Are you restoring lost motivation to your company’s culture?




Bob Marley famously jammed: “No bullet can stop us now, we’ll neither beg nor we won’t bow…” His aspiration called for bold and brave actions, in keeping with the highest standards. However, most corporate executives don’t believe their employees are Marleys, William-Gordons or Bogles.


Instead, they complain: “Is pure Bredda Anansi we have!”


As a result, these leaders scoff at Bob’s next line: “…Neither can be bought nor sold.” Long ago, they gave up on such lofty visions for their staff. Now, their primary concern is paying the lowest wage-price possible to purchase just enough employee motivation to make a profit. It’s usually more than they think they can afford, which keeps them up at night, worrying.


If you try to convince them their people are better than this, watch as they pull out surveys to “prove” that staff only wants one thing: more money.


As I have reported in this column, research shows that such reactions are misleading. In fact, the pat answers, so easily believed, don’t match daily behaviour. A 5% increase in pay doesn’t, by itself, produce a corresponding increase in productivity. Executives who really want to motivate employees must reach past flawed data, mistaken reasoning and their own incorrect instincts to find better information which illuminates the truth.


The newest revelation arrives in the form of a method to measure each employee’s current reasons for working. According to the authors of Primed to Perform, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, there are six motivations which lie on a continuum.


Intrinsic motivator #1 – Play. Employees at this level do their jobs primarily because they love the activity. They lose themselves in their work and enjoy moments when they can engage in it wholeheartedly. They are often your highest performers.


Intrinsic motivator #2 – Purpose. In this case, staff members may not care for the work but they are driven by the immediate impact they have on other people, society or country. They put service above self.


Intrinsic motivator #3 – Potential. If the major benefit employees derive builds personal skills or capacity, it belongs in this category. In other words, their role leaves them more capable or better-positioned for the future.


Extrinsic motivator #1 – Emotional Pressure. This level involves trying to alleviate unwanted feelings such as guilt, shame or fear. They don’t come from the work itself but are linked with merely having a job.


Extrinsic motivator #2 – Economic Pressure. If rewards and punishments are driving individuals to perform, they are probably motivated by a sense of tangible gain or loss.


Extrinsic motivator #3 – Inertia. The work is being performed today only because it repeats what was done yesterday and the day before. This is perhaps the most deadening, unconscious state to be in.


Take a moment to scan your workforce one staff member at a time, assigning each person to a level. What do the combined results tell you about your company’s culture?


If your conclusion alarms you, consider the two following interventions.


  1. Teach managers to notice


motivation levels and act accordingly. Start by advising them that part of their job is, over time, to shift the distribution to the better motivators. Give them the tools, training, and other elements they need to coach people effectively.


One of the obstacles they may have to overcome is an inability to relate: the chances are high that they were promoted because they were already self-motivated. They must learn to get past their own achievement to reach employees who aren’t like them.


  1. Train employees to enrich their own experience. Most people simply don’t know how to shift themselves to being consistently intrinsically motivated. Instead, they operate as if their moods are random, along with their attitudes toward their work.


You may be concerned about the training cost. Much can be done on a low budget: usually, it’s the clear commitment from the top that’s missing. Just pick an approach from one of the main schools of thought and implement it systematically, starting with the executive team.


All worthwhile transformations include organisational leaders. As a member of top management, you can start by accepting the part you have played in contributing to the current state of employee motivation. Even if you recently joined the firm, the faster you take responsibility, the quicker you’ll be on the side of those who are trying to effect change.


It’s never easy to own the influence you have in an area so fraught with misunderstanding. Many of your colleagues may not see things the way you do. However, go ahead and launch an attempt: it can make a big difference in the lives of everyone in your enterprise.



Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to


How Boards Innocently Get Themselves into Trouble


Members of company boards are accountable for solving a dilemma: how should they intervene when problems inside the organization crop up? Do they always give managers the benefit of their advice? Should they become coaches, perhaps even taking up operational roles to help implement solutions? My surprising suggestion: resist the temptation to aid, abet and enable weak individual performance.


Many board members unconsciously cling to the notion that their job should be an easy one. The perks are well known: a relatively small part-time commitment in exchange for the prestige of helping to run a communal entity. Sometimes, there is even remuneration.


