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TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #51 – How Relationships Support Southwest Airlines’ Purpose and Peak Performance

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #51 – How Relationships Support Southwest Airlines’ Purpose and Peak Performance

When Gary Kelly took over as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines on May 21, 2008, some thought the iconic airline might lose its soul. After all, Herb Kelleher had repeatedly been voted best CEO in the airline industry. Fortune Magazine said he might very well be the best CEO in America. He was called a pioneer, a fierce competitor, and an innovator. But Herb was infinitely more than that. Herb changed the world for the better. He created the greatest success story in the history of commercial aviation. Herb and his team made the impossible possible with a disruptive business model and an all but impossible to replicate culture that business schools tout in case studies and businesses all over the world attempt to copy.

It has been almost thirteen years since Gary Kelly took over and Southwest hasn’t missed a beat. While there is quite a contrast between the leadership styles of Herb and Gary, the principles by which they operate are identical and the tenents on which Southwest was built are exactly the same. The underlying factors that have been so critical to the airline’s success are still alive, well and still kicking a*s. Jody Hoffer Gittell, in her book The Southwest Airlines Way, argues that the most powerful organizational competency – the “secret ingredient” that makes it so distinctive – is its ability to build and sustain high performance relationships among managers, employees, unions and suppliers. These relationships are characterized by shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. While these interdependent relationships appear simple, they are not.

Since 1967, Southwest has carefully and systematically developed a set of organizational practices that build and sustain relationships among those who are crucial to its success. Southwest’s competitors have not been able to replicate their practices, largely because of the functional silos that exist within the airline industry. Gittell conducted field research of the airline industry over eight years and found that pilots, fight attendants, gate agents, ticketing agents, ramp agents and others, working for competitive airlines, had very different and, in many cases, widely divergent goals and little respect for the roles played by others. As in any industry where different groups of stakeholders compete for resources, airtime and status, tremendous potential improvement is possible if cross-functional relationships and teamwork can be strengthened.

One station manager who left a very prominent position at American Airlines to join Southwest had made this observation and tried for eight painful years to effect positive change. As a conscientious middle manager who wanted to see her employer succeed, she repeatedly tried to garner support for a more relationship-oriented approach to cross-functional collaboration at American but found little to no support for her suggestions. The senior leadership team, as is often the case, was comprised not of team members but of competing and functionally divided individuals, each of whom was protecting their individual fiefdoms and functional turf. At American, there had also been years of adversarial labor relations under a CEO who routinely sought confrontation and fostered distrust among all stakeholder groups. Most of the airline industry is plagued by the same adversarial relationships among stakeholders.

In doing her research, Gittell was surprised to discover that, functionally, Southwest was organized almost identically to its competitors, but the ways in which cross-functional employees interacted with one another was wildly different. Unlike their competitors, relationships among front line employees were characterized by high levels of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. No one at Southwest takes the job of another employee in a different department for granted. The skycap is just as important as the pilot and they are treated as such. Southwest employees speak of their cross-functional comrades with the same reverence that combat men and women often refer to one another. Relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect help to facilitate frequent, timely, problem-solving dialogue among workers, allowing Southwest to provide premium quality service to its passengers and a meaningful and rewarding experience to its employees with the most efficient use of resources in commercial aviation history.

After 53 years, the Southwest model is still not well understood. Just the other day, I heard a seemingly clever and highly articulate businessman tell his breakfast buddy that the reason Southwest is as profitable as it is because it is largely union free and doesn’t have to deal with the labor relations issues with which the rest of the industry is shackled. In fact, Southwest is one of the most unionized airlines in the industry, with roughly 83% of its employees covered by collective bargaining agreements. The difference between Southwest and its competitors is that it views the unions as partners. Twelve unions, representing roughly 52,300 employees, are treated as partners rather than as adversaries. Southwest says that its goal is to maintain collective bargaining agreements that take care of its employees, the company, and its shareholders in ways that support its vision to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.

The purpose of all these blog posts is to share what we’re learning about building cultures of peak performance. In future posts, we’ll dig further into how Southwest Airlines checks all nine boxes in terms of practicing the nine principles we’ve observed in organizations that outperform their peers: Unified Leadership, Disciplined Hiring, Leading with Purpose, Stakeholder Engagement, Cost Leadership, Measuring Everything that Matters, Customer Experience, Clarity in Everything and Staying Ahead of the Curve. These are the principles that drive peak performance cultures. If you’d like to talk about how we can help your organization, please give us a call.

Warmest Regards,

Rob Andrews
Allen Austin
Consultants in Retained Search & Leadership Advisory

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #50 – Culture is an Environment

This post contains paraphrased content from Daniel Juday.

