Case Study Intro - Getting Clear

This section describes the beginning state of Ames Group, a consulting organization that has been “fine” but feels stagnant. Kate Ames, CEO, wants to transition her growing organization from “fine” to “vibrant,” and seeks the tools to motivate and unify her organization in this vision.

As founder and CEO of Ames Group, Kate had led the company through its initial growth, slowly but steadily over 15 years – to almost 100 people – but felt unsettled with its current state. She didn’t feel that her company was practicing for itself what it did for its clients. AG growth had been relatively flat, margins too, for the past five of its twenty years in business. And Kate wasn’t sure why.

Kate had taken ten days off to review the strategic plan that she and her senior leadership team (the SLT) had agreed upon just a few months prior. While she didn’t expect or need the company to be growing fast, she felt unsettled by how risk-averse, incremental – even complacent – their plans for the future had become.

Somehow the workplace culture had shifted to a “new normal” that was flat: fine, not vibrant.

Was AG a vibrant business? Kate looked for a definition and found it in the book, The Pivot, as this:

  • staying ahead of the competition,
  • commanding the highest valuation, and
  • being a great place to work
According to The Pivot, this three-part definition of business vibrancy exists in a company that is in the state of “Aligned Momentum,” in which every person is aligned with the organizational strategy and the structure, context and flow of information and communication in the workplace supports having the nimbleness to maintain momentum.

Kate re-visited the strategic plan and mapped out a strategy which walks through what needs to be in place with respect to all they do in every area of the company to eventually lead to the desired financial results. In future strategy sessions each person would understand strategy mapping, and would complete one or more together.

Kate was ready to orchestrate a Pivot for AG. After gaining commitment from her colleagues, she would reach out to The Pivot author for guidance.

Mapping Strategy

This section shows the original draft of Ames Group’s strategy plan, based on three key phrases Kate Ames wants to implement: being Vibrant, Credible, and Lasting. This is their “three phrase” strategy. This strategy planning session includes creating a strategy map with goals for the next 3 years.

Kate’s strategy map planned strategic outcomes for the next 3 years. Ames Group (AG), within 3 years, intends to

  • 1) be engaged in longer lasting and more profitable client relationships,
  • 2) have additional sources of revenue that do not require more headcount or billable hours, and
  • 3) be an energetic workplace that is a fulfilling place to work.

View the Full Strategy Map and Explanation Here

The long-term vision needed work to be clear and inspiring, and cause all of AG to feel, “Yes! We want to be part of this future. We don’t know yet how we’ll get there, but we are clear about the direction we are headed.” Her “three phrases” to summarize the vision would do for now.

Kate’s strategy map covered just 3 years, so she expected all division heads, all on the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), to have an idea of how progress toward meeting objectives could be

Before gathering the nine-member SLT together, Kate shared her strategy map draft with each colleague so that no one was caught off guard, to give them time to think of how to measure progress, and to allow for edits if something was truly off. Each person agreed to discuss the strategy map draft, as-is, together, and be ready to offer up their initial take on how their team could contribute.

Kate shared with her colleagues that they would be responsible for determining the measurable goals with their teams. She expected them to have one-on-ones with each person on their team to mutually derive and agree to measurements of progress.

If there is more than one goal for any team, which is likely, no single person will be assigned more than three goals in any quarter.

When focus is given to just a few aligned goals, brilliant execution is possible. Without focus, the AG teams would not reach the desired state within 3 years.

As the first year of the three year Strategic Plan commences, Ames Group (AG) employed 93 people. Tim Jonson is the most recent member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), having been hired just over a year ago to develop AG’s technology expertise to better serve their clients.

By the end of January, Kate was seated in the board room with the SLT. The three-phrase vision communicated included three key points:

  • Vibrant: with verve! achieving a higher valuation, staying ahead of competition and being a great place to work—with enthusiasm not ego
  • Credible: with thought leadership that can bridge from the smaller clients they work with now, to larger clients
  • Lasting: keeping up with changing needs in the market and attracting the right talent who can best serve clients into the future

Then, they translated the three-year strategy map into four quarterly strategy maps for the first year (Y1).Then the current quarter strategy was broadcast through meetings and via excel to each division head so that they could set mutually agreed to goals and measurements with their teams.