What isn’t openly acknowledged is that the rules of the road are obscure. Most boards have enough turnover to prevent norms from becoming established. Instead, each new member brings with him/her fresh experiences. The benefit lies in their original contribution, but there’s a downside. Most companies don’t on-board such members very well, leaving them to learn how to be effective by the seat of their pants.


As a result, many boards may follow established conventions in their meeting rules, but not where it really counts: in their relationship with staff. If you are a board member, this represents an undefined, grey area.


Conversely, you know what to do with familiar challenges. In those cases, you can highlight early warnings and weigh in to prevent catastrophes. But if all board members do the same with staff, expect the following problems to occur, without fail.


Problem #1 – Becoming Individual Coaches

It all starts innocently, with a sincere plea for help. A manager in trouble reaches out to you, a board member who he or she trusts. You can’t say no… plus you get a quick ego-boost from showing the youngsters how things are done. After responding to additional calls you eventually slip quietly into the role of being an informal coach or mentor.


However, unknown to you, other board members are doing the same.


Before long, your meetings turn into trauma centres in which each member has their own compelling story of raging incompetence. Sometimes, the larger, unfortunate, truth emerges: you are all giving conflicting advice. By the time you meet, you have collectively sent the organization into a tailspin.


In summary, the board transforms into an uncoordinated coaching team. Now you are chasing small problems mistakenly elevating them from the bowels of the company where they truly belong. Over time, the big, hard challenges only a board can address go unattended.


Problem #2 – Being A Regular Presence vs. An Emergency Visitor

Some board members fancy themselves as an inexpensive alternative to management consultants and in fact, they might possess superior industry knowledge.


If you do so, understand the issue you could create.


Professional consultants do more than give advice. They craft high-trust, short-term relationships in order to see problems permanently solved before departing. Consequently, they set up crystal clear, written agreements as a necessary pre-requisite.


However, as a board member, you may not appreciate the importance of this distinction. You are not a peer – you are always the Boss’s Boss. Furthermore, you don’t have a temporary relationship. It’s permanent.


Finally, when a consultant gives advice, the onus is on the client to use it. Unfortunately, your “suggestion” can be heard as a board directive, whether you intend it to be or not.


The net effect is that you cease playing your role as part of the governance structure and slip into another, which is less effective.


Problem #3 – Stop Being the Referee


Board members who take up these other roles eventually abandon their most important duty: to set standards and hold people accountable. After all, if you are involved in making operational decisions, at the next meeting you are likely to defend their success or failure.


In other words, you have become entangled.


Imagine a football game in which the goalie decides to play the role of centre-forward. That’s bad enough… imagine him also wanting to be the referee!


The source of all three problems is that boards often lack a rigorous definition of the practices to use when interacting with staff. In your commitment to be helpful, you end up doing more harm than good, running all over the field, leaving the mouth of your goal unattended.


As a board member, you are not a mentor, coach, consultant or friend. While it’s fine to show these competencies in quick bursts, your primary role is much too important to be abandoned. Do so long and often enough, and you leave the company short of the kind of far-sighted governance that might save it from ruin. Instead, stay out of trouble: define your practices with some rigour and stick to them no matter what.

N.B. This column has a companion webinar that accompanies it on YouTube. Click on the graphic below or this link.

Don’t put your creative makers on a manager’s schedule


Why do newly-promoted managers sometimes become obstacles to people with good ideas? Often, they don’t realize that their elevation to management puts them in a different world, with a new way of allocating time that interferes with the productivity of their best employees.


A few years ago, an investor by the name of Paul Graham wrote an article arguing that there are two different kinds of schedules professionals make. In his 2009 post entitled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” he described a shift which takes place when people who have technical or artistic expertise are promoted into managerial positions.


They start attending lots of meetings, tackling one issue after another. Their “manager’s schedules” are marked by sharp switches from one topic to another, in a fairly unplanned, random manner. These schedules are ideal for people whose jobs involve putting out fires.


Unfortunately, managers often forget what it was like to be a “maker.” These employees are the ones who create new things, like computer programs, advertising copy or specialized customer solutions. Their job requires them to exercise creative powers on a daily basis.


