308: Sean T. Ryan – Strategic Plan That Drives Results


Sean T. Ryan Show Notes Page

A good strategic plan is never enough unless you are able to drive results from them. Any call center or business can develop a good strategic plan, but not everyone can drive results and execute on them. So, how do you exactly develop a good strategic plan that drives results? How do you take action and get those gears in place and get your strategic plan from strategy to execution to results? In this episode of the Fast Leader Show, Sean T. Ryan of WhiteWater International Consulting, shares his 0actionable advice on how exactly you can do that!

Sean Ryan grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. He has two older sisters, and played a variety of sports as a kid. That love for sports eventually led to his future adventures, including backpacking, whitewater canoeing, biking, boating, sailing, and golf. His family instilled the values of integrity, respect, and hard work to achieve success.

He was inspired to pursue an engineering degree in his early teenage years when one of his sisters took him to a computer lab where he got to play Pong on an ancient cathode ray tube monitor. That engineering degree, combined with his passion for whitewater, led him to his first corporate role in technical sales at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in California.

Sean held a variety of sales, marketing, and engineering roles at PG&E while he also obtained his MBA at night school. While at PG&E, he had the opportunity to work with a lot of great, talented people who were often stifled in their efforts to perform their best. This led to Sean discovering what has become his lifelong passion and mission: to create great organizations where everyone can contribute their best.

The first step in that mission was to join a small boutique consulting firm headquartered in the San Francisco-area. He has essentially been on that mission for the last 30+ years, including a couple of significant sabbaticals from his consulting practice. In the first, he served as Vice President of Learning and Organizational Development for Perrier Group of America (now Nestle Waters North America) as it experienced exponential growth.

Sean and his team helped shaped the culture and built the talent pipeline that enabled that growth. In the second sabbatical, Sean led the turnaround of Callaway Gardens as the Chief Operating Officer and General Manager. Sean and his team revitalized the guest experience, reengaged the Callaway team, and turned the resort from significantly negative cash flow to positive cash flow in less than 18-months.

Sean’s consulting firm, WhiteWater International Consulting, works with organizations from start-ups to Fortune 100-sized companies to create the strategy, drive strategy to results and develop the leadership capacity to engage teammates in a rapidly changing environment fully.

His book, Get in Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results, translates his thinking into practical guidance to enable both organizations and individuals to achieve success.

Sean is a member of the Board of Fundy Gymnastics. He regularly speaks, writes, and blogs about creating and executing strategy and leadership.

Sean currently lives outside Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, with his spouse Heather and their son Aidan. Sean also has two gainfully employed adult children living in the US!

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to @wwici get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow – Click to Tweet

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always got.”  – Click to Tweet

If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’re going to do what you’ve always done, so you’re going to get what you’ve always got.”  – Click to Tweet

The real key to be different is to think differently.”  – Click to Tweet

It’s not about being perfect. It’s about the relentless pursuit of being better everyday.”  – Click to Tweet

Hump to Get Over

Sean Ryan was put in charge of an engineering team that had more experience than he had been alive. He wanted them to be more focused on the customer, but he could not possibly dictate any decision to them because they were more experienced than he was. Not really knowing what he could bring to the table, Sean tried to figure out what value that he could bring to the team, and he realized that if he could create space for them from the bureaucracy within the company, then they would be able to perform better and be incredibly successful at what they do. From that experience, Sean was able to learn to think on what his role is as a leader and what he brings to the table when he can’t tell anybody to do anything of substance.

Advice for others

You don’t need to be perfect.

Holding him back from being an even better leader


Best Leadership Advice

Keep smiling.

Secret to Success

Combination of creativity to solve problems and the persistence to don’t stop until they get solved.

Best tools in business or life

Being able to listen to people as empathetically as I possibly can.

Recommended Reading

Get in Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Links and Resources

Sean Ryan’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/wwici

WWICI website: https://www.wwici.com

WWICI Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wwici

WWICI LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/wwici

Fast Leader Show on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/FastleaderNet

Fast Leader Show on Apple Podcast: https://apple.co/364qAA2

Fast Leader Show on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FastLeaderShow

Fast Leader Show on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fastleadershow

Fast Leader Show on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/fastleader.net

Show Transcript

Click to access unedited transcript

Unedited Transcript

Jim Rembach (00:00):

Okay, fast leader Legion today. I’m excited because we have somebody on the show today who has a wealth of experience in doing one of the things that I guess you’d say the thing that

Jim Rembach (00:10):

Is top of mind for a lot of leaders in organizations, quite frankly, at all levels, and that is getting to results. Sean, Ryan grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. He has two older sisters and played a variety of sports as a kid that loves sports eventually led to his future adventures, including backpacking, whitewater, canoeing, biking, boating, sailing, and golf. His family instilled the values of integrity, respect, and hard work to achieve success. He was inspired to pursue an engineering degree in his early teenage years when one of his sisters took him to a computer lab where he got to play pong on an ancient cathode rate, DV monitor, uh, that engineering degree combined with his passion for whitewater led him to his first corporate role in technical sales at Pacific gas and electric PG and E in California. Sean had a variety of sales, marketing, and engineering roles with PG and E while he also obtained his MBA at night school while a PG and E he had the opportunity to work with a lot of great talented people who were often stifled in their efforts to perform their best.