For many years, we’ve studied organizational culture. When I’m speaking with clients, discussing their issues, and trying to get clear about what they are really trying to accomplish, invariably we wind up talking about solutions designed to move them toward what we call a culture of peak performance, which we believe is truly the only sustainable competitive advantage.

While we’ve built a very robust suite of diagnostics to assess organizational health and an architecture to help leaders build such cultures, we are in relentless pursuit of more knowledge, better research, better tools, and ways to enhance the lives and effectiveness of our associates, clients, and stakeholders. I received an email this week from Daniel Juday, a solo consultant specializing in diversity and culture, and I found truth in his writing.

Daniel says he most often hears the phrase “culture fit” around recruitment and retention. And, as recruitment and retention are increasingly difficult and expensive pursuits for business leaders, this seems to make perfect sense. After all, the cost of a bad executive hire has been estimated to range between five and fifteen times the executive’s salary, and in some cases the cost is so high, it’s incalculable. So, thinking about culture in this context seems to be logical.

Says Daniel, “The problem, though, starts becoming obvious as we ask questions around what fit looks like, and about how we define culture. Hiring an additional team member who is a carbon copy of existing team members may seem like a short-term win, as it relates to smooth on-boarding, but it may be a real long-term loss as you’ve failed to bring in new perspectives, worldviews, understandings, value systems, problem-solving ideologies, personalities, cultural expressions, linguistic richness, and the list goes on and on.

“Without meaning to, I think, what many leaders and hiring managers are saying is, ‘I want more people just like me here.’ We trust those that look like us, and that goes a long way into who gets an interview, and who gets through the interview process. And, at the end of the day, maybe we’ve reproduced a mini-me, but we may have lost a significant opportunity to get better.

“This is tribalism, a term which has gone through a recent resurgence a la the ‘find your tribe’ movement. And, I want to say, I think it is awesome, when we protect ourselves from implicitly connecting our ‘tribe’ with those we think are most like us. The reality is that’s what we most often do. We are geographically and socially encouraged to connect with those ‘like us,’ and in terms of how we connect, our socioeconomic levels largely predict that.

“We are, generally speaking, operating in silos of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, and ability similarities. We just are. It’s the way we built our neighborhoods. It’s the way our social groups subsequently develop, and the way we hire those in our circles.”

Daniel’s observations are astute. It’s easy to miss the true meaning of cultural fit. Cultural fit doesn’t mean hiring in one’s own image and it doesn’t mean creating an organization of Stepford wives. Cultural fit means aligning the workforce with the organization’s purpose, mission, and values. Peak performing organizations are those in which great diversity and inclusion exists. Great diversity means diversity of race and gender for sure. It also means diversity of generations, political views, and thought processes, to name a few. Ideally, an organization’s board, leadership and management teams should be reflective of the communities and stakeholders they serve. Peak performing teams are those in which healthy debate occur and diversity of thought is valued.

Over 27 years, we’ve studied almost 5,000 failed executive placements and almost half of them fall into the category of cultural misalignment, so it is in fact a very big deal. The thing about culture that many don’t get is that culture is very specific, and it’s not about right or wrong. The behavior that’s revered in one company will get you fired in another. Gallup says that your culture has the ability to enhance your brand, improve business results, and fulfil your organization’s purpose.

When leaders and managers create a clear, consistent, aligned culture that inspires high commitment, employees believe in and live out the organization’s purpose in their daily work. When coaching executives in transition, or who are seeking a new opportunity, I implore them to examine the organization’s culture carefully to ensure alignment. It is important not to take what’s been written on the company’s website regarding culture as gospel. I suggest they talk to several executives within the firm and make sure the stories align.

Boards, leadership, and management teams should make certain the statements they make around culture are clear, and that they make the distinction between reality and aspiration. To say that we aspire to become a company that is truly diverse and inclusive is better than claiming to be one if you’re not there yet. Saying you operate in an environment in which customers and employees are valued and have a new executive discover that shareholder value is all that counts, is bound to confuse, and frustrate newcomers and the workforce as a whole.

Further, make sure that your hiring practices screen for cultural fit. Bring diverse people into your organization who are excited about your purpose, who want to be an integral part of your mission, and who are aligned and passionate about your values. If everyone you recruit brings true diversity, alignment with your purpose, mission, and values, and can deliver on your specific performance expectations, you will be light years ahead of most of your competition.

