10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

Over the past couple of days we have been locked away in a workshop with Mike Harris. [For those that don’t know of him, Mike was the founder / CEO / Chairman of Mercury Telecommunications, First Direct (the first telephone bank) and Egg (the first internet bank); he has been coach and adviser to various telecom and technology giants and startups; and a lecturer on “disruptive innovation” at MIT. Though he has now retired, he’s been persuaded to continue coaching 3 firms, one of which is Redington.]

Here are the 10 best ideas I took away from Mike over the past couple of days (interspersed with my own reflections and lessons):

  1. “Purpose beyond money” is a very important context for long term enduring business success.
  2. Long term goals and mission statements have to be aspirational and beyond your reach to motivate all your people to feel like/act as owners. (You have to be careful that you also have very realistic 12m plans, otherwise instead of feeling motivated, people can feel like they are being set up to fail.)
  3. There can be no secret recipe for ‘disruptive innovation’ because by definition you are going where no one has been before.
  4. “Strategy” is all about creating and managing the CEOs agenda. Strategy is a thin layer of intentions and priorities that keeps the leadership team aligned and informs all the key decisions. The strategy must inspire the CEO, so they use it to inspire everyone else and it’s what they keep their focus and attention on (when bombarded by other stuff) and what they hold others to account to.
  5. The CEO must balance the head and heart. The fundamental job of the CEO is to help the organization stay balanced between these – people and processes, the cultural and commercial goals.
  6. Approach your ‘enduring purpose’ in a series of ’10 year goals’, approach those goals in a series of ‘3-5 year games’, approach those games through a series of ‘one year roadmaps’ and approach each roadmap through a series of ‘quarterly sprints’.
  7. It’s ok to aspire for something you don’t quite know how to achieve, as long as you always begin with what is the first doable next step. It is important to separate ends and means. You get to define what your ends are. Keep the ends very clear, but be flexible on the means. It’s important to not lock yourself into a single way of reaching your goals. A game worth playing is worth engaging with whether you win, lose or draw.
  8. Given a three year ‘game’ be honest about the progress you want to make over the next year and who is accountable for what.
  9. An asset is anything you need to get results – people, processes, systems, knowledge, brand, reputation, etc.
  10. As a company you have to determine your brand experience – ‘What you want to be known for and How you want to leave people feeling?’. You can’t just pick some nice words, they have to really mean something. What might evidence of that look like? Then you have to put that into process and training to really make a difference. You need to be relentless seeking perfection, make continuous efforts to build evidence, to deal with inconsistencies and experiment with new ideas. This is what forms your culture.

“Train your people so that everyone wants to hire them and treat them so that no one wants to leave” – Richard Branson

We are a learning organization. We will come across many amazing gurus, teachers, educators and thinkers. There will be elements that all have in common, but there will also be many differences in approach. After all there are so many different ways to achieve the same result. We shouldn’t look for a right or wrong way, just what the way that works best for us.

We may work with different gurus, may read books by various authors, be coached by multiple trainers … but as long as we are honest about what works for our people, in our company and industry context and we translate everything into a language that is unique to Redington, then it can be an enduring asset for the business. It also means we can review anything new we learn against it.

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