By contrast, meetings are their worst enemy. When they are forced to attend them by an organization’s norms, it drags them away from their primary task: making new stuff. It ruins their productivity.


A manager may think that a single one-hour meeting in the middle of the morning or afternoon isn’t too much to ask of makers. However, it actually robs them of their most valuable assets: blocks of uninterrupted time. In their world, this resource allows them to enter the magical, deep state of concentration defined by experts like Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Anders Ericsson, and Cal Newport.


This is a tragedy that affects every Jamaican company’s productivity. After all, the goal of employing another human being is not merely to keep them busy. Instead, the best managers unleash creative power using the following three approaches.


#1 – Teach individuals how to guard focused time


If you are a manager, your employees may understand what excellent work looks like and how it should be measured, but they probably don’t know where it originates.


First, you need to show them that chasing around doing a manager’s bidding is not enough. (If such behavior happens to be a sad fact of life in your company, then you have a much scarier problem.)


Instead, teach them that working in blocks of focused time ranging from two to four hours is essential to high performance.


At the same time, warn them. The modern office does not support the maker’s needs. Sadly, with modern portable devices, expectations around email responsiveness and open seating plans, it’s designed to maximize distractions. Altogether, they make you less productive.


However, the responsibility to produce results lies with makers, not their circumstances. While many motivated employees compensate by arriving very early, leaving late, telecommuting and working on weekends, holidays, vacations and even sick days, this is not a sustainable strategy. They must learn to cordon off blocks of focused time in the regular working day if they hope to do their job effectively.


#2 – Get work groups involved


As a manager, you also have the power to create policies for your team which support maker time. Simply block out times during the week when meetings are not allowed, such as Monday and Friday from 9am-12pm.


Now, your makers can relax knowing that none of their colleagues will interrupt them during these periods or expect them to undertake non-creative activities. This tactic allows them to be fully focused even when they are outside of blocked-out times because they know that their time-slot for doing great work is already set for the near future.


#3 –  Protect employees from outside intrusions


There’s more. If you are serious about giving makers the time they need, you must buffer them from organizational pressure to disrupt their best work.


This means running interference, making sure that no-one is pulling your employees into meetings which minimize their maker time. If this requires you to approve these gatherings beforehand, do it.


Until you educate the rest of the company on the difference between maker and manager time, you may just have to say “No” several times so that your organization’s most important objectives can be met.


If you use these three approaches you may be able to keep your makers not only productive but fulfilled. I have met many who quit or become deeply resigned because they cannot do their best work. Don’t wait. Intervene early before their frustration builds to the point of no return and you’ll no longer be an obstacle.



Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to

How to correct your company’s vague, cliché-ridden vision statement


Most leaders know how important it is to inspire employees. However, their favorite tool, a corporate vision statement, is fast becoming an artifact of a time when trite clichés used to work. Today, these statements all sound the same so everyone ignores them. Perhaps your company should supplement your own with a “backcasted” matrix developed during its next strategic planning retreat.

When vision statements became popular the intent of its proponents was pure. An organization needed to articulate exactly where it was going if it had a hope of gaining competitive advantage. Without it, stakeholders would act from their personal view of the future. In their pursuit of these mini-visions, they would create chaos.

Perhaps the first vision statements worked because when they were introduced, they were better than nothing. But today, employees need more specificity. Fortunately, backcasting offers executives a rigorous solution.

The term was coined by John Robinson in a 1990 paper. However, our clients know it as “The Merlin Process”, named after the wizard from King Arthur’s court. He claimed to be able to stand in the future and live back to the present. Today, you can use this power in your next planning retreat by following these three steps.

Step 1: The Way to Break Through Cliches

The problem with vision statements is that they are based on very broad ideas. Some try to make them more real by using media such as pictures, videos, drawings and even poetry.

However, you need not go to these lengths. Just pick a planning year far enough in the future to accomplish something big. Then, use it to describe your preferred scenario in not only words, but numbers.

For example, create a 2045 Vision in which company profit is $500 million, ROI is 15% and headcount is 450. When you add to this list of metrics and targets, a clear picture emerges.

