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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • February 18, 2024
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My Top 10 Tips For Achieving Predictable Success 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

I do a fair amount of podcast interviews, and almost always, at some point the interviewer will ask me some version of a question such as "What are your top three (or five, or ten...) tips for getting an organization in to Predictable Success?"

And truth be told, for a long time the answer depended on what was top of mind for me at the time of asking, and my reply would reflect a recent or ongoing challenge or breakthrough with a current client organization.

Eventually I recognized that although it was intellectually fun for me to answer in the spur of the moment, it wasn't fair to either the interviewer or the listeners, and that it would be more helpful (and intellectually honest) if I actually took time to codify my answer to such a frequently asked question. 

So, in that spirit, here are my personal top 10 recommendations for achieving Predictable Success, 5 for smaller, fast-growing organizations, and 5 for larger organizations. (Oh, they work for divisions, departments and teams, too.)

None of these recommendations are complex, and none of them require any resources (other than patience and perseverance), but they are challenging, and require considerable commitment to implement and maintain.

Also, nothing I've included here is earth-shatteringly paradigm-shifting, or stunningly new -  it's simply that in my work I’ve found that these 10 recommendations address the make or break issues for most leaders trying to get to Predicable Success.

First Off, Here Are My 5 Top Tips For Smaller, Fast-Growing Organizations:

1. Reduce Your Dependence on ‘Maverick Stars’

Most small to mid-size organizations plateaus out at some point because they grow dependent on the performance of a few ‘big dogs’.

While this is a great (and natural) way to build early stage growth, over time, these big dogs build a kind of ‘sweat equity’ in the business – a loyalty-based relationship with the founder / owner(s) which allows them at least to bring a 'drag factor' into play at times of needed change, and at worst a de facto veto on any structural or other changes that threatens their autonomy.

Eventually, this turns into a culture of cliques and mini-‘cults’ based around the power base of the big dogs.

Sustained growth comes from unhooking your organization's leadership from dependence on 'maverick big dogs', and instead building a team-based culture of support and alignment toward the organization’s common goals.

"Sustained growth comes from unhooking your organization's leadership from dependence on 'maverick big dogs', and instead building a team-based culture of support and alignment toward the organization’s common goals." - Les McKeown

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2. Develop Bench Strength

The best, quickest and most effective way of reducing the hold of the ‘big dogs’ is to do something which is good for the organization anyway – build bench strength in your key positions.

Ask every key manager to submit a proposal for developing a strong bench for his or her team. Work with them on the proposal until it seems realistic, then hold them accountable for implementation.

3. Start Holding One-on-ones With all Your key Reports

Most founders and owner-managers are way too busy to consider spending time on one-on-one meetings with their direct reports (and many do not know how to do it effectively).

The reality is, if you want your organization to grow, you have no option. Your organization is far more complicated than it was 5 years ago, and your managers cannot be expected to know what you want from them by osmosis.

Start by setting just 45 minutes aside every week (cancel some other meeting you're getting little or nothing out of, if you have to), and see one of your managers each week during those 45 minutes.

Get into their world in-depth. Coach and mentor them, and drum home – over and over again – your annual goals both for the organization and their team.

4. Start Building Cross-functional Teams

Sooner or later, every small or medium-sized organization has to make the transition from a ‘silo-d’ organization that tries to solve everything in self-contained ‘boxes’, to a cross-functional, organic organization that brings people together across functions to deliver real, implementable solutions.

Not making this transition will drag your organization into a downward cycle of decision-making that never gets implemented (because the solutions are too simplistic and do not address the complexity of the overall organization).

As a result, staying silo’d will eventually breed frustration, disillusionment and a sense of powerlessness in your best people.

Start moving to cross-functional decision-making noweven if it is just taking baby steps initially.

5. Fix Your Hiring Process

Most founders and owner-managers are great ‘gut’ hirers – initially, they get their organization off the ground by making great hires.

About now, however, you should start getting yourself out of the hiring process, for two reasons:

  1. Your gut alone no longer knows enough about what’s needed in your now larger, more complex organization (this ranks in my top 3 hardest things founder/owner/leaders find to accept about growth), and

  2. You don’t have the time any more to mentor and coach the folks you want to hire just because they have ‘great attitude’.

Don’t kid yourself: you’re not running a training organization – not yet anyway – and telling yourself that you’ll train and develop someone with a ‘great attitude’ but who is lacking the required skills is just being in denial.

You need to put a professional hiring process in place that delivers ‘plug and play’ skilled individuals who can both fit in with your culture and deliver productivity quickly.

Secondly, Here Are My 5 Top Tips For Larger Organizations:

1. Find Your Change Agent

Large organizations slide past Predictable Success into the ‘Treadmill’ stage of development for one simple reason – Visionary (risk-taking, long-term, entrepreneurial, status-quo-challenging) mindset is quashed.

To get back to Predictable Success, your biggest challenge is to revitalize the Visionary function in your organization.

Start by finding someone you can trust as a change agent – someone who will effectively challenge the precepts you’re currently running the organization by, in a creative, constructive, manner.

As an interesting example, see this short article about a unique role John Udell adopted at Microsoft (an organization that badly needed to do all of this and failed).

2. Move from Bland, Ineffective Agreement to being Ruthlessly Constructive

If you genuinely want to make a return to Predictable Success, you must be fully committed to the concept of creative criticism.

This means encouraging your people to engage in a practice we call being 'Ruthlessly Constructive' - examining issues with a forward-looking, positive attitude that doesn't shy away from hard facts or inconveniently negative data, but instead works together to come up with solutions and decisions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole.

3. Stop Serving Kool-aid

The biggest single reason that you’re not hearing quality questions from your folks, is because you’re feeding them so much corporate kool-aid.

Start finding shades of grey…

  • That ‘company mantra’ that everyone has to ‘get’, or they don’t ‘fit’, (but which isn't actually upheld); 
  • The ‘unchallengeable’ metrics that must be unquestionably delivered (but never are); 
  • The underlying assumptions about your operating environment that are ‘not up for discussion’ (and are killing you as a result).

Of course, these were (and still are) important factors in getting that alignment and focus you needed to get into Predictable Success, but if your organization, division, department or team is on the slide through Treadmill, or even worse, is verging on The Big Rut, then the blunt fact is, you’ve overcooked it.

Ease off on the binary, ‘black and white’ stuff. You need to start finding shades of grey, allowing you (and your key people) to get comfortable with more ambiguity. 

4. Blow up Your Unproductive Processes.

What’s your most unproductive process and/or meeting? Kill it. Today.

Kill it quickly, and simply: “From today, we will no longer be holding the weekly Murfle Review Meeting.” You don’t need to explain. Everyone will know why.

"What’s your most unproductive process and/or meeting? Kill it. Today. Kill it quickly, and simply.  You don’t need to explain. Everyone will know why." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success

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5. Create Vacuums

That process or meeting you just killed? Leave it killed.

You don’t need to fill the vacuum with some equally turgid, artificial activity. Let the space breathe.

Find other ways to put empty spaces into your people’s activities. They’re all working too hard to think, let alone think creatively.

Stop scheduling, metric-ing and meeting-ing people to death. If you want Predictable Success, you need organic vibrancy and flexibility – the rigidity and brittleness you’ve currently got won’t cut it.

What about you? Which of These Top Tips Are you Going To Focus on? 

Let me know in the comments below!


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  1. Hi Les,

    Thanks for this share and great to read you thoughts here. My students continue to find Predictable Success one of the most insightful and enjoyable reads when we explore organizational life cycle concepts and models. You deliver in a pragmatic way which they can immediately extend into their field work. Very Best, Dana De Nault

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