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Derrick Strand's Blog: Conventional Thinking Not Allowed!

Seek Creative Sparks From Unconventional Sources

When it comes to generating new ideas and new ways to do things, we can sometimes fall into the rut of holding a generic brainstorming session, looking at competitors in your industry to copy or looking at "best in class" for your functional area (e.g. Finance, IT).<< MORE >>

How Applying the FitBit Model Leads to Organizational Health

Last weekend, my wife and I went shopping looking for "FitBits" to see what all the fuss was about.  For those of you that don't know,  FitBits are activity trackers, wireless-enabled wearable devices that measure data such as the number of steps walked, quality of sleep, and other personal metrics.  Since we both were still carrying around some post holiday "goo" in our systems we decided to each get one of the watch types.  They give you real time information on step walked, continuous activity and the efficiency of your sleep.

It is really cool technology that tracks progress towards your healthy living goals and recognizes you with badges of achievement when you reach certain goals.  Almost immediately, it start to change our behavior.  We would constantly check our steps and activities to see how we were doing and if we needed to "get into gear" and be more active.  This simple model is very powerful in driving changes in behavior.

It made me think about the lessons we can learn from the FitBit model as is relates to organizational success.  If we want to change behaviors and achieve goals, these goals have to be:

  • to be "front of mind" every day
  • measurable so we can track progress
  • posted and discussed so we can hold people accountable for results

Now we don't have FitBit devices for work (yet!) but we can apply these same concepts to change behavior and align to objectives.  Some questions you should ask yourself and your organization include:

  • Do you keep values, vision, objectives, goals and strategies (VVOGS) "front of mind" daily?  If not, why not?
  • Do you start meetings by reviewing the VVOGS to ground your discussions on what really matters?  If not, why not?
  • Do you track progress toward your goals in a timely manner?  It is timely enough?  Are the results posted publicly?
  • Do you hold people accountable for achieving these goals?
  • Do you recognize daily achievements that move your organization closer to its goals
Organizational health depends on being clear on what you are doing, why you are doing it and then having the discipline to do the "right" little things on a day to day basis that move you towards those goals. 

How healthy are you?  Let's start the conversation!

Derrick Strand is an organizational effectiveness consultant and facilitator based in Richmond, Virginia.  Contact him at or visit his website at

What the ESPN Body Issue has to do with Employee Engagement

The recent ESPN Body issue of completely unclothed athletes has an unlikely and refreshing participant.  It's 77 year old Gary Player.  Player has been a fitness nut since his childhood days growing up in South Africa.  At 5' 6' and 148 pounds, he won 24 PGA tour events, including nine majors and was one of only a handful of golfers to complete the career grand slam.  Over his career, Player won 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. 

At 77, he does 1,200 sit ups a day.  Yes, that's right,1,200.  This is one of the many parts of his daily exercise routine that has him, in his estimation, more physically fit that the average 45 year old (That would be me!  Watch this video for proof!)

The question is why and what does this have to do with employee engagement?  The answer traces back to childhood and the close relationship with his brother.  Player's brother went off to war when he was 17.

Before he left, his brother asked him, "What do you want to do?"  He said, "I'm going to become a professional sportsman." Player didn't know about golf then; he thought he would play rugby or cricket. His brother said, "Well, you're very small in stature," and he bought Gary some weights. "I might not come back. Will you promise me you'll exercise?"  Player did, and he's adhered to that for 63 years.

Here's why this story is so powerful for engagement.  Gary Player has been on a fitness crusade for 63 years because of a promise he made to his brother who could have died in the war.  Player has been engaged and committed to that promise all of this time because of the emotional connection with his brother and the power of his words at that moment. 

Emotion and feeling create inspiration which then creates motivation and long term commitment based on that feeling.  There is not a day that goes by where Gary Player does not think of the words of his brother before, during and after exercising.