Jim Rembach (01:18):

This led to Sean discovering what has become his lifelong passion and mission to create great organizations where everyone can contribute their best. The first step in that mission was to join a small boutique consulting firm headquartered in the San Francisco area. He essentially had been on that mission for the last 30 years, including a couple of significant sabbaticals from his consulting practice. In the first he served as the vice president of learning and organizational development for peer group of America. Now Nestle waters, North America, as it experienced exponential growth, Sean and his team helped shape the culture and build the talent pipeline that enabled their growth. In the second sabbatical, Sean led the turnaround of Callaway gardens as the chief operating officer and general manager, Sean and his team revitalized the guest experience, reengage the Callaway team and turned the resort from significantly negative cashflow to positive cashflow in less than 18 months.

Jim Rembach (02:18):

Shawn’s consulting from whitewater international consulting works with organizations from startups to fortune 100 size companies to create those strategy drive strategy, to results and develop the leadership capacity to engage teammates in a rapidly changing environment, fully his book, get in gear. The seven gears that drive strategy to results translates his thinking into practical guidance to enable both organization and individuals to achieve success. Sean is a member of the board of funding gymnastics, and he regularly speaks, writes and blogs about creating and executing strategy and leadership. Sean currently lives outside St. John new Brunswick, Canada with his spouse, Heather and their son. Aiden. Sean also has two gainfully employed adult children living in the U S Sean, Ryan, are you ready to help us get over the hump?

Sean Ryan (03:05):

So, yeah, I’m absolutely much looking forward to it today. Well, I’m glad

Jim Rembach (03:08):

You’re here now. I’ve given you actually in the bio and, you know, we talked a little bit about your passion, uh, but if you can elaborate on that little bit to give us the fast leader Legion a little bit more about it.

Sean Ryan (03:19):

Sure. And so to provide just a little bit of context, my, my absolute passion is my family and hanging out with them and spending time with them, however I can. And, uh, and then, but then secondly, uh, thinking about organizations and this, this Don Kiyota commission that I started, uh, 33, some odd years ago around creating great organizations where people can be their best, you know, and, and then how does that manifest itself? Well, it manifests itself in those three things that you talked about in the bio creating strategy and then driving strategy to results because having great strategy and not executing on it is completely pointless. And then the things that it takes to make that app make that happen is to build agile, nimble, uh, leaders who have engaged their teams in, uh, in driving forward on, on the strategy and on driving forward on execution. Now, the part on driving strategy to results, we captured, uh, in the book, uh, get in gear. And today I would say that’s probably my most passionate thing is to, to kind of share, uh, our thinking and get as many people thinking along with us and, and driving strategy to results in their organizations, because it has so many implications for the health of the organization, the health of those organizations, relationship with their customers and the health of the relationship with, with the team members that actually make that happen

Jim Rembach (04:44):

Well. And as you’re saying that, I start thinking about, you know, what I found in the book and there’s one particular part that’s in the forward that I think is really a core fundamental element. Uh, and that is, you know, uh, how arch muck, who was a retired CEO of FedEx supply chain state, that when you were doing work with him, one of the things that you did was to help people understand how to think, not what to think. So if you can elaborate on that a little

Sean Ryan (05:12):

Sure. And you’ll hear this theme probably, uh, intertwined in everything we talk about today. But most of what we really want to accomplish is driven by the thinking, the mental models, the assumptions, the beliefs, the perceptions that lay behind the actions that we take. And one of the things that we’ve discovered, and it’s really just been ingrained in everything that we do is how do we help leaders? How do we help people understand their own thinking? What are those assumptions, those beliefs, those perceptions that, that determined the actions that I take, which then get to the results that I’m trying to get to. And is there a different way of thinking? Is there a different assumption, a different belief, a different perception that might change? Let’s just, listen, let me give you a really simple example. When I, when I look at somebody and, uh, do I perceive that I trust them, uh, or do I perceive that I don’t trust them?

Sean Ryan (06:13):

Well, making, making that simple thing, making that simple distinction changes how my conversation is going to go with that person, if I don’t trust them, or if they don’t, if I perceived that they don’t trust me, I’m going to be way more garden than I might be. Uh, if, uh, look, I believe we’ve got an incredibly open and trusting relationship and it’s well founded upon the respect that we’ve built over some period of time. Uh, I’m gonna, I’m gonna approach that conversation incredibly differently. And because I approach it differently, we’re going to end up with a different set of results. So when, when we talk about teaching people, how to think it’s, how do we, cause I can’t tell you what to think. You you’re going to make your own decisions. Those decisions do have consequences, but if I can help you just expose those mental models and see your own thinking for what it is essentially teaching you, how to think, well, that arms you to make maybe a different, more explicit decision about how you think, what you think, which leads to those different decisions, which may lead to a very different set of outcomes.

Jim Rembach (07:14):

Well, and as you’re saying that to me, it’s like that what you just described right there is really the elements as to why you state that 75 to 90% of organizations fall short at achieving the results they expect from the strategies. It’s not about having bad strategies because you state that most oftentimes they’re, they’re pretty solid execution piece. Um, but is it really? So if we don’t have, this, is this part of what you call the doom loop?

