is to our health and our wellbeing.

Some of us use substances to keep us going – caffeine, sugar, or other substances that we think will keep us going full speed ahead. In reality, they cause us to crash and burn or at minimum lose stamina after an initial uptick in energy. And our commitments suffer because we just don’t have the energy to deal with “that” person or the creative juices to do “that” thing or the focus to truly engage the brainpower we need. Or we just run out of steam and can’t complete all of the commitments on our plate. This strategy consists of developing a “Fitness Protection Program” that will ensure your energy does not get depleted and will result in resilience, stamina and the ability to energize others. It does take some discipline to focus on our mental, physical and emotional energy, but once you do, you will find your ability to make strong commitments and meet them shows up stronger than ever.

Strategy 3: Focus on Adaptability
In our global, competitive, and disruptive world we can no longer count on old predictable ways of doing things or tried and true solutions. We need to get very comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. We need to take (well calculated) risks and we need to think out-of–the-box more than ever. In other words, we need to be fast, focused and flexible – which means teams and team members can adapt quickly to what is coming their way.

New information is coming at us all of the time, and we often have to change how we are going to meet a particular commitment to our internal or external customer. In order to operate in an uncertain or ambiguous environment, we have to discern between what we really know and what we don’t know. In uncertainty, it is easy to get distracted and unfocused. Instead, we need to put our attention on what really matters and not get constantly sidetracked by the seemingly urgent but not important.

And we have to be able to trust and use our intuitive intelligence, which takes ongoing practice. The practical application of intuitive intelligence allows us to discover new ideas, imaginative solutions and sometimes never before considered options to guide us toward success. Our intuition empowers us to be agile and effective in every situation we encounter. Focusing on adaptability is about taking on the practices that will allow you and your organization to thrive in uncertainty and change and will enable you to greatly enhance your culture of commitment and accountability.

Strategy 4: Focus on Conversations

“Organizations are linguistic structures built out of words and maintained by conversations. Even problems that aren’t strictly “communicational” – failures of mechanical systems for example – can be explained in terms of things said and not said, questions asked and not asked, conversations never begun or left uncompleted, alternate explanations not discussed.”

This is a quote by Walter Truett Anderson, a political scientist, social psychologist and author. This final strategy that Anderson points to so well in the quote above is a focus on conversations. This is where so many of our breakdowns around commitment and accountability occur in organizations. When we have effective conversations, we are present and utilizing our head, hearts and bodies. Having effective commitment conversations include making effective requests, providing only valid responses, aligning on expectations or conditions of satisfaction, and acknowledging the completion of a commitment or providing an early warning. Again, all of this seems so straightforward, however, we see numerous ineffective requests made and invalid responses given in organizations today (e.g., requests made in emails with no valid response given). We see very few early warnings provided but instead people are hoping their missed commitments won’t be noticed. And, we often observe the other components of a commitment conversation missing as well. Seemingly little things can lead to large breakdowns.

And when a breakdown in commitment does happen, accountability conversations are required and are even more rare in organizations. There are two types of accountability conversations needed: Responsible Complaints that are held one-on one, and Breakdown Conversations that are simple and to the point and held in team or staff meetings. Both of these conversations, when held effectively and consistently by leaders and team members, are culture changing.

When you bring all four of these strategies together as a leader, you will be well on your way to creating a culture of commitment and accountability utilizing a holistic approach – engaging yours and your team members heads, hearts and bodies. These strategies will serve as your “paddles” to guide you through the whitewater of change and disruption. If you are interested in thriving as an organization versus just surviving and interested in finding out more about how to effectively implement these strategies: focusing on what matters, focusing on energy, focusing on adaptability and focusing on key conversations, we at Ensemble would love to partner with you to implement these strategies in your leadership team and throughout your organization.