The question for you as an individual and as a leader is, "What's my inspiration and how can I inspire others?"  Too many leaders focus only on tasks, activities, goals and objectives and completely miss what has to come before that for there to be long term success.   It's something that you feel inside you that cuts right to the core of your inner being.

That's inspiration.  It's connecting at deeper, more meaningful levels so that people know that what they do matters and that it matters way more than just profits.  If you can inspire to that degree, both yourself and others, they are no limits to way you can create and achieve.

Borrow from Gary Player's example and ask yourself, "Is there something that would inspire me  to consistently and tirelessly work at something for decades on end?"  For organizations, "Is there something that we can all rally around and connect with at a deep, emotional level that inspires us all to work together as one toward a common shared vision?"

These are not easy questions to answer but they are ones that need to be asked in order to start the discussion and answered in order to achieve long term, sustainable success.

For further information on this and other organizational topics, contact Derrick at or 804-814-9921.

Why Aren't We Having More Honest Discussions?

A hidden ailment that continues to limit organizational success is the inability to have honest discussions.  What do I mean by that?  Here's a laundry list of examples:

  • Is everything in the sales pipeline a real opportunity? Is that 80% probability of closing the deal accurate?
  • Are some of our competitors products/services actually better than ours but we won't admit it?
  • Is that project really in "red" status but we'll find a way to rationalize it as "yellow" trending to "green?"
  • Can we admit that an initiative has failed, cut our losses and redeploy time and resources into other areas?
  • Do we say we have a collaborative culture since it's one of our "values" yet we rarely work together in groups and no one feels comfortable pointing it out?
  • Our day to day business activities don't always seem to match the vision or strategic objectives but not a word is said in meetings (break room, lunch and happy hour are a different story!)
  • Our meetings are BORING with no respectful disagreements or passionate debates on issues.

I've got more but you get the point.  The bottom line is that we can't solve problems without admitting we have them.  These scenarios run rampant through many organizations. 

Why?  A void of honest discussions is typically a symptom of larger issues which revolve around a lack of trust and a fear of retaliation.

If people don't trust each other, they don't share.  If people fear retaliation or ridicule in front of their peers, they won't say a word.  It's as simple as that!

These issues are leadership issues.  The leader is responsible for creating environments where people feel comfortable having honest discussions.  If the leader does not create this environment, these discussions will not happen.  I'm not just talking about the CEO.  I'm talking about anyone who is responsible for leading people.

If you create this environment and people do feel comfortable sharing, you'll see an immediate positive impact:

  • problems will be identified and solved more quickly
  • time and resources won't be thrown away on unproductive efforts
  • true collaboration will occur resulting is organization-wide improvements
  • meetings will be productive with deep, meaningful discussions

For more about how to create environments where honest discussions can occur, contact me at 804-814-9921 or at

Five Simple Truths For a Better.........Everything!

  1. Think positive thoughts since they lead to more positive results
  2. Create environments where positive things have a higher probability of happening
  3. Remove yourself from environments where negative things can happen
  4. Be clear on your belief system and philosophy on life
  5. Hang out with people who have your belief system and philosophy on life

If you practice these daily, isn't it reasonable to think good things will happen?

You can create the life you want but it is up to you to make it happen.  Live each day with intention and things in your life will start to change.

For more information, please contact Derrick at 804-814-9921 or via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Your Success Depends on How "PICK-E" You Are

Your success as an individual needs to be defined by YOU and not by society, friends or family.  In order to do that, you need to be "PICK-E."

PICK-E stands for the following:

P - Passion & Purpose:  Do you know what you are passionate about?  If not, find out. Life is too short.  Do what you love and you will attract more of it. 

Also, have a purpose which involves doing things for a higher calling than just personal gain.  In other words, what would you like people to say about you and would they be able to describe how you are making a difference in this world based on your actions.

I - Intention:  This is all about your attitude and how you see things.  Look for opportunities and possibilities in everything you see, say and do.  Connect this to your purpose in life and the passions that support it.  You become what you think so be intentional each and every day with your thoughts and make sure they align with your overall purpose.

