How Smart Strategy Can Move your Business Ahead (Part 1)

The-100-Title-OnlyThe first in a series of two posts

Mention the word “strategy” and many leaders will respond with a silent groan. Few like to discuss it, but “strategy” can feel like a 700-pound organizational elephant. Some of us struggle simply to define it. For some, “strategy” is just a fancy way to describe a daily “to do” list. Others use in-depth research studies and highly paid management consultants to map a strategy to guide their company’s direction.

Intertech takes an approach somewhere between these two extremes, which I’ve detailed in my recent book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”

For us, strategy is an amalgam of our values, brand promise, and goals. This involves:

  • Gathering input from key stakeholders in an organized way
  • Having a clear process for making decisions
  • Measuring goals
  • Ensuring alignment

My next series of posts will peel the proverbial strategy onion (no tears here!). I will share not only my philosophy about strategy but also provide practical tips on using strategy to move your company ahead of your competition. Let’s begin today with the value of values.


Values are like an invisible hand guiding interactions between customers, employees and vendors. They’re most effective when they are clearly defined and consistently reinforced. If you’re not sure which values are most important at your organization, I recommend using the “Mars Group” exercise created by business expert and author Jim Collins.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick Mars Team: Ask your employees to identify a few colleagues who best represent what they believe are your company’s core values. The idea is that these select employees could go to Mars and easily recreate your company’s culture.
  2. Describe Candidates: Next, ask everyone to write down the three adjectives that they believe best define the people they selected for the Mars mission.
  3. Select Common Values: If your experience is anything like ours, similar values will pop up again and again. We found that at Intertech, the most common values were “positive attitude, commitment to delivering, honesty, teamwork and professional excellence.”

It was gratifying to learn that our employees strongly believed that these five rock-solid values best reflected Intertech’s culture. According to Jim Collins and other business experts, however, company values are most strategic when they differentiate your company from competitors.

So we took another hard look at our values and determined that the first three – attitude, commitment and excellence – truly set us apart from competitors. These are the three values that we selected to consciously emphasize internally and externally (although employees remain honest and consistently work well together!).

Next time: How to use values as a strategic culture-building tool.

Thoughts from The 100: Defining the Purpose of a Business

The-100-Title-OnlyIn previous posts, I provided practical “tactical” tips for providing leadership that helps employees to achieve their potential and for ensuring that your business (and that of your clients) thrives. Today’s message is broader, but ultimately the most important: Know what matters!

Ever heard the maxim, “If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything”? This is true for people and organizations. Without clarity around core beliefs and purpose, we can be blown off course by the latest fad, or, worse, start to think that we and our efforts do not matter.

Before I founded Intertech I worked for a large information technology company in the Twin Cities. My manager told me not to worry about putting in extra effort because the company was so big there was no need for any one employee to shoulder any additional effort. That was the moment I found my purpose. I knew I wanted my efforts to matter. Intertech was founded quickly thereafter.

A company’s core purpose should be clear and unchanging. Intertech’s purpose is “to create a place where people matter and where our clients’ businesses are improved through technology.”

In my next series of posts I’ll examine “Outsmarting and Out-planning the Competition with Strategy.  

Learn more about in my book “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”

Join Me at Startup Grind Minneapolis

Startup Grind

Join me on Monday, September 12th @ 6:30 at COCO Downtown Minneapolis for a Startup Grind Fireside Chat.  I’ll be spending an hour or so with  talking about entrepreneurship, Intertech, and my latest book.  Here’s the agenda for the evening:

6:30 pm Networking and Food
7:30 pm Fireside Chat
8:30 pm More Networking

Thoughts from The 100: Identifying Saints, Dogs, and Stars


The-100-Title-OnlyTo keep morale and motivation high, it’s essential to motivate your top performers as well those who need to improve and those who need to be shown the door. There’s a shorthand code for these three groups of employees:

Saints: those who may be a great fit with our culture but who are poor performers.

  • Dogs: those who score high on the performance scale but who are a poor cultural fit
  • Stars: those rare but wonderful individuals who are both high performers and a good fit with our cultural values. These folks are given extra incentives to remain long-term members of our organization.

Our response to saints and dogs is the same: shape up or ship out. While this may sound harsh, keeping employees who don’t perform or fit with your company values risks bringing down the whole ship.

As I note in my new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership,” most employees are not fired because they lack necessary technical skills. Most often they have poor emotional intelligence. In other words, their personality or people skills are a poor fit with our cultural expectations. Firing someone with top technical skills who alienates clients or teammates through arrogance or bullying is a no-brainer. Those folks, along with those kind souls who can’t seem to get anything done, are not organizational assets.

Once you’ve made a decision to let someone go, do so quickly and use the following guidelines to make the process as painless as possible (for you and them!):

  • Have two people from your firm present
  • Bring a legal separation (especially if severance pay is involved) agreement
  • Quickly pay the fired employee for all hours worked and for unreimbursed expenses and any unused vacation time
  • Be mentally prepared for the employee to promise he or she will change
  • Do not let the employee change your decision

Thoughts from The 100: Using Key Result Areas to Drive Performance

The-100-Title-OnlyLast time I shared thoughts about how to keep employees motivated. (My thoughts on this important topic also are described in my new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”) Providing clear feedback is another important aspect for achieving motivational magic. It’s also important to set expectations from day one and to give frequent informal feedback in between formal reviews.

A good talent management system looks forward, provides clear and objective performance standards and encourages team members to state when he or she needs training or different tools to reach goals. At Intertech, we use Dale Carnegie’s Key Results Areas (KRAs) as a template for talent management. Four key questions guide us:

  • What is the purpose of my job? The answer should be extremely simple, such as “selling our services.”
  • What do I need to do to make it happen? For someone in sales, the answer might be “Call 100 potential clients every day.”
  • What tools do I need to be successful? For a sales person, training in phone skills or negotiation techniques might be in order.
  • How do I know when results have been achieved? As in the sales example above, reaching a specific dollar amount would be an objective measure of goal achievement.

Like any journey, arriving at your desired destination is much easier with a clear map to guide you. Think of KRAs as employee guideposts to make the journey more productive and satisfying for them and you.