Sean Ryan (07:41):

Uh, it, well, it is right. And so you think about, let’s say let’s operate on the premise for a second, that I’ve got a good strategy that I’ve thought carefully through, uh, how we create unique value for our customers. And it’s distinct and different from what our competition does. So we’ve got good strategy, but then I don’t execute. So what happens, uh, if, if I don’t execute well and we saw that you referenced the work at the, at Callaway gardens, when we were doing the turnaround there, they had kinda gotten into this doom loop and it’s representative. I think of what a lot of organizations go through. You’ve got a strategy. You don’t execute it. Well, you don’t create the value for your customers, that they’re anticipating you erode the value of your brand. Uh, you don’t generate the revenues, uh, quite possibly, uh, the, your costs for service are higher than they should be because you haven’t built that relationship with your customers.

Sean Ryan (08:35):

You’re not executing effectively on the, on the brand, on the promise, on your positioning in the marketplace. Well, now that erodes your financial balance sheet, right? And, and your financial performance, you may be doing things. And, and frankly, if we’re not doing a great job executing with our customers, there’s a really good chance. We’re not executing well with our team. We’re not engaging our team the way that they need to be engaged, to be as effective as possible. That may actually cause some of them to defect the better or the even even good team members, maybe can’t contribute their best day in and day out. So now we’ve got this reinforcing loop of, you know, our position, our team’s not in a position to win. They’re not executing effectively with our customers because we haven’t, we don’t have the right systems, structures, processes, or whatever else.

Sean Ryan (09:26):

We’re not aligned on what we’re supposed to be accomplishing financially. We don’t perform as well, which then reinforces. We can’t make a nut enough investment in our organization, in our team to invest in our customers. Now we get a little bit worse. Now, now we’re on the doom loop. And in, even in the best of times, if you’re not taking care of what I call the balance sheet, the three balance sheets, the balance sheet with your customers and the relationship there, the balance sheet with your team and the relationship there, and certainly the financial balance sheet for your organization, even in the best of times, you’re creating risk that you can’t adapt and change. When circumstances change, we can adapt to the environment. Then you layer onto it. Things like the pandemic with COVID that was cataclysmic for everybody. And now you’re just, you’re just not, you don’t have the financial strength to be able to weather yourself through those kinds of storms.

Jim Rembach (10:25):

Okay. So as you’re talking for me, it’s like, um, we need, we need like some guidance to get out of the doom loop. Cause I, I mean, I kind of visually see us just kind of spinning around, right. And really that’s what this book is about. It’s, it’s about the S X R framework. Uh, and I think that’s really important to say framework because in the book you state that, Hey, this isn’t checklist stuff. I mean, it’s going to be unique for everyone. So what we need is actually a framework to work within. So if you can explain us to us a little bit about what the S X our framework is.

Sean Ryan (10:57):

Sure. And so SXR stands for strategy, execution results, and, and, and we like, I’ll take a little side trip and talk about why framework and not checklist. Look, I can’t give you the recipe. I don’t know exactly what it is that it’s going to work perfectly for your organization to help you be incredibly successful. But what I do know is that there are probably some things that need to be in the cabinet that you can, you know, different spices, different ingredients, different things that you can draw from the framework, essentially to create whatever menu you need to create to be successful. What we’ve discovered over time and working with organizations. Cause we’ve, we’ve done lots of work with organizations on creating strategy. And we’ve personally witnessed this gap. That’s incredibly well-documented in the literature about 75 to 90% of organizations fall short of executing on their strategy and delivering the results that they expect.

Sean Ryan (11:53):

So we began to look at, okay, what causes that? And, and it really breaks down into these seven gears. They’re probably, maybe, and even that’s not perfect. I wouldn’t suggest that this is the answer to everything, but the seven gears probably get you pretty close to the answer. And then you can figure out what the other few things are left that you have to adjust. And so the, the, the seven gears are broken up into two categories. The first chunk, the first three are what we call the foundation or environment gears. There they’re really the conditions that create success in an organization. I’ll come back and talk about those in a second. And then the, the second set of gears are what we call the performance gears. And those are the ones that absolutely align the efforts of everybody in the organization to the strategy a little bit.

Sean Ryan (12:40):

Let me talk about the performance gears first. Cause they’re, they’re pretty tangible, pretty understandable things like set, result oriented goals. When, when we go into an organization, we often play a game that we call five on five. We might ask leaders to write down the top five goals they’ve got for their team members. And then we ask each of the team members to write down what they think their top five goals are. And then we, so now we’ve got two lists of five, five on five and, and we compare the two lists and what do we find? What will we find is only about 40% of the time. And only two out of those five goals actually align with each other, which means that 60% of the time team members might be working on things that are not aligned to what their boss thinks they ought to be working on, which are then not aligned to the strategy of the organization.

Sean Ryan (13:34):

So there’s just a huge amount of waste that happens just in, in that issue around goals. So then the, the, the next performance gear is what we call visible. Scorecards. People play better when their performance matters. And the analogy I always use is let’s, let’s say we’re driving down the road past the place where kids are playing soccer on two fields. And on one field, the kids are keeping score. And on the other field, the kids are not keeping score. How quickly would we be able to look at that and figure out which field was which field that takes about 30 seconds for most of us, that the kids that are on the field that are where they’re keeping score, they’re playing with more intensity, they’re giving each other feedback. They’re working harder because what they’re doing matters, like the kids that are on the field, that where they’re not keeping score, they could be having a lot of fun kicking the ball around, and it could be really enjoyable, but the intensity of their poor performance is going to be dramatically different than where we, where we are keeping score.