As you may know, there is a delicate interplay between such metrics. As your team describes this preferred future state, some hard realities emerge due to the tradeoffs which must be made. For example, a client of ours realized that if it actually reached its long-term revenue goal, the headquarters of the company would have to be moved from the Caribbean to Miami. That was the only way to serve its changed focus on Latin American customers. Everyone refused and the target was reduced.

Detailing such futures takes hard work, yet it’s easy compared to the following required actions.

Step 2: Use the numbers to link your vision of tomorrow to past results

In our strategic planning retreats we ask a small task force to stay late, in order to complete the following exercise. Their job is to connect the output of Step 1 with today’s reality.

We recommend the use of a spreadsheet with rows of key metrics arrayed against columns of years connecting, for example, 2045 back to 2017.

The end result (a “Merlin Chart”) looks like a matrix. But these are not forecasts – they are “backcasts” which start from the future and work their way back.

This matrix is completed by adding projects, interventions, acquisitions and other unique activities at specific times in order to produce the desired end-result. Taken together, they describe a long-term plan.

However, the task force’s first draft is just that – a rough description. It must be verified with a wider audience because initial plans are often changed overnight.

For example, a client team discovered that its dream of having a bi-lingual workforce within 20 years was entirely unrealistic. It had to be scaled back. Another recognized that the owner of the institution was running it into the ground. To ensure its future, it needed new ownership, which it secured several years later.


Step 3: Get immediate buy-in by sharing an imperfect draft

Once the chart is drafted, it’s shared with a much larger team. Now, everyone has an opportunity to examine and suggest changes as they point out errors in judgment, mistaken assumptions, and mathematical inconsistencies. They also dispute where projects have been inserted, delayed or cancelled.

By the end, they have concluded a discussion which builds not only understanding but ownership and trust. The result is more than a windy talk shop, but a series of joint decisions intended to accomplish the vision.

They don’t come lightly. Several nerve-wracking moments ensue as the team drives to consensus. But this is a conversation worth having: it might save your company from destruction as it adjusts to a new technology, competitor or economy.

It may sound corny, but people want to be on a winning team. In this powerful activity lies a secret: it gets staff inspired because it tells a success story from start to finish which every employee understands and supports. It’s a transformation they can get behind with both their hearts and minds.


Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to






Using BPM to Solve Nagging Customer Complaints


How to solve nagging customer complaints that never go away


If your company has over 100 employees and faces difficult customer service problems, it’s likely that they have become intractable. They aren’t fixed easily because the solution does not reside in the hands of front-line personnel. Instead, they exist because your organization is too big for small-scale solutions.


Every company which grows above a certain size discovers a new class of stubborn problems which can’t be solved by tinkering with Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s.)

Take the case of a call you make to complain about the inaccuracy of a bill. No matter how nice, empathetic or professional the CSR is, she is far removed from the source of the issue. All she can do is record the fact that it exists.

If you suspect that the fault originates deep in the bowels of the organization, you may be right. For example, the three departments who must cooperate to resolve the problem report to different people who each have their own agendas. From their personal point of view, you are collateral damage: not a priority. As far as they are concerned, their boss believes they are doing a great individual job.

In such a situation, further training of front-line staff makes no difference. Neither will hiring new CSR’s. How do the best companies go about resolving these issues systematically?


  1.      Illuminate the Customer Journey


By In a simple operation like a patty shop, it’s easy for managers to monitor the flow of experiences you have as a customer from entrance to exit. However, as companies become more complex, your “customer journey” grows to span multiple organizations and more people. Before long, no-one can see, let alone manage your end-to-end experience. It’s ignored.

As you get handed off from one department to another in a game of “Royal Runaround,” it’s possible to meet some very nice employees along the way. It’s just that no-one is responsible for the entire length of the abominable process you are stuck inside.

Unfortunately, most companies are only equipped to handle single fires. Process problems require a different approach.

I recall one of my clients who sincerely believed that it took a mere seven days to handle a new application. In fact, investigations revealed that the actual elapsed time from the customer’s point of view was closer to a shocking 15 days.

Companies who fix this particular kind of poor service start with an appreciation of your journey as a customer. It’s defined as the sequential flow of touchpoints you experience and it can only be discovered when employees walk in your shoes.  This is the first step, but these kinds of changes don’t happen in a single corrective intervention.