C - Connection:  Surround yourself with like minded people who give you energy and support.  Seek out others who connect with your philosophy on life.  Rid yourself of the naysayers and the energy drainers who don't support your philosophy and your purpose.  Having productive connections and a community of relationships that align with your desires and aspirations are critical to helping you achieve them.

K - Knowledge:  Always seek to learn and grow. Learn from books, seminars, people and experiences (especially failures).  You can learn something from everything you do.  Make a commitment to be an "intentional" lifelong learner that constantly seeks more knowledge and enlightenment in ways that help you to follow your passions and fulfill your purpose.

E - Execution:  Turning dreams into reality is all about the discipline of execution.  The discipline to plan out the life you want and then to work the plan.  This means not only defining your passions and purpose but crafting a clear vision of what that looks like and what your specific strategies are to achieve that vision. 

This also involves defining the activities that will support the achievement of the strategies and setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely) to ensure you are defining clearly what success is for you and then holding yourself accountable, on a daily basis, for making progress towards those goals.

To find out more about my "Be PICK-E About Your Life" personal development program, please contact me at 804-814-9921 or at
  You can also connect with me on: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

What's In A Name? Potentially A Lot!

I read an article last month that discussed the huge box office failure of the Disney movie, John Carter.  The movie is projected to lose over $200 million dollars and resulted in the recent resignation of Walt Disney's film unit chairman.

In spite of all the bad press, I took my family to see John Carter and guess what......we thought it was great!  It was very entertaining and my six year old liked it as well.  So I began to wonder why a good movie (my family's interpretation) could do so poorly at the box office?

I'm sure there has been some sort of deep, complex analysis as to why it was such a failure but I don't think that is necessary.  I think the reason is very simple.  The movie had a really bad name!  John Carter is simply not an interesting or exciting title. 

Yes I know that is the main character's name from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel but that doesn't mean they had to name the movie that.  The name, John Carter, simply did not exude edgy, cool, action or fun in anyway.  Ask your son under 10 (I did) if they wanted a John Carter action figure?  My boy said no because he'd rather have a Ninjago, Ironman, Batman figure instead because they are "way cooler!"

This made me think of other great products or services that failed, not because it was necessarily a bad product, but because it had a bad name.  Some examples include:

Retardex - An oral rinse meant to retard the growth of plaque.  A terrible name that offended a large portion of the population.

Reebok Incubus - A women's shoe that failed badly.  Reebok found out through a news broadcast that "Incubus" as defined in the dictionary was an evil spirit that in medieval times was thought to descend upon women and have sex with them.  Not great for sales.

Nads Hair Removal - I don't think I need to even comment on this one!

There are many more but I will stop here.  This made me think and wonder if the same things are happening in organizations.  Do good ideas, good initiatives and good solutions sometimes fail simply by having a bad name?  The answer is yes!

In a past life in a large management consulting firm, we had a change management practice that ended up failing due to the lack of business.  We found that no one wanted to pay for "change management" as they didn't see the value in such a soft, touchy feely term.......especially at $400/hour!! 

The practice dissolved but an interesting thing then occurred.  We started to build change management practices into all of our engagements but we didn't call it change management.  We called it communication planning, stakeholder needs analysis and other things that the client understood and didn't mind paying extra for since they liked the terms better.  The work was the same, it was simply called something different.........and it sold!

Another example revolves around a client I had that was interested in detailed process improvement to improve quality and customer satisfaction.  In many ways it was a textbook type of six sigma effort.  Lucky for me I did not use that term as I interviewed the executive team and various employees.  I found out that several years ago that someone rolled out a six sigma effort that was poorly led and poorly thought out.  If failed miserably and "six sigma" was now a dirty word in the organization.  You and I know this was not a failure in six sigma but a failure in leadership, design and execution.  These facts did not matter.  The perception was that six sigma doesn't work. 