Sean Ryan (14:41):

So everybody needs to have that visible scorecard that tells them how their, their individual performance or their team performance is versus those goals that we’ve set. And then the third performance gear is what we call it. A term. We coined called performance drivers, which is around what are the specific behaviors that I need to undertake to hit my goals. And what we’ve observed is most of the time, there are probably two or three critical behaviors that really distinguish between good and great, or even average or mediocre and great performance in, in all walks of life. Whether we’re talking about salespeople or customer service reps or leaders, there are a lot of things that all of us do, but then there are a few things that really distinguished the great leaders, the great performers, the great customer service reps, the great salespeople from the ones who are doing okay, maybe, but not great.

Sean Ryan (15:42):

So identifying those critical performance drivers, and then making sure that the activity goes there. And then the last of the performance gears is around followup follow through. Now in follow-up follow through it followed follow Thursday, the glue that kind of holds that whole set together. It includes accountability because people perform better when there’s accountability. When I get rewarded and recognized for good and great performance, or when there are some kind of negative consequences for poor performance or for behaving outside the value set of my organization. But there’s another part of followup follow through. That’s also critical, which is the learning part. We’re not, we’re not going to be perfect every day. Uh, and, and our goals may or may not be right. We may not have, we may not have the right things in our scorecard. Those things may not be perfectly aligned to the strategy. So before we get to accountability, we need to generate learning. If performance isn’t on track, we need to be able to understand why it’s not on track. So those four gears together set in result goals, having visible scorecards, uh, identifying the performance drivers, and then having good, consistent followup follow through, really drive the strategy to can drive it to every level of the organization so that we make sure that the, that what people are doing and day in and day out contributes as effectively to the strategy as it possibly can.

Jim Rembach (17:08):

Well, as you’re talking, I start thinking about, um, you know, a gear, you know, imagery of gears. Um, all those gears are not the same size and there’s a reason for that, right? Because th they, they actually, some things have to turn faster than others, right? Some things are just harder, harder to turn overall, uh, ultimately getting down, down to your outcome as, you know, being the results. So w why gears,

Sean Ryan (17:32):

Why gears? That’s a, it’s a great question. And w when, when I first started building the framework, I had the ideas, but I didn’t have them in this gear construct. And, and to be Frank, we, I struggled with it, man. We had pyramids and we had, uh, different kinds of, uh, you know, uh, orbital, um, planets around, uh, a solar system, kind of a thing. And, and, and then all of a sudden, one day I had this, this kind of blinding flash of the obvious, uh, maybe it was a little bit of an epiphany, a little minor epiphany of, they really feel more like gears in a chain connecting strategy to result in a, in a set of gears. And, and then the more I thought about it, and the more I kind of, and I shared shared the concept with lots of different people, people that were more engineering and technical oriented than people that were more artistic.

Sean Ryan (18:23):

And I thought the artists were going to puke on the idea of, of gears, right? It was all, it’s all mechanical, it’s all engineering and everybody got it quickly. And the, the thing that we like about the gears is first of all, they all work together. All of them, when, if you really want optimal execution and driving real results, they all need to work together. Well, they all need to be well lubricated. None of them can have any sand in the gears. And so that, just that, that kind of metaphor of let’s get all the gears working together and we’ll speed execution was really kind of attracting. But, but the other thing is if I have seven gears in chain, if I improve one gear a little bit, then the whole chain gets a little bit better. And what really struck me and I’ve, I’ve spent a good portion of last 33 years, working with organizations I’m pretty broad brace transformational change.

Sean Ryan (19:23):

What really struck me was what that means is I don’t have to come to work every day, trying to fix seven gears. I can come to work today and try to figure out the gear that is causing the most. Friction has the most sand is the least well lubricated, and I can fix that and we’ll be better tomorrow or next week or next month, because I fixed one gear. I don’t have to think about seven at once. I can think about one or two, and then maybe I’ve got one gear that if I just do a little bit of work on it, we get a lot better quickly, but then there’s some other gears. And I often think about, you know, we, we haven’t really talked about the foundation gears yet, but, but the one about aligning system structures and process, uh, aligning the organizational architecture, that one is complex and can be difficult.

Sean Ryan (20:14):

So I can make lots of improvements on other gears while I sort out, how do I make sure that my organizational architecture is completely aligned on the strategy that one’s going to take a little bit longer, but at the same time, I’m better because I’ve been working on other beer, other gears in parallel. So that, that, so when, when we kind of thought all the way through, it was like, you know what? This, this gear thing actually makes a lot of sense. And so that’s how we ended up with seven gears that drive strategy to results.

Jim Rembach (20:43):

And I think to, just to make sure we complete this, you know, I think the other environmental gear that you may have not mentioned was the culture of communication. And so when I start thinking about all of these gears, and you mentioned, we talked about grease and sand and, and all of that is, um, how, how do organizations, maybe even just individuals, you know, unintentionally throw sand in the gears

Sean Ryan (21:07):

In, in hundreds of ways, um, I’ll give you one and because you brought up the culture of communication, um, this one, this one happened way early in my career, way back when I was at Pacific gas and electric. And it was one of the things that kind of led me to, there’s just gotta be a better way to lead organizations. Cause we had at PGD, we had great people. We had the most talented, best people in the utility industry. And we had incredibly well-intended smart executives. And one of the things I noticed in over the arc of my, uh, my seven years there was I could talk to frontline people about what the challenges were they were facing. And they would talk about, uh, well trying to serve customers and getting the bureaucracy out of our way and, and creating the most value that we possibly can for customers, which then really creates value for the, for the company.