I hope you’ve found this week’s post helpful. Allen Austin exists to fulfill its purpose, which is to enhance the lives and effectiveness of our associates, clients, and stakeholders. Our solutions are focused on assisting clients in building cultures of peak performance, through our retained search and leadership advisory practices. Please give us a call if we may assist in any way, or if you’d just like a thought partner.

Warmest Regards,

Rob Andrews
Allen Austin
Consultants in Retained Search & Leadership Advisory

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #49 – How Purpose Leads to Effective Cost Leadership


Cost containment has been defined as the practice of recording and controlling expenses to eliminate overspending. Companies like QuikTrip, UPS, Nordstrom, Wegmans, H-E-B, Waste Connections, and Southwest Airlines, all of whom consistently outperform their competitors, define cost leadership as driving costs out of the business that do not serve the company’s purpose or do not enhance stakeholder experience. There are healthy ways to cut costs and there are ways that do untold damage to customer and employee experience and destroy enterprise value. Bad cost-cutting is like cigarette smoking, an unhealthy diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. It won’t kill you quickly, but it will kill you. Good cost-cutting, or cost leadership, doesn’t cut into muscle. Cost leadership leads to delivering more value to customers and employees and supports the organization’s purpose. A couple of examples of each:

Safeway Stores Inc., once one of the finest retailers in the country, began an aggressive cost-cutting initiative in the seventies, that in many ways led to the most dramatic decline of a major retail brand in history. Previously, Safeway had been known for exceptional customer service, great perishable departments, great employees, and squeaky-clean stores. It was aggressive cost-cutting at the expense of the customer and employee experience that led to the long-term decline of its once-great brand. Safeway was one of the first retailers to implement industrial engineering, time studies, and labor scheduling programs. Every division had an industrial engineer whose job it was to find cost-cutting opportunities in every part of the business. The results were high prices, long checkout lines, substandard stores, unhappy employees, and declining revenues. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with cost-cutting initiatives unless they cut in a manner that detracts from the company’s purpose. When Safeway’s cost-cutting became more important than customer experience, the end of a great brand had begun. Between 1983 and 1988, Safeway sold thirteen divisions totaling 1,059 of its 2,500 stores. Safeway subsequently destroyed Genuardi’s, Dominick’s, and Randall’s, with the exact same playbook.

Safeway is not the enemy here. Rather, it is the notion that cost-cutting in and of itself is a sound tactic. It is not. Time and time again, I see great brands slowly self-destruct by losing sight of the purpose that once made them great. This is particularly true in acquisitions, where the acquirer does not understand the business they’ve bought and the customer to whom the business had made promises. Effective cost leadership means saying “No” to costs that do not support the organization’s purpose and enhance its customer and employee experience. The scenario described above plays out over and over, across the globe and it never seems to change. It’s like watching a Hallmark movie. The movie is always pretty much the same. The actors are different, but the storyline is almost identical. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hallmark movies, but they are exceedingly predictable. Unfortunately, we see this cost-cutting movie every day. It’s a horror movie actually. Once great brands, are routinely destroyed by well-intended cost-cutting measures at the expense of customer and employee experience and purpose.

In contrast, H-E-B, one of the foremost cost leaders in the business, has engineered costs out of their business by optimizing supply chain, retail facility, and restocking technologies, while delivering more value to their customers and employees than their competitors. As a customer, you would never know that H-E-B ever thinks about costs. There are always plenty of people on duty to assist customers. You never have to wait in long check-out lines. The stores are clean and attractive, even on Saturday nights after a very busy day. H-E-B has incredibly low prices, on par with Wal-Mart, and significantly below their traditional supermarket competitors. The stores are big, bright, clean, and fun to shop. They donate 5% of pre-tax profits to charitable organizations that focus on hunger relief, education, health, environmental and diversity initiatives. They do not cut costs or corners when it comes to taking care of their customers and communities.

Southwest Airlines is another stellar example of an organization whose purpose drives everything they do, including cost leadership. Southwest’s purpose is to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. They are dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit. Their vision is to be the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline. I continue to be amazed at an airline that leads rather than follows. I’m not naïve enough to think that Gary Kelly and his team at Southwest is ignoring the rest of the airline industry, but they’re not following any of the industry’s contemporary practices. Most airlines have been charging extra for checked luggage for quite some time and several are even beginning to charge for carry-on items. Southwest provides two free checked bags, two free carry-on items, free snacks, and more legroom in its standard seats than United provides in its upgraded seats. As a customer, you might never know that Southwest is relentless about reducing costs by flying only one aircraft, flying point-to-point routes, optimizing equipment utilization, reducing employee turnover, utilizing flexible work rules, and having a workforce that is 45% more productive than most of its competitors.