The Pivot Begins

This section covers the review of strategy progress at the end of 1QY1. So far, Kate has asked her SLT to oversee their own teams’ sections of the strategy plan. Now, with the help of The Pivot and an Aligned Momentum (A.M.) coach, Kate begins planning for the future with aligned goals between teams.

The first quarter in the first year (1QY1) of this three-year strategic plan focused on AGs visibility to the bigger clients they now intended to serve, and AG’s readiness to serve this new market.

The first quarter theme, which encompasses how AG needs to be and do as they begin this Pivot, was “Trusted & Referred.” The quarterly theme, along with AG’s vision and core values, would be communicated clearly and frequently so as to stay top-of-mind through the workplace.

At the end of March, the SLT came back together to review progress and discuss how to better execute during the next quarter.
[View the Full Strategy Discussion Here]

The division heads needed technology (software) to support their one-on-one conversations. A verbal check-in often ran long and astray, or without focus, and too terse for clarity. Communication between a manager and each team member, both ways, would be clearer overall if online conversations could supplement what live verbal conversations missed. Many people at AG traveled or worked remotely, and all had tight schedules, so were not always thinking clearly when interrupted.

Everyone agreed that to be able to move with greater speed as well as not losing focus on what is working while change was also happening, empowered employees is key. AG must innovate while also operating excellently for existing business, all with the same people.

But was innovative (strategic) thinking possible? While employees certainly had permission to perform their roles without micromanagement, there were perceived boxes around these roles.

What was needed was empowerment that made it natural at AG for any employee to speak out and to initiate change.

Leading needn’t be limited to position. AG needed leaders out to the edges of the organization. “Build Leaders” became the 2QY1 theme.

Sharing Strategy (for Brilliant Execution)

This section shows the progress Ames Group has made by 2QY1. They are refining their process of communication and strategic planning with the help of Aligned Momentum Training. They know they need to make changes to past strategies, and they will start by using the AM Program.

Mary, the head of Finance, captured the 2Q Strategic Objectives in a spreadsheet that she’d received from the Aligned Momentum coach they’d engaged for training during 2Q. Kate was pleased that most others joined in and committed to progress measures. Some needed to think about, and discuss with their managers, how their teams would contribute.

[View expanded SLT mindsets in Early 2QY1 here]

Overall there was a sense of momentum and general optimism. Kate wasn’t sure yet if employees in her colleagues’ teams were being inspired and engaged. She added in A.M. Train-the-Trainer (which was later moved to 4Q). James her head of HR and Organizational Development would manage A.M. (but all senior leaders would participate in), and Coaching to the second quarter strategy. Mary pointed out that many of the “measures” were not quantified yet and couldn’t be tracked in current systems.

For now, everyone agreed, that their role was not to figure out the measures and then command others to do them; their role was to draft a strategy that could be communicated. Then, those closest to the work would determine how they might contribute, and how to measure that.

By April, senior leaders seemed to be able to better hone in on what was needed to make these shifts, but execution was proving challenging. It was hard to break away from doing things how they’d always been done. Kate knew that she needed to help shift mindsets to be thinking about what were the best next steps as aligned with (the future) strategy. What might they be doing that was no longer serving them over the next 3 years?

In May, as Ames Group is planning for A.M. training for the SLT and managers, Kate learns that Aligned Momentum is not only covered in The Pivot book, but that there is a program and software offered to selected A.M. consulting clients. Kate learned this during their leadership training with the author of The Pivot, who is also founder of A.M. It was good timing; AG is selected as a client for their Program, with the software included during the consulting engagement.

Catalyzing Momentum

This section shows Ames Group beginning to see alignment towards a shared goal in their organization. While this does require some restructuring and rebuilding within the organization, allowing many leaders to have input and control has fostered progress towards goals. Now they can begin focusing outward.

The best news for Kate, at the end of June there seems to be a higher level of engagement amongst her colleagues, not just in managing their teams but working with each other toward a shared vision. They are excited to be starting the A.M. Program.