  1. Systematic Process Improvement

Only a few firms go further and set up a permanent, cross-functional team to manage the processes that make up the customer journey.

They undertake the following minimum Business Process Management (BPM) activities:

–          -Baseline the current process/customer journey.

–          -Find and execute quick wins.

–          -Establish and monitor performance metrics.

–          -Use the new data to implement process changes.

This cycle is repeated ad infinitum, often with the help of a coach. However, each change is limited in duration in the absence of proper governance outside the team.


  1. Making Improvement Permanent

Sometimes, the team makes terrific progress just by empowering itself. Unfortunately, their success hastens the moment when further time, money, technology and additional human resources are needed. Now, the endorsement of the company is required.

A good place to start is to establish a new position in the organization: a “Process Owner.”

This individual must possess a blend of technical, political and communication skills to lead the team through the four BPM steps shared earlier.

They also are held accountable for the ongoing improvement of the customer experience and process performance. To be successful, they pull together people from different departments who have competing interests.

Process Owners make sure that the company pays attention to the space between silos, tying the customer’s piecemeal experiences into a single whole.


It’s hard work. But their very existence is important as it highlights the precarious nature of the customer’s journey through a complex organization.


These three changes may sound easy to implement but they fly in the face of cultures which promote loyalty to one’s manager over loyalty to the customer. As such, preventing service abominations and Royal Runarounds requires a shift in power from line managers to Process Owners. Most resist such changes.

The fact is, this process transformation is required if a company is to scale to the next level and meet its service aspirations. Now, it must think about the customer quite differently and embrace the challenge of being a complex but successful organization.


Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to



Why great strategy retreats confront the ugliest truths


Why a Great Strategy Retreat Starts by Confronting the Ugliest Truths


What’s the harm, in your next strategic planning retreat, of restricting the discussion to focus on the positives – the potential of the future? After all, everyone wants to walk away inspired by what can be accomplished, not bogged down by past losses and ugly failures. Should this sentiment be used to set the agenda to limit certain discussions while encouraging others?


If you are the meeting planner or sponsor, it’s a dilemma. For example, some may suggest renaming the meeting a “forward” to keep things positive.


This probably won’t make much of a difference, but here’s something that will. Before the retreat begins, clearly script the first few agenda items so that you achieve a balance between activities that look to the past with ones that carve out the future. Keeping this intention in mind is better than the alternative: leaving it entirely up to the participants to decide. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to fall prey to groupthink, only to settle on a poor decision that ruins the quality of the outcome.

Google probably won’t help you find the right script for your event, or hint that a change is needed in mid-stream. If you only plan a single retreat per year, here are three inside secrets known only to experienced facilitators.


Secret #1: Don’t Ignore Human Nature


The purpose of a strategic planning retreat is twofold. One is to make high-quality decisions which, when assembled, chart a favorable future for the company. The second is more subtle – to bring everyone together on the same page.


The fact is, anyone can write a strategy document – a CEO, Chairman or even an outside consultant. The main reason to do things differently, to use a team, is to ensure that there is wholehearted support from each individual. This is an emotional result, not a logical one.

To achieve it, understand that team-members are likely to share an unspoken question at the start: “What is known, and by whom?”


Even teams who work side-by-side every day face this quandry. It’s the reason a good marriage therapist begins by establishing a base of facts both parties can agree on.


In much the same way, participants have a profound need to create a “Joint View” of current business reality. In our retreats, we build it in real-time using past data.

The end result is composed of five perspectives. Four are borrowed from the Balanced Scorecard (Financial, Customer, Process, and People) and we also add a summary of external forces described by the acronym PESTER (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Regulatory.)


It’s human nature to want such a Joint View to emerge, alongside the warm feeling of fellowship that accompanies it.

Secret #2: Watch for Signs of Trouble

There are times, however, when this process is short-circuited. For example, someone powerful may “suggest” that a document they have written is a sufficient substitute for this particular exercise. If the team backs the potential shortcut, agreeing may be the only option.


If you do, stay alert for a sign of trouble.


As team-members articulate visionary ideas, observe if they are repeatedly requesting present-day information. If this occurs, they are being hampered in their efforts to create the future by a lack of understanding regarding today’s reality.