There is much more to say about effective cost leadership, and we’ll continue to explore this issue in future posts. Cost leadership is one of the nine principles practiced in organizations we’ve studied that consistently and significantly outperform their competitors. It is one of the nine principles that contribute to a culture of peak performance, which is, in our view, the only sustainable competitive advantage.

I hope you’ve found this week’s post helpful. Allen Austin exists to fulfill its purpose, which is to enhance the lives and effectiveness of our associates, clients, and stakeholders. Our solutions are focused on assisting clients in building cultures of peak performance, through our retained search and leadership advisory practices. Please give us a call if we may assist in any way, or if you’d just like a thought partner.

Wishing You All the Best for 2021,







TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #48 – Strengthen Your Employment Brand to Attract Top Talent


Why should an “A Player” who is head down, working hard, not looking for change, and doing a great job for your #1 competitor come to work for you? If your words don’t yet paint a very compelling “Why”, you’ve got work to do. Short of being just plain lucky, if you’re not able to clearly articulate why your next impact player should put down what he or she is working on, and listen carefully, you are destined to select from the ranks of the unemployed, underemployed, and disgruntled.

This year we examined a dozen research studies on attraction and retention. Coca-Cola published one of the earliest such studies during the late 1980s, and it was full of surprises for that time. LinkedIn released a report in 2019 detailing the discoveries from analyzing the behavior of 7 million LinkedIn users and 10,000 people who changed jobs. Workopolis conducted research in 2019 around why people changed employers. Cordant, a global human resources, and payroll services firm conducted a study of job seekers in 2019. Gallup published an extensive study in 2018 around employment trends including how millennials are affecting the workforce. Right Management, who calls itself the world’s leading provider of human capital services, conducted its own 2019 survey on the subject.

As someone who has studied leadership, employment branding, and workforce engagement over four decades, it is clear that the workforce has changed in fundamental ways, as have the key attributes you need to attract the talent. Here are the conclusions we’ve drawn along with some material excerpts from the research:

Culture Matters

To attract the best talent for your organization, clearly articulate what makes your culture attractive and what kind of culture you’re trying to build. “A” Players want to know who you are and why you exist, not just what you do. Impact players want to be a part of an organizational culture, to enjoy and contribute to it. Cultural imperatives include unified leadership, disciplined hiring, leading with purpose, measuring what matters, clarity in communications, customer experience, stakeholder engagement, cost leadership, and innovation.

One great example: QuikTrip, an enigmatic 800 store, 29,000 employee convenience store chain headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma is well-known for having an exceptional culture, driven by its purpose to provide opportunities for employees to grow and succeed. A critically important part of that culture is an employee base that is fully engaged, almost to the point of being fanatical. This incredibly strong culture results in 100 people applying for every job filled, workforce turnover of less than 10% of the global average and per-store profits double its next best competitor. QuikTrip has built a culture of peak performance. Their employment brand is so strong people know about it, admire it, and want to be a part of it.

The Research: The LinkedIn study said that 36% of workers left their employer because of work environment and culture. The Coca-Cola employee engagement study sited lack of recognition for a job well done as #1 and work environment/culture as the #2 reasons employees changed jobs. The Workopolis study cited work environment/culture as the #2 reason people left their jobs, the #2 reason employees began a job search, and the #1 reason for new job acceptance. Work/Life balance was cited as the #3 reason for new job acceptance in the same study. The LinkedIn study said that 39% joined new employers because of alignment with the organization’s overall mission or direction and 32% left because of a lack of recognition for a job well done. 18% of the Cordant respondents cited flexible work hours as a reason for joining new employers. Right Management cites seeking work/life balance as the #4 reason for changing jobs, and better alignment of personal and organizational values as reason #7.

Meaningful and Challenging Work, Purpose and Making a Difference

We all want to be excited and feel great about our work, and yet most of the world’s workforce is disengaged. Talk about why the work at your company matters and why your employees feel challenged and connected. A clue here: It can’t be just about making money.

One great example: Southwest Airlines, the largest and consistently most profitable airline on the planet has a very clear purpose which is to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel (and have fun doing it). Substantially all of Southwest Airlines’ 69,000 employees are engaged and excited by its clear sense of purpose.