AG’s Sales and Biz Dev head, Patricia, even with her concern about team bandwidth, expressed optimism about the future. She feels buoyed by recent inspiring conversations with larger prospective clients. The leadership training last quarter was invigorating, although she’s not entirely sure her peers are as eager for continuous learning as she is.

The leadership training helped reinforce for Kate that she serves the company best when building up others.

She is orchestrating business vibrancy, which means that she is part of a team, and it is the company, not herself, that must become better known.

Before entering the third quarter strategy session, Kate revisits The Pivot diagram and her notes.

Kate understands that the “Start” requires trust and empowerment. When verve is present, it can show up in higher engagement scores, higher scoring of managers, and deeper connections with customers so that they become long-term clients, and more.

When a person knows that their manager wants them to be successful, that person feels safe to speak out and step up.

Change can be difficult. If trust falters internally, not only will momentum slow or break, but client trust could falter. She makes a note to assess trust on a quarterly basis over these next 3 years using the A.M. software.

Kate believes that people feel safe at Ames Group. What she expects is that as she and her leadership team move forward toward change, they’ll need to communicate it clearly and the change will happen. While internal development will continue, better understanding how others – prospective customers, especially – see the company is a focus for third quarter.

The A.M. software will be used to support alignment by broadcasting strategy for clearer communication and more meaningful measurement. A.M. will also be used to begin a rhythm of workplace assessments, goal-setting, and priorities conversations.

In drafting their third quarter strategy, Kate’s colleagues were more involved and came up with more strategic objectives.

Orchestrating The Pivot -- Pivoting Involves Many Shifts

This section shows Ames Group utilizing the help of A.M. to expand their strategical plan from internal work to more external factors, and shows that continuous revisiting and revising of strategy is a norm that needs to be implemented for continuous momentum and alignment.

During the 3QY1 strategy session, they realized that to be “Trusted and Referred,” their 2QY1 theme, they needed to get closer to their current and prospective clients rather than guessing at what will compel them to feel and act this way toward Ames Group. The 3QY1 theme became “Know our Clients,” so they might better know how a smaller player like AG could differentiate and make their compelling differences known.

Howard, SVP of Brand spoke up. He reminded his colleagues that their three-phrase strategy (vibrant, credible, lasting) included “Quality Brand.”

He added that a good starting point would be for each division head (also all on the SLT) to reach out to their connections in the market, including clients and prospects, and… ask.

He recommended that they at least find out their market’s definition of quality for consulting services.

New objectives for the third quarter included selecting and training three point-people to be customer advocates, and starting a Net Promoter Score survey with current clients. There are a couple ideas that they’ll give their best to over the quarter, and then re-assess. These include launching a knowledge sharing portal and holding monthly calls with selected clients to start building a sense of community.

Everyone agreed that as they focus on the long-term, they need to slow growth and have the sales team focus on shifting the mix with (bigger) clients with healthier budgets, and learning the new market.

Powering-Up Communication with Software

This section highlights a shift in communication, from relying on annual reviews and occasional face-to-face conversations, to utilizing the A.M. Software’s Conversations tool. This tool will allow them to consistently discuss and track priorities, so that every team member is on the same page, can easily communicate progress and obstacles, and has records of communication to reference.

Now, powered by A.M. software, every division, and even the office of the CEO, had at least one measurable goal that aligned with one or more strategic objectives for the quarter, just a click away and simple to access while goal-setting with team members.

Some realized that some of these goals might remain a focus into the next one or more quarters. It is not uncommon to have some objectives that, while the work continues, no longer require strategic focus (they become woven into daily work), and some objectives will start and end during the quarter. For example, contracts and incentive plans were now in place. On the other hand, building a network of referral and alliance partners was started but will continue. These aren’t in the new quarter’s objectives, though, because they are now woven into day-to-day activities.

There was some pushback on using software for performance and goal-setting. Live meetings were better, weren’t they?

Kate asked if each of her colleagues met consistently with their team members. Most admitted that, although they chatted with their team individually and heard reports of progress during team meetings when they could be there, they did not have deep or frequent enough focused talks to be sure that what each person was clear about how they can best contribute, and that their contributions are seen.