For example, a plan to double revenue in ten years is useless if the actual levels of current sales and the precise drivers are not known. Even the best-written document fails to provide the multi-perspective insight that a full group discussion generates.


This isn’t to say that it should be discarded. Instead, use it as a start: a point of departure.


Secret #3: Be Bold in Getting the Right Information


Sometimes, to help the team complete this real-time, Joint View, you must be bold to source the right data.


If Internet access is necessary, obtain it. If the employee with the information is at work or home on a weekend, call her. The issues being decided in the retreat are career-defining and require a certain level of urgency and commitment. It’s the perfect time to be unreasonable given how much is at stake.


Of course, you are better off anticipating the need for this data. For example, if your industry is undergoing business process automation, then having an expert on call is a great idea.


But you cannot fully predict which direction the discussion will go so be prepared to be resourceful.


The point here is to be ruthless in your pursuit of the truth as a necessary building block of a sound strategic plan. Once it’s accepted in mind and heart, the team is ready to create a new vision that inspires them and those whom they represent.


There is just no shortcut: a joint agreement around even the ugliest truths cannot be circumvented.


Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to

How New Managers Avoid Becoming Tyrants


Perhaps you have observed what author, Dacher Keltner, calls “The Power Paradox”: a well-liked employee gets a promotion into management and shortly after, turns into a tyrant. If you are someone who aspires to lead others, how can you avoid a fall into this trap?

First, understand that this tendency to become a hard-nosed, selfish manager is universal, but also peculiar to our culture. It’s well documented in “Why Workers Won’t Work: The Case Study of Jamaica” by Kenneth Carter. He describes the way employees change their minds after entering the supervisory ranks.

Here’s an example. Before their promotion, they report that their colleagues are motivated by training, recognition, and participation. Afterwards, they complain about a lowly fixation on only one thing: money.

At first blush, this shift in perspective may seem to be a Jamaican problem, but it isn’t. According to Keltner, whenever someone gains power, they fall into a trap in which their habits become transformed.

Before being promoted, they demonstrate enduring skills related to empathy, enthusiasm, and giving: factors used in the decision to elevate them. Afterwards their behaviour changes  as they lose “the very skills that enabled <them> to gain power in the first place.”

At this point, he quotes numerous studies showing that people who feel powerful are more likely to lie, steal sweets from children and have affairs. They even give relatively less to charity and engage in more shoplifting. In the local workplace, with its lack of feedback, they can continue to exploit others for years without ever being confronted.

But how do you become the exception?

  1. Manage your busyness

In “The Good Samaritan Study” from 1973, even people who were committed to helping others became uncaring and unkind when they felt rushed. Update that finding and today, we have well-meaning managers with their heads buried in smartphones. They distract themselves, even as they assure an employee crying out for help: “Don’t worry, I am listening – I am a great multi-tasker.” (They aren’t, because no-one is.)

But the answer isn’t to try to do less. That’s not an option.

Instead, to escape the trap you must constantly upgrade your habits, practices and tools to surpass the mediocre standards which prevail in the Caribbean. It will help you approach world-class levels, which is the only way to add even more tasks while maintaining the same peace of mind you had before you were promoted.

  1. Act to give away power

Those who gain power often ignore the fact that it only exists because it’s granted by others. Ousted politicians know this fact all too well, even though it’s the first lesson they forget after winning an elected seat.

The irony is that the more power is given away, the more it is returned. Before you are promoted, you don’t need to know this fact. But once you assume a new management position, you step into the spotlight where everything you do (and don’t do) is now the subject of criticism.

Some new managers argue that it’s unfair. “But I haven’t changed,” they plead.  Unfortunately, as a holder of power, new expectations have instantly and permanently been conferred.

Now, you must work hard to understand how power works, then set about crafting appropriate behaviors. Empowering and enabling other people needs to become a regular, public act.

  1. Beg for Feedback

Given the fact that most managers are blind to the ways power warps them, they need external help to counteract the norm. Someone nearby must be in place to tell them the truth.

In medieval courts, the joker or jester played that role. Now the task falls to a coach or consultant paid to be the exceptional voice of truth: the John the Baptist.