The Research: The LinkedIn study said that 41% joined new organizations to make a difference and do meaningful work, 47% joined for more challenging work and 36% left due to the lack of it. The Coca-Cola study cited lack of challenge, meaningful work, and making a difference as reasons #2, 3, and 5 for changing jobs. Right Management cites new challenges as the #1 reason for changing. The Gallup study says the combination of purpose, meaningful work, and making a difference is the #1 reason millennials join organizations. Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chairman and CEO says that in the past, the focus among younger workers was #1 My Future, #2 My Paycheck, #3 My Satisfaction, #4 My Boss, #5 My Annual Review and #6 My Weaknesses. Millennials, workers who either are or will shortly control the global workforce are now focused on #1 My Purpose, #2 My Development, #3 My Coach, #4 My Ongoing Conversations, #5 My Strengths, and #6 My Life. Cordant said that 50% of its respondents joined their new employer for interesting work.

Senior Management Leadership is Key

People rarely join companies. They join leaders and people with whom they are well aligned, and with whom they can make a difference and enjoy themselves. Many organizations are overmanaged and under led. Articulate what great looks like in your organization. Great leadership can be felt and appreciated from the board room to the front lines and the customer base.

One great example: Two CEOs, former Green Bay Packers football players who played in Super Bowls I and II, and now running their own companies, said this of Vince Lombardi: We never felt so loved or cared for by any human being. It was this love that enabled Coach Lombardi to push us to levels we never thought possible. We would absolutely do anything for him.

The Research: The Coca-Cola employee engagement study cited lack of senior management leadership as the #2 reason employees changed jobs. The LinkedIn study said that 41% left because of senior management. Right Management cites ineffective leadership as the #2 reason for changing jobs, a poor relationship with supervision as the #3 reason, and lack of recognition as the #4 reason for changing jobs. The Workopolis study cited difficult boss relationship as the #1 reason people left their job. 30% of Cordant’s respondents joined new organizations for better management, and 27% left for better training and development opportunities. The emerging workforce is looking for different leadership than the workforce of the past. Organizations that will win the hearts and minds of the new workforce will be able to articulate how they develop and coach their emerging leaders by having on-going conversations to help them capitalize on their strengths and enhance their overall lives. Quite a challenge for baby-boomers that grew up in the command-and-control era.

Career Path, Advancement, and Development

The best companies in the world place major emphasis on providing opportunities for employees to grow personally and professionally. Talk about growth opportunities for those who are willing to work hard. Opportunities also for continuing education and development go a long way.

One great example: Because QuikTrip’s purpose is to provide opportunities to grow and succeed, how many stores they open is driven by how many store teams are ready to advance. Substantially everyone in the company has the same career opportunities which are well articulated and are not offered to people from outside the company. Development programs, which are plentiful yet competitive, require peer group recommendation.

The Research: The LinkedIn study said that 45% of respondents left their current employer because they didn’t see an attractive career path, 59% joined their new organization because they saw more opportunity and a more attractive career path and that 47% joined because of better fit for their skills and interests. The Workopolis study cited lack of advancement opportunities as the #4 reason people left their job, the #3 reason for beginning a job search, and the #2 reason for new job acceptance. Cordant said that 59% of their respondents left their employers for better advancement opportunity.

Compensation and Benefits

Compensation and benefits are below the top spot in virtually all studies but in the top five in most. Make certain your salaries, incentives, total cash compensation, and other perks are competitive for your sector. Remember that benefits can include flexible schedules, creative personal time off, and other methods that provide autonomy and balance. Remember that great compensation does not necessarily mean higher base salaries.

One great example: Southwest Airlines’ pilots are far from the most highly compensated pilots in the air. Yet, when considering total compensation, including stock appreciation and profit-sharing, they are extremely well compensated, and they have more fun!

The Research: The LinkedIn study said that 54% joined for better compensation and/or benefits and 34% left because of dissatisfaction with same. The Coca-Cola study cited compensation/benefits as the #7 reason employees changed jobs. The Workopolis study cited compensation/benefits as the #5 reason people left their job and the #5 reason for new job acceptance. Cordant indicated that 56% of its respondents changed jobs for better compensation. Right Management cites better compensation and benefits as the #6 reason for changing jobs. Another Key finding from the LinkedIn Study: A candidate’s biggest challenge is the uncertainty of what it would be like to work for a company. 49 % of job-changers said that the biggest obstacle they faced when considering a new job was the uncertainty of what it’d be like to work for the company.

What does this mean for recruiting top talent? Communicating your company culture to potential candidates is absolutely crucial. How can you accomplish this? Consider allocating space in your budget to make a recruiting video. According to LinkedIn Talent Solutions blog, not only do videos do a better job of engaging candidates, but they also make a company seem “more human and personable”. Bring your company to life with a recruiting video. Answering the “So What” question can be a game-changer for your organization. Having a compelling reason, the best talent available should consider your organization will allow you to sell the opportunity and not the candidate.