Sean Ryan (22:00):

But we just, it’s really hard for us to do that. And then, you know, a week later I might be talking to an executive who would would say really a fundamentally the same things. They can talk about the need to be more efficient. We need to get better return to show it your shareholders and how we do that is if we take care of our customers better, we’ll be better off. Everything’s going to work better. So the messages were really the same, but they were completely disconnected from each other. And, and I coined it at the time w we call it this, the marshmallow layer, it’s this like soft squishy layer of, of mass in an organization where we’re, nobody is intentionally not communicating, but in unintentionally the energy of what the executive saw and what they were trying to drive through the organization, never penetrated the marshmallow later. And then on the other side, what the frontline people were saw and what they were trying to share and where they were saying their struggles were and where they felt like they needed help. It never got back through the other side of the marshmallow. And so you’re just so completely unintentionally, you’ve got all this friction, uh, in, in that culture of communication gear, nobody intended for it to happen. It just does.

Jim Rembach (23:17):

So, as you were saying, marshmallow layer, I mean, I started thinking marshmallow management of it, right. That’s and I think that’s where the gears and the framework comes into play. It’s, you know, how, how do we actually, you know, chew up the marshmallow so that we can take some of those frontline insights that we’re capturing with that top level, uh, you know, intent, you know, and making sure that those things are flowing through well, so that that’s, that’s great imagery. I mean, so for me, I think we all need to have, you know, that type of imagery in order for us to stay focused now. But when you talk about gears, um, you know, and you start talking about simple things and you start talking about difficult things, um, you know, how can I easily grease the wheel?

Sean Ryan (24:01):

Okay. Yeah. The, the one that I always tell people to start with is that game that we had talked about a few minutes ago around playing five on five, mean, if you, if you want rapid improvement, if you want rapid or at least rapid insights to where your gaps are probably five on five, everybody can do it literally after they’ve stopped listening to this podcast, um, they can, they can go start playing that game and make some decisions to better align what the, what the team members are doing to what the strategy of the organization is and be better tomorrow. Uh, and, and so that’s, that’s where we always start. And, and so you think about that, you think about how well do people know how they’re performing? You know, I, I walk into organizations a lot of times, and the question we’ll ask is how are you performing?

Sean Ryan (24:50):

And people will say, I don’t know. And I’ll say, well, then their second sentence will be, I think I’m doing okay. And I will say, well, why do you think you’re doing okay because I’m not getting in any trouble? What, what they don’t, what they don’t pull out is their visible scorecard that says, look, my, you know, it was a salesperson. My goal is to grow, uh, my territory from a hundred thousand units to 150,000 units by the end of 2020. And here we are sitting in a, you know, September or October or August. And here’s where I am. I’m either on track or I’m not on track. They rarely maybe with salespeople, but rarely with other people, do we get, do we get to see those kinds of visible scorecards where people are on track? And so, so just making sure that people are on track and that they know where they are performing relative to whatever the goals are after you’ve aligned on the goals, those, those couple things right there that they make, they can make huge improvement quickly. And then that also begins to give you some insights into where, where are the other problems? What are the other barriers? If we’ve cleaned those things up, we can start seeing which other, uh, gears may have more friction in them. That might be a little bit more complicated to solve.

Jim Rembach (26:08):

Well, and as you’re saying that, I start thinking about, you know, for us on the, on the show and for our fast leader, Legion, you know, we’re talking about improving and impacting the customer experience. And so when I think about all of these gears, you know, which of these gears are going to make that most significant impact on the customer experience. Because from my, of course my bias opinion is we got to do those first.

Sean Ryan (26:30):

Yes. Right. And, and, and you may, but, but you know, if you just think about, um, goals and scorecard, you can make a lot of, you can work on those first and make a lot of progress. And then that gives you some insights into some of the things that may actually be bigger, greater leverage points, depending upon where your organization’s at. So a gear one in the foundation gears, we call it. Right, right, right. Right. People in the right roles with the right capabilities, ultimately to be super successful, you got to have the right people. Um, sometimes that means you have to go back and think about what, what value set, what culture do we really want to have. That’s going to connect our strategy to results, which then may force you to think about what’s our value set and how does it shape the culture that we have.

Sean Ryan (27:20):

And so do we have to do some work on our core values? And if we haven’t been recruiting people that fit the core values that are going to drive the culture, well, we may have to go back and rethink, uh, who we’re hiring and what we’re looking for that gets, that can get pretty complicated. It’s a huge lever. When you, you want to talk about a gear that if you move it, um, if you, if you need to move it and you move it well, you’re going to get incredible improvements in results, but it also takes some time to work on, right. And it’s more complicated and it takes some work to work through. So while it might be the biggest lever, it’s not necessarily the one that gives you the quickest win

Jim Rembach (27:59):

Well. And I think that’s it. I mean, especially when you start talking about a, you know, forced COVID transformation, you know, everybody mentions the whole VUCA, volatile, unpredictable, all of that stuff. Um, so I mean, it, I mean, speed is an issue. Agility is an issue, right? Being able to pivot fast, you know, is an issue. And you even mentioned it yourself, those companies that were a little bit struggling and weak, and, you know, when they had the force change a curb, they can’t survive it. And they just can’t either become an acquisition or a dinosaur.

Sean Ryan (28:32):

Exactly. Right.