If, as a manager, you find yourself surrounded by people who appear to be telling you stuff you like to hear, or advice which just happens to save their skins from criticism… well, I have bad news. It’s likely that you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, courtesy of your entourage of bootlickers.

In my years as a consultant, the tendency of a manager to fool himself about the true thoughts of those around him is astounding. Consider it an occupational hazard.

To prevent disaster, you must push people hard to tell you the truths you fear the most. Whenever you aren’t doing that, safely assume that you are allowing power to turn you into someone who is less kind, less generous and less concerned with the common good.

Power corrupts. But that’s not the end of the story. With it, you have a tremendous capacity to be of service but the price you pay is a kind of rigorous vigilance that non-managers don’t need. It’s the only way to avoid becoming a Trump-like tyrant.


Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to

How to Optimize Your Strategic Planning Retreat To Prevent Failure


I was recently called by a company interested in having 60 attendees at their one-day strategic planning event. As they described the desired outcome I decided to give them the bad news up front: they had unwittingly put their goal in jeopardy.

In short, the design of their workshop was in opposition to their intent to produce a quality plan. Too many participants and too little time would guarantee it. In addition, they were increasing the odds of people walking away feeling as if the activity were a waste of their efforts and the company’s money.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that fixes itself during the retreat. In fact, it’s possible to complete the event without hearing a single complaint.

How could this happen? In the Caribbean, we are polite, unlikely to create waves in the middle of a workshop unless things are going very badly. Compared to other work cultures, we give blighs instead of feedback. The empty-handed reality would only creep in later when everything has quieted down.

Unfortunately, based on the retreat’s “success”, the following year would be likely to see a repeat. Often, it’s easier to go with the flow than to make a fuss, allowing the company to slip into a strategic planning rut from which it cannot escape.

If you are the retreat sponsor, here are a few interventions you can launch to bring new life to your strategic planning meeting.


  1. Define What a Successful Retreat Looks Like

The main purpose of this kind of workshop is to make unprecedented decisions. It’s not business-as-usual. This event should be difference-making, not status-quo-reinforcing.

Some mistakenly define the gathering as an opportunity for a team to rubber-stamp the thoughts of a CEO, chairman or outside consultant. If that’s all your company wants to do, save your time and money and have a conference call or pass around a document.

Instead, you should be trying to make the most of everyone’s time, allowing participants to bring their best thinking to the occasion. In this unique space, the range of possibilities becomes dramatically expanded. A new vision for the company may be forged at will.

In a similar vein, you can catalyse complex decisions involving multiple tradeoffs. In the right context, each stakeholder shares his/her expertise, contributing a unique perspective. Together, they shape the firm’s journey from the present to the future, in an effort which requires everyone to be at their best throughout the entire exercise.

Imagine the creation of a fresh strategy which rescues the company from ruin, saving jobs. Or, endorses a new product that becomes a best-seller. Or, carves out a path for decades to come that preserves the organization for future shareholders. These are the kinds of results which make a strategic planning exercise a special opportunity.

  1. Encourage a Balance of Inquiry and Advocacy


In a retreat, there is a natural flow between generating more input (“diverging”) and driving towards a conclusion (“converging.”) This movement from one extreme to the other is unlikely to take place by itself, hence the need for someone to play the role of facilitator.

It does not have to be someone from the outside. But an internal employee cannot execute the position without deliberately setting aside their substantive role while they are leading the discussion.

If they do a good job, preserving the balance between inquiry and advocacy, the entire activity comes alive as the tempo shifts from one energy to the other in a structured way. Attendees feel as if they are being heard and no-one departs with an unexpressed thought. The empty space this creates is satisfying, even if it is intensely exhausting.

  1. Control the Number of People

Given the objectives and the flow which must be achieved, there are some limits to the total attendees in a typical two-day activity. (One day is too short to get past polite banter.)

We recommend that between 10-18 people attend. Smaller numbers are dangerous because a single, strong-willed individual can dominate other participants. By contrast, in larger groups, introverts and lower -level attendees get lost, their voices never heard.

However, there are times when a client insists on involving all 60. If you cannot veto the idea, there is a bypass. Simply recognize that the workshop is actually comprised of two distinct exercises: the “real” retreat in which decisions are made plus an additional activity which is intended to achieve other goals.