Allen Austin exists to fulfill its purpose, which is to enhance the lives and effectiveness of our associates, clients, and stakeholders. Our solutions are focused on assisting clients in building cultures of peak performance, through our retained search and leadership advisory practices. Please give us a call if we may assist in any way, or if you’d just like a thought partner.

Warmest Regards,




TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #47 – Why Reframing the Question is So Important, Especially at the End of 2020

Start with the Why

Simon Sinek says that leaders and companies that start with “Why” are infinitely more able to inspire and engage stakeholders than others. They also make better decisions, formulate better strategy, and execute better. Sinek says that all leaders know what they do, some know how they do it, but precious few know why. He refers to what he calls the Golden Circle, with “Why” in the bullseye, “How” in the middle ring, and “What” in the outer ring. Most leaders, says Sinek, think, act, and communicate from the outside in. Inspired leaders and organizations, those who build greatness, disruptive products, strategies, and cultures of peak performance think from the inside out. They start with “Why.”

We have been in business for almost 25 years and much of our business comes from referrals. One great friend of the firm, an investment banker who has referred mountains of business to us over eighteen years, said to the CEO of a global industrial company: “The reason I keep sending my clients to Allen Austin, instead of to one of the big firms, where my best friend and business schoolmate runs the Houston office, is that I am absolutely confident that regardless of which consultant runs the search or leadership engagement, they are going to go through a disciplined line of questioning, inquiry, and process that extracts from the client exactly what they are trying to accomplish and who and what they need to get there.” Many of our opening questions begin with “Why”.

In working with leaders inside and outside or large and small organizations over four decades, I’ve determined that Sinek is absolutely right. Most of us think from the outside of the Golden Circle in: “What” first, “How” second. Many never get to the “Why”. And therein lies the rub. If we don’t carefully consider the “Why”, we will often miss the point. We will miss the opportunity to consider why we’re in business in the first place, why we exist, why we’re embarking on a new initiative, why we’re restructuring our business, why we’re hiring a new executive, or why we’re staying the course.

The “Why” is a critical element in properly framing every important question. For many years, I was a part of the Vistage community. Vistage is a for-profit organization that recruits senior leaders they call Chairs, who have the skills and attributes necessary to recruit CEOs into peer groups that meet once a month to support one another, challenge assumptions, and process one another’s issues. Major advantages to being a part of a Vistage group include having a safe container in which you can share concerns, challenges, and options, exposure to speakers who bring outside expertise, and having two hours of one-on-one time each month with a Chair, who, in most cases, serves as coach and confidant.

Vistage Chairs are taught to facilitate a process that helps CEOs get clear about exactly why and what they are trying to accomplish. While relatively straightforward, it is a game-changing methodology I’ve seen reframe countless critical questions, thereby sharpening and improving the ultimate outcome. Typically, afternoons are reserved for processing important issues that have been served up in advance by member CEOs. Two hours are reserved. All members must be fully present and no cell phones, side conversations, or multitasking is allowed.

Issue processing at a typical Vistage meeting is a structured and disciplined activity. That way, members who present a business problem are assured they’ll receive actionable feedback from colleagues. I’ve heard members say the proceeding is like having their own private board of advisors. To make sure issue processing is comprehensive in “attacking” all angles, they first address several statements and share the results with others. All issues fit into one of three categories:

Is the issue a…

  1. Problem to be solved
  2. Decision to be made
  3. Action plan to be developed

Members begin by completing the following:

  1. How do I…
  2. The issue/opportunity is …
  3. It is important because …
  4. My goal is …
  5. Relevant background information is …
  6. The options I have considered are …
  7. I am afraid that …
  8. The help I would like from the group is …

After the CEO’s presentation to the group, member CEOs have a specified period of time, usually 45 minutes, to ask clarifying questions. During this period, suggestions and/or solutions are not allowed, only clarifying questions. In my experience, more than half of the clarifying questions start with “Why”. After 45 minutes or so of issue processing, the CEO is given the opportunity to reframe his/her original question. I have been present for no fewer than 300 of these issue processing sessions and never seen the central question remain unchanged.

When we begin a C-level search or strategic leadership engagement, the first questions we ask are all about the “Why”? Why do you want to re-explore your purpose? Why do you feel a need to unify your leadership? Why are you embarking on an initiative to improve communications? Why are you replacing a key executive? And the list goes on. If we don’t ask the right questions, the answers don’t matter. Starting with “Why” and asking the right questions, leads to challenging antiquated assumptions and much better solutions. The end of 2020 is a great time to reframe our critical questions.