They gave annual performance reviews and just fit everything in. They would share their evaluation of the team member’s performance in their role and as part of a team, and then shift to talking about the next year’s expectations.

Just talking aloud about what their priorities conversations actually discussed triggered a few to realize that the review process, as it had been, was not helping Ames Group be trusted and referred (1Q Y1 theme), build leaders (2QY1 theme), or know their clients (the theme planned for this quarter), nor could they align what happened in those reviews with AG’s intention to be a vibrant business, be known/branded for their quality, or sustain the business/last far into the future.

Tim, head of IT, and James, head of HR, now shared a few screenshots depicting a sample scenario of what 3QY1 for AG might look like using A.M. (Aligned Momentum performance management momentum software).

The A.M. screenshots can be viewed by module on the A.M. website:
Strategy: Map and share strategic objectives
Conversations: Set team goals and support individual and team achievement, aligned with strategy
Assessments: Assess workplace culture, team performance, and leadership development
Reviews: Formally review individual performance in a role, while assessing how roles fit with strategy
Reports: Aid leadership in improving workplace culture and managers in building individuals and teams

Kate was curious about how her colleagues were defining “team.” What came out of this discussion was that AG had become a collection of groups, not working within their functional areas as a team and not all aligned as a single team. What would it take to shift from simply coordinating work (at best) to everyone working together, with a common purpose, shared values, and inspiring vision?

Gaining Alignment and Momentum

In this section, Ames Group has an end-of-year strategic planning session, with a focus on what they will Continue, Start, and Stop doing. With the help of A.M., the SLT has developed a stronger leadership style, which allows their teams the freedom to be nimble, while being aligned with Ames Group’s goals.

Ames Group kept making progress toward all that Kate had laid out in the 3-year strategy map.

The 3QY1 timing of bringing in the right software to power what they had started was perfect. The A.M. software made consistent and clearer communication, empowerment, and alignment of every (and every person) with strategy – do-able. During the third quarter, several of the senior leaders had been engaged in some form of group speaking (not just with a single client) and all had reached out into the market to ask the quality question.

What they hadn’t done is plan what would happen internally while their attention shifted away from the day-to-day.

They hadn’t yet fully empowered their teams, smoothed the flow of information, or created simpler, repeatable rhythm to communication and working together.

They would do so now. The 4QY1 theme became “Pivot the Middle.”

During their Year-End strategic planning session, they took time to review their progress over the year, this time led by their A.M. coach so that Kate could fully participate along with her colleagues. As part of this year review, the team discussed what they’d stop, start, and continue into the next year.

At the Senior Leadership Team level, the discussion highlights were as follows:

[Expand Full Explanation]

  • Their new approach to strategic planning was more effective.
  • Being more visible in many ways.
Start –
  • They were committed to a rhythm of workplace culture assessments.
  • They also committed to a rhythm of priorities conversations.
  • They would use 360 leadership dev assessments for all the Senior Leadership.
Stop –
  • They will stop combining a review of past performance with a discussion of next year’s goals.
  • They would stop being know-it-alls.

As Ames Group continued through the second and third years following their strategic plan, the senior leaders found their roles changing. Even when they were in the office, they were spending most of their time building the careers of those on their team, working across divisions with their colleagues to support the bigger vision, and thinking about how they could continue to grow their positive influence with clients and community.

They were leading. Yes, they were also managing so that progress was made, but they were not micro-managing people or resistant to new ideas.

Innovation grew when she and other senior leaders resisted their urge to teach rather than to ask. They could stay ahead of competition through continuing to offer what clients wanted. With their increased open-mindedness, clarity improved. The Senior Leadership Team was more collaborative, which helped them get clear about the direction they would head, together.

With both managers and team members asking questions of each other freely, with the help of A.M., strategic alignment improved and the teams became stronger. A strong team naturally increases the value of the business.

Ames Group was more nimble, more agile, while also able to focus in order to brilliantly execute strategy. They hadn’t needed to change their organizational structure, but they did find ways to collaborate between divisions and to remove (or at least significantly reduce) the positioning or other politics that can crop up in a hierarchy.