Jim Rembach (28:33):

So when, when, when we start talking about, you know, timing, timelines, I mean, you talked about the Gar the gardens and I mean, that was an 18 month turnaround. That’s, that’s pretty fast. That was fast. That is, well, I mean, how, you know, I mean the people thing, you know, the whole going through and looking at, right, right, right. I mean, to me, gosh, even in, even in today’s world, when you start thinking about, I now have, uh, I have new needs that I didn’t have before. I mean, you know, the, the world’s changed, the customer expectation has changed the way we serve customers. All these different factors come in. So has the opportunity to have the 18th month turnarounds in a situation like this gone away. I mean, are those not going to happen?

Sean Ryan (29:18):

No, I think they can absolutely happen. Um, like there, it depends on, on kind of the, the, the, the, the gap in the, or the, the challenge that you face, how big that gap actually is. Right? Like a nut, we, we do live in an incredibly fast world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything happens overnight. And so, you know, when you, when you think about the gears, there are things that we can do quickly that get some improvement, which then us, the space that buy us the space and the latitude to make some of those longer, harder changes that take place over a period of time. There are relatively few organizations that today, if they don’t start making investments are going to fall off the edge of the cliff tomorrow. And that’s, that’s really a radically different kind of a transformation. Anyhow. Um, if we think about most of those 75 to 90% that are, are coming up short on delivering results, I’m going to bet 50% of them, 60% of them. If we start tipping away today, they’ve got the time and the space to break the doom loop before they crash and burn completely

Jim Rembach (30:31):

Well. And as you’re saying that, I start thinking about something that I heard not too long ago is that, uh, at least that individuals and I have to suspect since an organization is just a group of those, is that oftentimes we, we grossly overestimate what we can accomplish in a year. Uh, and then we grossly underestimate what we can accomplish in 10.

Sean Ryan (30:53):

Uh, that’s, that’s a great thing. I like that that’s. Yeah, absolutely. And I, I would even, I would grossly estimate underestimate what we can accomplish in 10. I would say we grossly underestimate what we can accomplish in three or five. Right. Um, you know, the, the people that, that do organizational development, all the, you know, the professor types that I’ve learned from over the years, they would tell you that it takes seven years to make a major, uh, cultural transformation in an organization. Um, I’m not sure I buy that. I think you can accomplish, I think we way underestimate what we can accomplish in a one or two or three year period if we put our minds to it and we’re focused on what it is that we have to, what we have to change. Um, you, you mentioned, uh, when I was at Perrier group of America and what we did there, uh, we, the company had been built through a series of acquisitions.

Sean Ryan (31:42):

And, uh, when I first joined the company, we found 83 separate cultures, uh, spread across our operations in North America. The company was growing exponentially fast. And we knew at that particular point in time, Coca-Cola and Pepsi had not entered the bottled water space, but we knew that sometime in the future that they were going to do that. And we also knew that because we had those 83 separate cultures that ranged from incredibly great, where anybody would want to work to really pretty horrible that nobody should want to work in. We knew that we weren’t prepared to compete against that. We didn’t have the depth of leadership talent. Uh, we didn’t have a consistent culture that was predictable, that we could hire the talent we needed to be able to be successful. We certainly, we were, we were, our business was literally doubling year over year.

Sean Ryan (32:34):

We didn’t have the people to be able to support that of, of exponential growth for an extended period of time that would have allowed us to be competitive. So we had, we had a, we didn’t know what the timeframe was. We just do. It was fast and it, and while we were in it, it seemed like it took forever, but it was really probably 18 months to two years before we could see the green shoots of the culture that we were trying to create that allowed us to attract talent that allowed our leaders to be far more effective leaders. That really, you know, we went from 83 disparate cultures to, uh, one much more highly consistent culture. As what people were telling us would take seven years to do. We managed to get it done in 18 months, probably 18 to 24 months, just by being completely focused on making all of the changes that we had to make.

Sean Ryan (33:28):

And actually a lot of it was the things we talked about in gear too, in the book around aligning the organizational architecture, getting the systems, the structures, the processes, and the culture, right. We were mana focused on now. I didn’t call it that then, um, it wasn’t anywhere. I had no thought in those years about gears, but that’s what we were doing. And, and by aligning those things and getting the organ to the organizational architecture, right, man, we sped up, we spent through the process way faster than anybody would have anybody smart would have predicted that we would, we would get through it.

Jim Rembach (34:04):

Well, even as you’re talking, I start thinking about where we are right now. And we’re, I mean, we’re still working through all of this, you know, uh, COVID impact and, you know, force change and millionaire the vulnerable becoming, you know, even more vulnerable. Uh, but then the stronger we’ll be coming more stronger. So that leads me to thinking that the merger and acquisition activity that we were getting ready to see an explosion in it. Uh, so when we start talking about that, I could be one of those organizations that now all of a sudden has 28 different cultures, right? How can I prepare myself for the pending M and a activity?

Sean Ryan (34:42):

Uh, that’s a, that’s a wide ranging question there. So part of it is as you, uh, in any, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend like on an M and a expert by any stretch of the imagination that we’ve certainly been around it, uh, quite a bit. And we’ve helped people through these transitions. One is recognizing upfront what the differences in culture are. Uh, and, and in making the, the M and a decisions is it are the cultures that the organizations you’re combining, obviously you’re doing that strategically, but are their cultures a reasonable fit, or is it reasonable to think that they can fit together and compliment each other? And they’re just not so dramatically different that they’re never going to work together. Right. Um, so that would be one thing, uh, obviously an M and a, we always think about what’s this acquired company going to do for us.

