Making of an Exemplar

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast,” a remark attributed to Peter Drucker and popularized in 2006 by Mark Fields, president of Ford Motor Company, where it continues to hang in the companyʼs War Room. Many business leaders quote it. But, do they really understand the profound message implicit in the quote?

Most C-levels and their lieutenants are obsessed with the bottom line and the balance sheet. Of course, these are important. Missing frequently is the emphasis on culture which can have profound impact on performance of any company, large or small.  

Business history is littered with companies whose skillfully crafted strategies failed. Many of them had spent considerable resources, time and money, and even hired brand name, high priced consulting companies for help. So, why did these strategies fail? While there could be several explanations, one key reason is the absence of culture in which these strategies could be executed.

The history also shows that leaderships of great companies focus on instilling exemplary culture, values and vision, which has major positive impact on the company performance. If a company has an exemplary culture but flawed strategy, the culture will fix it. Result? The leaderships of such companies end up spending their time trying to keep up with the growth, and the exemplary culture they build becomes an incubator for outstanding employees – the Exemplars.

How can leadership instill exemplary culture?

Define Vision[1]

This is not a To Do List, a five year plan, or a mission statement. Typical vision statements tend to get written by getting a whole bunch of corporate people in a room pulling together the words that best describe their business. Then they create a one-sentence vision for the company that no one cares about or reads ever again.

A real vision comes about when the leadership (founder, CEO/COO, entrepreneur) plants one foot in the present and then leans out and places the other in the future, in the “what could be.” The time horizon needs to be short enough to be seen as realistic and achievable, yet long enough to allow the company to realize innovative and expansive ideas.

Define Values

People must know how to consistently demonstrate the values of the organization. This is not the same as the leadership issuing a pocket-card with a bullet-list of company values.  The leadership is responsible for identifying the cultural essentials that are drivers of performance, and embed them within the company culture. Here is an example of such cultural essentials:

  1. Decision Making

―     Sound judgment for good decisions

―    Empowered employees to take ownership of decisions

  1. Passion – – Inspiring others with enthusiasm and drive for success
  2. Courage

―    State controversial views without fear of repercussions

―    Make proactive proposals

―    Make tough decisions when others won’t

  1. Innovation

―    What is innovation to the company?

―    What kind of culture will spark it?

These are the questions leaderships must ask. Just appointing a mid-level employee as an “innovation manager” will not cut it.

  1. Effectiveness

―    An ongoing measurement and monitoring infrastructure for continual improvements

  1. Teamwork

―    Genuine desire and actions to create and inspire high-performing teams

Develop a common language

The biggest piece to keep in mind is to have a common language where everyone understands the expectations within the company. It is not enough simply to create vision and values. Everyone in the organization must focus on the same vision and values, and that vision and values must be in sharp focus.

It is essential that leadership communicate the vision and values to employees, suppliers, shareholders, and even customers. Let them know what the business is going to look like at every stage of growth.

Leaders must constantly communicate what the vision and values are in their recognition efforts.

Install an accountability Infrastructure

The organization must hold individuals accountable and have an effective, appropriate accountability infrastructure in place.

Who is an Exemplar?

According to Seth Godin, the old “American Dream” consisted of these basic rules (modified):

  1. Keep your head down (good dog!)
  2. Follow instructions (1G Robot?)
  3. Show up on time (punch that time card!)
  4. Work hard (donkey!)
  5. Suck it up (promote the subservient)

Sometime in nineties, communication and information revolution gained solid momentum. With the advent of Internet and e-commerce, employee mindsets began changing:

―    Work was no longer about Spartan living – – living to work, paying the bills, and having two weeks of vacation;

―    Hard work was to achieve instant gratification – –  a wide array of benefits, such as stock options, flexible hours and remote working, gourmet cafeterias, team building events at lavish resorts and a “fun” work environment. (Ah! The days of Ma Bell, Lucent, DEC and similar great companies).