Allen Austin exists to fulfill its purpose, which is to enhance the lives and effectiveness of our associates, clients, and stakeholders. Our solutions are focused on assisting clients in building cultures of peak performance, through our retained search and leadership advisory practices. Please give us a call if we may assist in any way, or if you’d just like a thought partner.

Warmest Regards,







Start with the Why

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #46 – Stakeholder Engagement: Six Ways to Finish Strong in 2020!


By Rob Andrews with paraphrased content from Lolly Daskal’s November 2, 2020 article in Inc. Magazine

What a year! A global pandemic none of us saw coming, knew how to deal with, or knew what to expect as a result. Racial unrest at a level we haven’t seen in fifty years. Remote work for much of the global workforce. Economic insecurity at a level we’ve not seen in decades. A political cycle so bizarre many of us wonder if we’re still living in the United States. With all the crap we’ve been through this year, it’s perfectly natural to want to curl up in a fetal position and hope for better times.

Surrounded with forward-thinking, peak performing possibility thinkers, I am reminded that shutting down or retreating will not help. As a matter of fact, it could be fatal to your business, career, or life overall. So much of success in life is about mindset. Hunkering down and hoping for better days is a key ingredient in the recipe for a mediocre 2021 and beyond.

My colleagues and advisors say the best way to set the stage for a successful 2021 is to be on offense. Build momentum during the last few weeks of the year and the first few weeks of 2021, while most of your competition is recovering from hangovers or limping into the new year with timidity, burnout, and reticence. In other words, when half of your competitors have quit or quit trying, there’s more business out there than ever before. There has been no better time than right now to commit to a record-breaking 2021. Here are some nuggets I hope will help.

  1. Assess and Reflect

People find out what they’re made of during crisis—and 2020 provided a plethora of learning opportunities. Unfortunately, most people were so busy getting by that they didn’t take time to reflect on what they learned. One of my CEO buddies who runs a wildly successful midsized engineering firm says that while he certainly wouldn’t want to repeat 2020, it’s viewed as an opportunity to get better. He goes on to say that this is an optimal time to reassess and reflect, particularly for those who assumed new responsibilities amid layoffs and restructuring. In his firm, he and his team say they’re ending 2020 on a high note, principally because of what they’ve discovered. During the last half of 2020, his leadership team has reexamined and realigned about the company’s purpose, mission, values, and strategy. They’ve recognized the need for better diversity and inclusion and begun to make plans to transform themselves. Unable to avoid furloughing 12% of their workforce, they’ve assessed their organization, identified high potentials, and polished up their objectives and key results. They’re excited about 2021 and beyond.

  1. Take Inventory

Whereas taking stock is about uncovering motivations and drivers, taking inventory is about cataloging and celebrating your past and current accomplishments. Make a list of your major wins, the role you played, and the outcome. Think about it like preparing for a presentation to Shark Tank. Chances are you’re a major league superstar and the events of 2020 have temporarily robbed you of your mojo. One of my clients did a whiteboard session with his team and listed every significant team win over the last few years. After the corporate inventory was taken, a facilitator focused on one member at a time, and every leader served up important contributions attributed to each member in the spotlight at the time. Every member of the team walked out of the room re-energized, realigned, and recommitted to a record 2021.      

  1. Commit to Improve Organizational Health

Now this might sound a little too much like a New Year’s resolution, but it’s a great way to infuse purpose and excitement into a team that’s suffering from 2020 PTSD. Organizations we’ve studied for decades that perform at the very top of their sectors are committed to optimal cultural health. They measure their cultural and organizational health, much the same way an internist measures each patient’s physical health. A CEO and his or her leadership team that declares a commitment to optimal cultural health and puts systems in place to track their progress sends a strong signal to the organization that they’re focused on the long term and optimistic about the future.   

  1. Declare a Winning Mindset

Doskall reminds us that when you allow yourself to doubt you’ll ever be able to win again, you’re setting yourself up for the very failure you fear the most. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to reverse your mindset, so try focusing on doing small things well. You don’t have to take on the world–just complete one small task with focus and excellence. That small win can help restore your confidence. And if you repeat it, again and again, one step at a time, suddenly you will have managed what may have felt unmanageable.  Sometimes you may feel like you’re stuck in cement. Nothing you try seems to work. But have you been trying new things, or just variations on the same things that you already know don’t work? To shift your perspective and regain your mojo, try doing old things in new ways. And that means changing the way you look at things. Changing your view and your perspective can help you find new solutions and new confidence.