Sean Ryan (35:35):

But the other side of it that I think is actually more important is what we, as the acquiring company going to do for the acquire, what do we bring that’s going to help make that, that acquisition more valuable than it would be if they continued as a standalone company. Right? And so if you, if you’re thinking through those things, then, um, if you’re thinking through the, the cultural fit pieces upfront, before you do the acquisition and think about how we might bring these cultures together, and you think about what are we, what value do we bring to this organization we’re about to acquire? Then I think it makes that transition a little bit smoother and better than it would otherwise be.

Jim Rembach (36:11):

Well. And even for me, when you start talking about all that, I often say that the innocent victim in all of that is really the customer. So I have a customer that was being served by one sort by another. And now my experience is different because of, you know, this bringing together of these cultures, which ultimately do flow through to the customer. How do we, how do we make sure, because I know you talked about, Hey, what is this company bringing to me? And what does that company providing and this and the other, but really it’s the, it’s the customer that, like I said, it’s the innocent victim. How can, how can we guard that?

Sean Ryan (36:44):

Right. Well, I think, I think you almost answered the question it’s we recognize that, uh, you know, one of the companies that serve the customer, the other company, serving the customer, what we need to do is have that explicit conversation of here’s where we are today. Here’s what we’ve, you know, we’ve got two different entities that are serving the same customer. What do we want that customer experience to look like in the future that brings value to the customer, not brings value to us, but brings value to the customer. And then as we, as we merge these two entities together, or three or four, how do we merge them together with the idea that the customer is going to be better off for us having done this?

Jim Rembach (37:24):

Well, okay. So now what, you know, we talked about timelines and time horizons and things like that. And one of the things that, uh, has come to my purview after, you know, talking to all these different experts and people who are practitioners, and, you know, some of those academics that you were talking about is that oftentimes people don’t look out far enough and it negatively impacts their ability to be innovative. So let me, let me explain this a little bit more. A lot of times people only look at that three to five a year, time window, when we start looking at executing. Um, and they think that that is a purpose and visionary plan. But in fact, what it is is people say that it’s a glorified operational plan. So how, how can I prevent myself from focusing on creating a glorified operational plan? Because I’m only looking three to five years out to being, you know, an organization that really needs to look 10 years out in order to be disruptive and be more innovative, right?

Sean Ryan (38:23):

It’s a, it’s a great paradox, Jim. And I think what you do is you start by looking 10 years out, or you look 15 years out, you look 20 years out. Now, none of us, we, none of us should be so naive that if we sit here and think here we are sitting here in 2020, I’m going to look 10 years out. And here’s what the world’s going to look like in 2030, right? Our chances of being able to predict that and being accurate are as close to zero as they possibly can be. But if I do look out and think about what do we want this to look like in 30 years, or in 10 years or 15 years, what’s my vision that begins to create an anchor that pulls us toward that. And then I can work back to where did the, what’s the roadmap that we might need to be on to get to that place that I envisioned we want to be 10 years from now.

Sean Ryan (39:10):

And interestingly, I’m almost laughing, just like you’ve, you’ve been in my office, we’ve got a client that we’re working with, where we’re going through exactly that conversation and the, the business that they’re in. If they try to focus on just the next three to five years, they will miss. They will absolutely miss the huge opportunities that await them 10 or 15 years out. And so they really do have to take that long view and then bring it back to, okay, what do we need to do today to get positioned for that recognizing we are in that VUCA world or what I call the world of perpetual whitewater, they’re going to be so many changes. We may have the roadmap. We need to have some off-ramps. We need to have some accelerator, you know, high speed lanes, depending upon how the circumstances evolve. You might decide you need to take an offering that you need to reposition those assets and your, your capital in some other way, your talent in some other way, or the opportunities may present themselves that you need to accelerate. And that 10 year vision, all of a sudden becomes your four year operational plan, because the opportunity just, it, you, you, you, you get, you get that opportunity and you need to take advantage of it when it presents itself.

Jim Rembach (40:21):

Okay. So what we’ve just talked about there, and, you know, going forward and coming back, I’ve had discussions about this and, and I call that retrospective engineering. Okay. So in other words, throw it out there. It’s 10 years now let’s roll it back in order to see how we actually can use that as that way point that you’re talking about.

Sean Ryan (40:41):

I love it. I think it’s a great way to think about it.

Jim Rembach (40:43):

Okay. So gosh, needless to say, this is hard work. I mean, you know, you, you stated several times in the book, this is not as simple as here’s your framework, you know, converted into a checklist, boom, boom, boom. You know, things are going to be rosy. This is not the case. So we need inspiration in order to keep us going and focused and energized and motivated. And one of the things that we look out on the show are quotes to help us do that. Is there a quote or two that you liked that you can share?

Sean Ryan (41:08):

Uh, w well, my, my favorite, um, these days, and it struck me yesterday, I was on a, on a different call with somebody, uh, the, the old Henry Ford quote of if you always do, or at least it’s attributed to Henry Ford, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always got to that I would add. If you always think the way you’ve always thought you’re going to do what you’ve always done. So you’re going to get what you’ve always got. So the, the real key to be different is think differently. Challenge challenge goes back to the beginning of our conversation, challenging those mental models, the thinking, the assumptions, the beliefs perceptions.