Our solution was to use similar tools and techniques as six sigma but change the names and subtly change the approaches to look slight different and to never, never use the term, "six sigma."  The project was a success but it would have been "dead in the water" from day one had we used terminology that was deemed to be toxic in their organization.

My point is that you can have a great product or service that doesn't sell or doesn't work if the name or phrases used do not work for your client or customer.  Do your homework and manage your risk accordingly prior to putting names to things.  It literally could mean the difference between success and failure.  Just ask The Walt Disney Company.

Change Your Habits and Improve Productivity in 2012

For many of us, the New Year means setting new goals and objectives both personally and professionally.  We start off the year with high expectations for ourselves and of all the things we are going to accomplish.   We get off to a fast start and then……. life happens!  The constant noise of each new day and the unforeseen circumstances and events of life cause us to lose focus and set aside all of those things that we said we wanted to accomplish. 

Before you know it, a year has gone by and very few, if any, of those initial goals or objectives are checked off as “done,” that is if you can actually find the original goal sheet in your cube or office!  Sound familiar?

Well this is a new year and a new opportunity to not let that happen.  A new opportunity to change your habits, become more disciplined and hold yourself accountable for achieving your goals.  The key to all of this is managing your time more effectively.  Below are a few tips and techniques to help you get better control of your time so you can accomplish more and meet your goals.

Create Your Own Strategy Map

Although this is not a traditional time management tip, it is critical to shape everything you do.  When you create a strategy map, you define your MVV’s (mission, vision and values.) This can be personal or career based.  Staying true to your MVV’s, determine your strategic goals for the year.  I would recommend only four or five.  Once you have these goals, determine the activities you need to engage in to achieve those goals.  Lastly, translate those activities into measures and have targets for those measures so you can hold yourself accountable.

The result of this exercise will be a one page diagram that summarizes what you are doing, why you are doing it, how you’re going to do it and how you’re going to measure it.  I have my strategy map as my background on my laptop so that every morning it’s the first thing I see.  This helps me to immediately focus my day on the things that matter most.

For a sample strategy map, please contact me at and I will send you one as well as directions on how to complete it.

Break Down Activities Into Smaller Chunks

One reason we don’t achieve our goals is because they are too big so we don’t even try.  For instance, if my goal is to write a book this year, that goal may feel overwhelming on the surface.  If I break down that goal into writing one page a day, it seems much more doable.  If I do this, I will have a 365 page book written by year end.  The key is to break large goals into smaller ones.  This gets you started on a positive note which creates momentum along with the desire to continue.

Manage Two of your Biggest Time Wasters

Easily two of the biggest time wasters in the workplace are email and meetings.  Look at your emails and ask yourself, “Did I really need to receive this email?” or “Does this email help my achieve my goals?”  If not, start the purging process.  Ask to be removed from unnecessary distribution lists and tell people to only copy you on things that require your attention.  Also, remove yourself from newsletters etc. that distract you from your stated goals.  At the very least, route those messages into a folder, “To Be Read Later.” Over time, you will greatly reduce the volume of email which frees up time to do more important things.

Meetings are an even a bigger waste of time, in most cases.  If a meeting does not connect to your job duties or goals, don’t go.  There is nothing wrong with refusing to be in meetings that are not productive.   At a minimum, it may spark a discussion to change a meeting to become more relevant.   You may not be able to get rid of all your unproductive meetings but you will be surprised at how many you can get out of that are not worthwhile which frees up time to do other things that align with your strategic goals.

Return to Batch Processing

This may sound counterintuitive in today’s real time environments but studies have shown that what we think of as multi-tasking at work is actually switch-tasking, meaning that we are switching our attention back and forth between different things.  There is a cost each time we switch.  There are many exercises available that prove this theory.  So instead of switching back and forth from answering email, doing research, answering the phone and instant messaging, turn everything off but one thing and focus on that until it is done.  Then move on to the next thing and completely focus on that.  You will get more done, faster and with higher quality.