In the current global economy, according to Seth Godin, the new “American Dream,” has new rules:

  1. Be remarkable
  2. Be generous
  3. Create art
  4. Make judgment calls
  5. Connect people and ideas

Today’s exemplar employees must think for themselves and contribute “emotional labor[2]” beyond their job descriptions, doing with their feelings, not just body. Though submissive employees are easier to control, they’re not going to drive sales, develop new products, or create customer loyalty. Exemplar employees do that by going beyond the mediocre and not settling for average work.[3]

Here is one view of typical characteristics of an exemplar employee[4]. They:

  1. Lead and connect people in the organization, actively and with finesse.
  2. Deliver unique ingenuity Ingenuity is personal, original, unexpected, and useful. Unique ingenuity requires domain knowledge, a position of trust, and the generosity to actually contribute.
  3. Manage complex situation or organization – Exemplars make their own maps and thus allow the organization to navigate more quickly than it ever could if it had to wait for the regimented and paralyzed crowd to figure out what to do next.
  4. Respect and inspire the other people on the team and prove it by pitching in and expanding their job description. They inspire others and understand that it is their job to make something happen.
  5. Lead customers – Every person who interacts with a customer (internal or external), is doing marketing as leadership. There is no script for leadership.
  6. Are authentic and true to themselves – they bring their true selves to the workplace every single day no matter what’s going on.
  7. Are loyal and honest and they have a great sense of humor – not taking themselves too seriously.

How to nurture the Exemplars?

The exemplars want recognition for their good and committed work. If they are not given the type of reward they are looking for and expect, they could become really negative.

What to do in the face of such adversity? Logan[5] says that answer is twofold (modified):

  1. Leaders must “walk” the culture – – to create a culture of exemplar employees, the leaders must be models themselves. They have to demonstrate the kind of behavior that they want from other team members.
  2. 2.     The leaders must create a partnership/ownership arrangement with exemplars – – an atmosphere of partnership so that everyone is responsible for developing everyone else —including the people who have the fancy titles.  

What can jeopardize Exemplary culture?

Patrick M. Lencioni, author of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, shares three important underlying factors (modified), that remain largely unaddressed by most organizations:

  1. Anonymity / Obscurity: “Do I really know my people? Their interests?”

People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All people need to be understood, want easy access to important people and must be recognized for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority.  People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.

  1. Irrelevance: “Do they know who or what their work impacts, and how?”

Everyone needs to know that their job matters to someone, and that they are doing meaningful work. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. They must also understand how their work contributes to the success of the company.

  1. Lacking Measurement: “Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?”

Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be.

Exemplar culture cultivates exemplar employees and that creates an Exemplar company!

[1] Double Double by Cameron Herold

[2] The Managed Heart by Arlie Hochschild

[3] The Managed Heart by Arlie Hochschild

[4] Seth Godin and Michael Allosso

[5] Tribal Leadership by Logan


How to get most out of your training budget? – Part I

Globalization of economies is well under way. International travel is routine. People are getting accustomed to distant cultures. And of course, global commerce and competition are greater than ever.

As the world is shrinking to “tiny”, most companies recognize that training is a vital part of staying competitive in this dynamic marketplace.  The question is: How can businesses get most out of the funds set aside for training?

This is Part I, addressing the first of the three critical questions below:

1. What are training priorities for achieving success in any economic environment?

2. Which functional groups need this training the most for greatest impact?

3. How do you monitor and measure the training effectiveness?

Consider applying Steven Covey’s the Urgent/Important Matrix (modified here) to set training priorities for optimized workforce and staying competitive:

Setting Training Priorities

  •  “Glaring Need” – Training to address “Important and Urgent” is your top priority

 “You are generating a large number of qualified leads. Your people have completed sales training. Yet, your people are not able to Close! Your sale/bid ratio (conversion rate) is below that of the leaders in the industry. If this continues, your market share will decline.”

So, how do you identify the kind of training your people need?

“The ability of a company to differentiate between whether the sales organization has a selling problem or a negotiating problem can mean the difference between delivering the expected performance or not” says Mike Milich, Executive Coach at SwiftNegotia.

  • “Necessary Evil” – Training focused at addressing “Urgent but not Important” tasks

Training to perform certain administrative functions more efficiently may become urgent (for example, to meet tax filing deadline), but are not critical to survival and growth of the business.

  • “Strategically Critical” – Training focused at achieving your goals, short and long-term

Begin with recognizing the skills the most effective employees use now, as well as by projecting new skills that will be important because of the dynamics of the marketplace.

Caution: It is easy to confuse functional/technical expertise with capabilities as a business person.  Many smart professionals are trained to explain why something will not work. There is tendency for these people to extend the same mindset to business deals – always highlighting reasons why some deal cannot be made.