Act to ensure that the “real” exercise is conducted with high fidelity, using my recommendations. Then, handle the second activity as the engagement boost, fact-finding mission, rubber stamp or feel-good event it honestly is.

In this way, you can avoid the distractions and pitfalls which doom these interventions, and optimize the time spent. As a result, your strategic plan will meet the true needs of your company.


Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to




Why Leaders Need to Embrace Their Role As Best Performers


Do your company’s top leaders need to be just like everyone else? Or should they publicly strive to achieve the highest levels of performance? Does it make a difference?

I recently advised a client: “Why don’t you try to run your meetings more efficiently?”

The manager viewed me suspiciously, then laughed. “How effective do you think Bob’s are?” (His CEO was infamous for poorly managed meetings.)
He continued: “And you want mine to be better than his?”

In three decades of work with executives, I have noticed leaders being ambivalent about their place at the center of attention.

Some are narcissistic, and revel in the limelight. Competitive extroverts, they prefer to be included in everything. To make sure they remain the primary focus of others, they push themselves into every available leadership position.

Others are reluctant. They are shy, avoid attention and fear the repercussions of a long fall from the top. They insist on equal treatment to other people and resist perks and benefits usually associated with their position of authority.
Neither of these extremes provides people with the one thing they crave: an obvious example of how they should act.

It’s a shame because our local employees routinely grant executives extra-special powers. Compared with their counterparts in Trinidad and the US, books like Why Workers Won’t Work make the difference clear. Jamaican employees greatly prefer the clarity of strong authority. In their minds, the big man (or woman) plays a role which cannot be abdicated, even if he is a next-door neighbour and also sits beside them in church.

Unfortunately, most leaders squander this unique opportunity. If you happen to be a manager, here are three ways to make the most of your leadership role. Each of them happens to bring out the best in you, your colleagues and your company.

1. Having The Clearest Vision
Many executives are weak at the skill of defining an inspiring future for others to step into. Even though they came of age at a time when Michael Manley provided a powerful example of how to do so, they mistakenly assume that it’s a capacity someone must be born with.

As a result, a local company which lacks a visionary at the top tends to drift into a vacuum: no-one else steps up to provide the necessary direction.

In part, it’s due to a lack of awareness. The truth is that visionary skills can be learned from companies like Landmark Education and others. In their workshops, leaders learn to be open, sharing their grandest aspirations for all concerned, while staying grounded in their daily experience.

2. Being The Most Productive
Many top leaders believe they have earned the privilege of operating beyond the level of the average employee. They don’t need to be punctual or reply to email. They are allowed to indulge in the worst multi-tasking behaviors. When their position dissuades challenges, they persist.
They fail to realise that they are, at all times, setting an example which others not only remember but repeat as gossip.
In this sense, their personal habits, practices and rituals are highly contagious, and so is their standard of productivity. They shouldn’t expect their employees to attain a higher level.
3. Being The Most Transformed
While employees may find the need for continuous, inside-out improvement exhausting, it’s the leader’s job to generate the required energy. The best ones also share their journey with others, including its ups and downs. They highlight the latter so colleagues can appreciate the difficulty of pursuing individual excellence.

In addition, they empower themselves by looking for their contribution to specific failures. For them, the discovery of a personal cause leads them to understand what can be changed to turn things around.

By contrast, the weakest leaders only focus on the changes required by others. As “expert” diagnosticians, they examine their colleagues’ faults in detail, thereby misunderstanding their role. Their ability to pick apart other people’s improvement needs is only a small part of their success. By comparison, their skill at clarifying their own personal transformation is huge.

The sad fact is that staff who are on the receiving end of a leader’s constant, punishing criticism only learn how to avoid blame and pick apart other people’s faults. On the other hand, the employee who witnesses the top leader identify a problem, search for his role in creating it, craft interventions and measure the difference, learns how to effectively deal with a wide range of issues.

Leaders who appreciate and honor the opportunity to be at the center of attention empower others to be their best. They offer their behavior as an inspiration… not just their words. It takes effort and training to become that kind of person, but it’s exactly what Jamaican companies need to make progress.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to