Some people have mastered this by only answering email at 10am and 3pm.  The rest of the day, email is shut down.  They answer message in batches and are much more productive than switching back and forth between different tasks.  This also applies to the phone.  Forward your phone to voice mail and answer messages at certain times of the day.  You will be amazed how much more productive you will be.

Plan for Tomorrow at the End of Today

One simple yet powerful technique is to plan out tomorrow’s work before you leave today or before you go to sleep at night.  You will think more clearly than the next morning when the noise of the day can get you even before you start.  Planning the night before with a clear head will greatly improve productivity tomorrow.

My Challenge To You

Some of you may think some of my suggestions are crazy or unrealistic in today’s fast paced world.  In some cases that may be true but in the vast majority I bet that is not the case.  My challenge to you is to just try them and see what happens.  Even though you probably can’t eliminate all worthless meetings, what if this helps get one or two off your calendar.  Wouldn’t that be worth a try? 

Maybe you can’t answer email only at 10am and 3pm but why not shut it off for an hour and focus on only one thing and do it well.  My guess is that the world will not explode if you aren’t on email for one hour.

How about breaking big goals into smaller ones that can be done in one day?  Isn’t that worth a shot?

Please send me a note to let me know how these tips have helped you become more productive and focused.  Just know I won’t respond until 10am or 3pm!!


Derrick Strand is Principal of Leadership and Organizational Development at the Titan Group in Richmond.  He challenges people to “think differently” about leadership, organization, people, and process.  His relentless assault on the status quo helps clients to address and solve issues in unique and innovative ways.  For more information contact Derrick at or at 804-814-9921.

The Lost Discipline of Reading

This is a post I've been meaning to right for some time now and recent events reminded me that I need to do it now!  I spoke on leadership just yesterday at a professional development conference in the DC area. The session went well as did the whole conference but there was a disturbing theme that bothers me a great deal so I have to share.  It has to do with reading.  More specifically, business professional reading........or more appropriately, the lack there of!

I went to seven or eight different sessions where speakers referred to book after book and author after author during various parts of their presentations.  In each case, the speaker would ask how many of you have read "this" book or have read anything by "this" author.  In session after session, the speakers were amazed at how few people read or had even heard of certain business books or authors.  I'm not talking about obscure books but best sellers like "Good To Great," "Balanced Scorecard, "Think and Grow Rich" and even "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."  I was stunned as well. 

Based on this, I decided to do a little research and here's what I found based on a literary research study:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

Now I can't validate whether these statistics are true but even if they are half true it is disturbing and based on what I just witnessed at the conference I attended, it certainly appears to be a major issue.

Here's the good news!  If you really want to grow professionally and run circles around others in the marketplace.......start reading!  I truly believe this is a competitive advantage!  It doesn't need to be more difficult than that! 

Set a goal to read one new business book a month and start to watch how things change.  Start with the classics and do it for one year.  Whatever you are passionate about that also applies to your role or career aspirations.  You will be amazed at how things will change.  I bet that you will see significant improvements in the some of the below areas just to name a few:

  • Problem Solving
  • Managing Others
  • Team Building
  • Goal Setting
  • Dealing with Conflict
  • Communicating
  • Leading Change
  • Customer Service

Don't be one of those people who says they are too busy to read.  Be the one who makes time to read because of it's huge return on investment for you and in your future.  For list of great business books to get you started, click here.

Have you ever met an unsuccessful person that had a huge library in their house?  I don't think so!

I would love to hear from you.  Let me know your comments and thoughts by either commenting on this post or contacting me directly at or 804-814-9921. 