For example, to effectively deal with people from different parts of the world, the one ingredient that needs to be added to the mix is “negotiation skills.”

Negotiation skills are about learning to look at something and create an opportunity and not a reason to say No!” – Mike Milich

  • “Worry not” – Training for activities that are neither urgent nor important, is just waste of money. There are activities for which others may want you to provide training, but if such activities are not important and do not contribute to company goals, either ignore them or say “No” politely, if you can.

In Part II and Part III, we will address question 2 and question 3, respectively.

Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures

Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures

In 2005, Thomas L. Friedman wrote the bestseller: The World is Flat: A brief history of the twentieth century. He analyzed the globalization, primarily in the early 21st century.

The book raised my curiosity and interest in understanding the dynamics of global economies and their implications. I observed that since late 80s, early 90s, these dynamics have driven a surge in structured business relationships between firms in several industries, domestic and abroad.  These relationships range from simple joint selling to mergers & acquisitions (Figure 1). Each one of these relationships represents different degrees of risk, scope, involvement, capital investment and potential returns.

Figure 1

Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures

While there is this spectrum of business relationships, the use of Strategic alliances and Joint Ventures has been and still is growing with an increasing number of multi-national entities. I am identifying my view of the fundamental difference between a strategic alliance and a joint venture in figure 2.

Figure 2

strategic alliance vs joint venture


Strategic alliance is an arrangement between two or more firms to work together in any part of the value chain, from basic research to after sales support. Joint venture involves creation of a separate, independent entity.  Both of these business arrangements have certain advantages and some special challenges.

       What are the benefits?

Companies have several and varied reasons to form alliances. Most of the times, the potential partners see synergistic effect due to perceived complementary strengths. They expect to leverage the relationship to gain a competitive and/or differential advantage, access a new market, mitigate or share risk, realize economies of scale and scope, share expertise in one or more areas such as technical knowhow and decrease resource costs (labor, material, logistics etc.).

If a company intends to enter a foreign market, it may face local government requirement for a certain percent of local ownership. This can generally be accomplished through a joint venture arrangement.

While Joint Venture and Strategic Alliance participants share the gains, they also mitigate and/or share the risk of loss and failure. The attractiveness of these arrangements, therefore, increases if the business venture presents a risk to the “balance sheet”.

Economies of scale and scope can be realized when two or more entities combine their resources and strengths. They can optimize efficiencies and drive innovation. This may allow them to effectively compete against one or more entrenched industry players.

Creating alliances can also fill in existing gaps, such as, a large telecom company did not have enough knowledge and ability in electronic miniaturization. It gained such an ability by connecting with a small European company. Subsequently, it led to the acquisition of the smaller company.

Firms from countries with highly developed economies form relationships with entities in developing countries to realize huge cost savings in labor, material and many times logistics. Businesses in developing countries benefit from advanced technical and operational know-how and access to capital.

       What are the fundamental requirements for partner selection?

Finding and selecting the right joint venture or strategic alliance partner can be quite challenging. The strategic objectives of the potential partners must be complementary and synergistic. The objectives need not be exactly the same, but they cannot be in conflict for the venture to succeed. This requires a clear and complete understanding of each other’s goals. The challenge is that the parties may not always share this information clearly and completely. Why? This is because the concerned parties may be afraid of being exploited.

The potential relationship must also be synergistic in terms of skills and competencies. Most frequent areas for such skills and competencies match are managerial expertise, technical know-how, resource access, geographic and political access and production facilities.

All parties involved must establish mutual trust and commitment to the venture. No matter how well all other aspects mesh, without trust and commitment, the venture will either fail or stagger. One key requirement for establishing trust and commitment is to share information related to objectives, intents and organizational culture.

       What are the typical organizational structure alternatives?

The organization and management structures in such business arrangements vary and are generally customized to each venture. Typical structures used are:

  1. Parent – Child  – – – The “Parent” company is generally the majority owner or brings the most valuable resources to the table
  2. Shared Management – – – Both parent companies share decision making responsibilities. In some situations, it is accomplished by having equal number of managers in controlling positions such as board of directors. In many other situations, the number of managers will vary with the functional group or area of expertise.
  3. Arm’s length – – – This is where the management of joint venture acts independently of either of the parent company. This is generally not the case in new joint ventures unless the parent companies agree to recruit managers from outside the companies.
  4. Rotating structure – – – This is a situation where the companies forming an alliance and/or joint venture agree to rotate key management positions between the firms. The key executives are assigned definite and fixed term lengths.