Jim Rembach (41:42):

Oh, I love that. Okay. So, but there’s times, and I think you’ve even discussed this at several points where you’ve iterated, you know, you, you, things became more visible. Um, you know, you put all these different elements together. You you’ve gotten to the point where, you know, the 30 years of work that you’ve done have now culminated in this book, right. It takes a while. Um, and we have a lot of learnings and things that happen along the way that help us, uh, to make decisions we hope. Um, and we’ve learned from others. You know, we talk about getting over the hump on the show. Is there a time where you’ve gotten over the hump that you can share?

Sean Ryan (42:14):

Uh, wow. There’ve been, there’ve been so many. Um, one that I would share is, uh, early in my career, back in Pacific gas, electric, they did this crazy thing. I have a huge amount of respect for PGNE. I didn’t respect this decision at all. I was 26 years old and they put me in charge of an engineering group of, uh, 35 people, the 33 technical professional people, the engineers and estimator had all been at PGD longer than I’ve been alive. I was 26 years old. They’d all been at PGD longer than, than 26 years. I can’t respect that decision. Cause I can’t imagine what PGNE was actually thinking, but the epiphany was as a leader. I cannot, there’s nothing that I can do technically functionally, that is going to be better than what my team does. The worst thing I can possibly do is to dictate any decision around engineering.

Sean Ryan (43:12):

And I can’t even pretend like I can fool these people. So I had to think through what is it that I bring to the table? You know, what value do I add that nobody else adds? And what I realized was we were in the middle of a massive transformation and I needed the team to get more focused on delivering great outcomes for customers, but they needed me to create space for them to be able to do that. And what I found was that was, it was like the perfect trade. If I created space, if I got the bureaucracy out of their way, uh, if I helped them be incredibly successful at what they wanted to do, what they were passionate about, then in turn, we could make the pivot to get more focused on customers. And so it really just forced me to think what’s my role as a leader and what do I bring to this table when I can’t actually tell anybody to do anything of substance?

Jim Rembach (44:06):

I think that’s excellent insight and you’re learning it. And being able to come to that conclusion at such a early age is I think why you were in that position. Okay. So when you start looking at where you are now, you know, all these things that you’ve built, you talked even earlier about getting this out to more organizations. So we don’t have this 75 to 90%, you know, failure of execution rate. Um, I have to imagine you have some goals in place. Um, is there a, one of those goals that you can share? Uh,

Sean Ryan (44:35):

Right now today, most short term, one of the things we advocate in the book, we’re trying to build this community of what we call gearheads, um, people who are as excited about, and there’s so many implications in the book about creating great places where people can work, um, engaging people, letting people bring them their best selves to work every day. And, and then really through that, delivering the great results for the organization. And so we’re trying to build this community of gearheads, where the people are as passionate about it and want to create great organizations the way we do we’ll come together and, uh, all learn from each other. So, you know, my, my short term goal, and maybe in some ways, uh, you know, crazy goofy, uh, goal is to get more and more people coming into the community and, uh, and really joining in, let’s all learn from each other about how we, how we really drive strategy to results and create great places for

Jim Rembach (45:32):

People to work. And the fast leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now, before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.

Speaker 4 (45:40):

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Sean Ryan (46:20):

Let’s see if I can do it. I I’d give it my best shot in gym. Let’s go.

Speaker 4 (46:24):

All right. So what is holding you back from being an even better leader today?

Sean Ryan (46:31):

My thinking, you know, I’m no different than anybody else. My thinking gets in my way and, uh, you know, getting the right people around me to help me be a accomplished. What I want to accomplish is really the constraints to my growth.

Jim Rembach (46:43):

And what is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received? Uh,

Sean Ryan (46:46):

Let’s see, uh, keep smiling.

Jim Rembach (46:49):

And what is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?

Sean Ryan (46:53):

I think it’s a combination of two things. It’s the, uh, the creativity to solve problems and the persistence that we don’t stop until we get them.

Jim Rembach (47:02):

And what is one tool that you believe helps to contribute in your success personally and professionally?

Sean Ryan (47:10):

Uh, I think, uh, pretty much just, uh, being able to listen to people as empathetically as I possibly can.

Jim Rembach (47:17):

And what would be one book you’d recommend to our Legion? It could be from any genre. And of course, we’re going to put a link to get in gear on your show notes page as well. Sure.

Sean Ryan (47:26):

Uh, I would recommend because, uh, leaders are having to deal so much change in their environment. The one of the great books about leading influencing individual change is Carrie Patterson and Joseph granny’s book influence.

Jim Rembach (47:40):

Okay. Fast leader Legion. You can find links to that. And other bonus information from today’s show by going to fast leader.net/ Sean Ryan. Okay. Sean, this is my last update. Hold on question. Imagine you’ve been given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you have the knowledge and skills that you have now, and you can take those back with you, but you can’t take it all. You can only choose one. So what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why

Sean Ryan (48:03):

Need to be perfect? Uh, early, early at the age of 25, I thought everything had to be about perfection and, uh, that really limited challenged my, you know, blocked my own thinking in terms of being able to listen to other people, hear the advice, feedback that people were giving me. And now knowing that really it’s about the relentless pursuit of being better every day, um, would change completely how I approach stuff back in those days.

Jim Rembach (48:28):

Sean, I had fun with you today. Can you please share with the Fastly Legion, how they can connect with you?

Sean Ryan (48:32):

Uh, absolutely. The best way to connect with us is our website. WW I C i.com.

Jim Rembach (48:40):

John Ryan, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom and the fast leader Legion honors you. And thanks you for helping us get over the hump.