You can also connect with me at:

Twitter           LinkedIn           Facebook

Derrick Strand is a Principal in Leadership and Organizational Development at The Titan Group in Richmond, Virginia.  He designs and delivers innovative management and leadership courses to the public and internally to clients who prefer customization.  He also assesses and redesigns organizations to ensure they are structured in a way that facilitates, not hinders, their ability to achieve their vision and goals.

It's Likely That Team Performance Is Determined Before You Start!

"Team builder" and "team player" are popular phrases in the workplace today and we often list them as skills we look for in effective managers and leaders.  I know many a leader who could talk a good game about building effective teams in the interview process yet were not very successful at making it happen in the workplace.  These same leaders also tend to be highly critical of other team leads who can't get a team to deliver great results.  Why is it so hard to develop great teams?

High performing teams are a product of many factors.  I believe many of these factors can be addressed BEFORE a team is formed.  In fact, I know many project teams that were doomed to fail before they even started............I know you seen this since I'm sure you have been on at least one of those types of teams!

Let's talk about key components to team success BEFORE you even get started.  For the sake of this discussion, I'll be referring to project teams that are assembled for different organizational initiatives.  Here are the questions that need to be asked and answered:

Why are we doing this? - Before a team is ever put together, it should be "crystal clear" as to the reason for the project, how it ties to overall company objectives, who's the executive sponsor who is accountable and what defines success at project completion.  It amazes me how many projects kick off without any of this information defined.  Don't let it happen to you. 

Make sure all of these components are clearly defined before agreeing to be a team lead or a team member.  If no one has answers, run for the hills!  The likelihood of project success without having these nailed down at project initiation is almost zero.

What attitudes do we need? - Many executives assign people to teams solely based on availability (where is a warm body to dump on this team!)  Also, I've seen people assigned to project teams only based on skills and background.  No one ever seems to ask these people whether they 1) have passion/enthusiasm about the project itself or if they are 2) excited to have the opportunity to be on the team.  It's as if that doesn't matter. 

I'm here to say that passion and excitement are crucial to having a high performing team.  I would much rather have a team with average skills that had high energy and passion for the project than a highly skilled team that is not interested in the project at all.  Before assigning people to teams, find out if they have passion and positive energy around solving the problem.  If they don't, look for people that do.

What skills do we need? - Don't get me wrong, after passion and energy, skills are very important.  If we did a good job defining the project and what success looks like, we should have a good idea of what skill sets are needed.  Again, resist the urge to assign the "next available" person to the team.  Find the people with the right skills. 

What perspectives do we need? - Solutions to problems can be challenging and they require looking at the issues from many different angles or perspectives.  You want a diversity of perspective and thought on your team so seek out people who think differently (e.g. left vs.right brained or customer focused vs. internal process efficiency), work in different functions or departments and who are at different levels organizationally.

The more perspectives you can have, the more comprehensive the problem solving will be.

Do we have an effective team leader? -
If you have assembled a team with passion and energy towards the project that have good skills and also have differing perspectives and opinions, we better have an effective team leader!  Why?  Because a team with these characteristics is bound to have conflict.  This is great if you have a team leader that is good at managing team dynamics and knows how to foster an environment of "constructive conflict."  Constructive conflict is where there is significant debate, discussion and disagreement over issues and potential solutions.

You want team members to vigorously attack issues and problems, NOT each other.  The team leader has to be skilled in managing this or a bar room brawl could break out!

Conclusion - A lot of what defines a high performing team happens before the team has it's first meeting.  This of course does not guarantee team success but it certainly creates an environment that vastly increases the probability of success and high performance.  This is a leadership lesson for everything, not just projects.  One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to create an environment where people can succeed.  Are you creating these high performing environments?

I would love to hear from you.  Let me know your comments and thoughts by either commenting on this post or contacting me directly at or 804-814-9921.  You can connect with me at:

Twitter           LinkedIn           Facebook

Derrick Strand is a Principal in Leadership Development at The Titan Group in Richmond, Virginia.  He designs and delivers innovative management and leadership courses to the public and internally to clients who prefer customization.