There are numerous and varied reasons for companies to form strategic alliances, joint ventures or other cooperative business relationships. All of these, however, have one item in common, that is, they are all expecting to create synergies for better market and financial performance.

Satish Mehta

Satish at LinkedIn



Creating and Claiming Value in Negotiations

Work place or life in general is full of negotiating opportunities – be it with your supervisor, spouse, customers or peddler in Egyptian bazaar! Let’s talk about customers here.

You are an effective negotiator if you can convince the customer to willingly say yes, and mean it, to a proposal that also meets all your real interests.  And, why would the customer say yes?  Because the deal meets the customer’s real interests better than customer’s best no-deal option.

So, your challenge is to structure customer’s perceived choice, of deal  versus no-deal, so that what the customer chooses in his or her interest is also what you want – – –  “letting them have your way (for their reasons).”

This offers key to jointly creating and claiming value in a sustainable way.

First, while the overall economics of a deal are generally necessary, they are often not sufficient. Assess the full set of interests at stake, yours and that of customer’s. This includes relationships, the process itself and the “social contract.”

Most of the times, negotiations address tangible factors such as price, timing and specifications. Most deals are 50 percent emotion and 50 percent economics. Crucial interests are often intangible and subjective: the character of the negotiating process, the effect on trust and company reputation, and so on. For example, when working out longer-term arrangements, relationships, rather than transactions, can be the predominant negotiating interests in much of Latin America and South Asia.

Second, map potentially influential internal players; what is “rational” for the whole may not be so for the parts!

Map the full set of involved parties – – It is crucial to map all parties in the context of their decision process. And, do not forget to include influential players in your own internal negotiations.

Draw a deal diagram. While there may be a single negotiator, you need to be alert for internal factions with different interests. They may be deal blockers or internal champions of your proposal. For example, in some European countries many times, the unexpected importance of the management board as well as the supervisory board and unions under the policy of ‘co-determination’ often stymie large contracts.

Enjoy the Spring Season!

Finally, Spring is here! It is time to shrug off the winter blues, hop outside and enjoy the weather.  It is also time to spring ahead and invest in yourself. No, I am not talking about rushing to the gym to develop that chiseled body. I am talking about sharpening your negotiations skills.  

 Do you know that the world’s greatest leaders share a common trait? It is their ability to negotiate skillfully. While, some may be born with natural ability, most leaders sharpen their skills over time, usually only after many years of work experience.

 We believe that becoming a better negotiator and therefore exemplary manager or leader starts at SwiftNegotia

 Our workshops have helped thousands of executives structure and negotiate better deals, strengthen relationships, instill a strong team spirit within their company and reach the next level, if not the top-level.  

 Whether you’re an experienced executive or an up-and-coming manager-working in the private or public sector, domestically or abroad-our workshops will help you shape important deals, negotiate in uncertain environments, claim (and create) more value, and resolve seemingly difficult disputes. In short, our workshop will prepare you to achieve better outcomes. 

 There are courses that are taught by several self-proclaimed experts. These experts claim to have literally written books on negotiation skills. That makes them good academicians and authors. Our clients hire us to lead or navigate real deals. 

 At SwiftNegotia workshops are led by professional negotiators.  

 If you’re looking to accelerate and advance your negotiation, decision-making and leadership skills, we urge you to contact us to check out the schedule of public workshops or arrange a customized workshop for your firm exclusively.

 Enjoy your Spring! 

How to handle an unexpected price increase


As a buyer, it can be stressful when a supplier announces an unexpected price increase. Many buyers will just accept it without raising any questions. But, it does not have to be that way. Try  this:
  • Express surprise or irritation over the discussion and say “no” firmly. If they push then ask for the basis of the price increase.  It is important to let the supplier know right away that you need time to decide whether it is acceptable or not. If you do not let the supplier know about this promptly, the supplier may assume that the new price is acceptable and behave so making your life more difficult.
  •  Put the conversation in the Dialog Phase and challenge the basis of the price increase aggressively; expose weaknesses in facts, logic, assumptions and positions that have been taken by the seller. Then adjourn to check the power balance and plan your strategy.
  •  If a price increase is imminent, what will you get in return of equal or more value? Ask for something of value to you in return. Don’t feed the Bears!!!