  1. Stay Far Away from Negativity

Lolly goes on to say that when things are going wrong and you find yourself feeling challenged, a negative attitude is an understandable development. From there, it’s a short jump to engaging in destructive behavior and spending time with people who fuel your negativity and cynicism, and things can quickly spiral out of control. If you are serious about getting back on track you must stay away from negative thinking, negative people, and negative circumstances. Surround yourself with positivity and encouragement.

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. Especially when you’re down, you may judge yourself harshly and speak internally to yourself in terrible ways that you’d never use with anyone else. You can reverse abusive self-talk with the SOS technique: Stop negative thoughts in their tracks to interrupt the cycle, Observe what you are saying to yourself and how it’s making you feel, Shift your cognitive, emotional, and behavioral response by using positive coping skills and techniques.

  1. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Doskall also reminds us that If there’s anything good about temporarily losing your mojo, it’s that it can help you break the cycle of having to know everything, do everything, and be entirely self-reliant. Sometimes the simplest act of asking for help can be the biggest booster in getting your mojo back. Speaking with someone can help you remember who you really are, and it can remind you that even the smartest, the most successful, most accomplished people need the assistance and support of others. If you really want to get back on the horse, work through some or all of these steps–and above all, stay focused on the present and future instead of the past.

Allen Austin exists to fulfill its purpose, which is to enhance the lives and effectiveness of our associates, clients, and stakeholders. Our solutions are focused on assisting clients in building cultures of peak performance, through our retained search and leadership advisory practices. Please give us a call if we may assist in any way, or if you’d just like a thought partner.

Warmest Regards,





TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #45 – Stakeholder Engagement: True Diversity and Inclusion in 2021

Diversity and Inclusion

By Rob Andrews with paraphrased content from various studies around diversity and inclusion

So how do we define diversity in 2021? For decades, we’ve been told that organizations that employ diverse leadership teams perform better. But what does diversity really mean these days? Total diversity now includes gender and race for sure. It also means diversity of thought, generation, culture, hardwiring, nationality, and more. Building a truly diverse leadership team is far more complex and more difficult than most realize, and it affects every sector of the planet: public, private, nonprofit, academic, private equity, and venture capital-backed – the works.

According to the EY 2019 Private Equity Survey, CFOs are finding it increasingly difficult to engage and retain talent. Although private equity can still attract bright, motivated graduates, they are no longer committing to a 25-year career within the industry. Ninety percent of CFOs in the EY (Ernst & Young) survey expect new hires to stay for less than five years which makes developing talent difficult and the logic behind it questionable.

Beyond just hiring great talent, is the need to fully engage truly diverse workforces. Attracting and motivating diverse workers will be key to building the company of the future; and the old, worn-out definition of diversity no longer applies. In the early 1990s, when we spoke of diversity, it was all about gender, race, and affirmative action.  Today, it’s about total diversity: gender, race, ethnicity, geography, generation, sexual orientation, hard wiring, the whole works.

Millennials, for example, (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X and represent the largest generation in history. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.

Jason Dorsey, who has built a wildly successful consulting practice focused on helping us understand, motivate, manage, sell to, communicate with, and otherwise deal with multiple generations says that those who get the generational nuances will win, and those who don’t, won’t. Dorsey’s research facility called the Center for Generational Kinetics has determined that we will be dealing with seven different generations in years to come. Generations, which he says are no longer determined by birth years, but by context and behaviors.

Several important trends have been identified by Dorsey and his team. The first one is diversity. Baby-boomers may yawn at this but they do so at their own peril. The emerging generation is the most diverse in history. What this means is that the only thing the I generation (the emerging generation) notices about diversity is the lack thereof. This generation will not remember a time in which we have not had an African-American president, gay marriage, or Facetime. They will not remember a time in which their school didn’t look like the United Nations. For decades now, diversity has been a good business idea and a sound strategy. Going forward, it’s a necessity.

The second trend Jason’s research has surfaced is technology, but in a much different way than most of us think. Millennials, contrary to popular belief, are not necessarily tech-savvy, they are tech-dependent! U. S. Gen Y numbers approximate 80 million people, the largest in history. These are in fact the folks who are going to be in charge if they’re not already. Dorsey’s research suggests that Gen Y is splitting into two groups. About half are doing what they’ve been told they ought to do, albeit a few years later and within the context of the millennials as you and I think of them. The other half, typically at around age 30, are self-selecting out of the stereotypical millennial group and can no longer identify with them. The group that has self-selected out is becoming increasingly driven to work hard, build businesses, become self-sufficient, and influence others. Now here comes the good part, or the scary part, depending on your perspective. The younger generation is changing the way the older generations operate, and there is no way to avoid it. Dorsey says that not getting this is going to put many companies out of business. He says that smart companies will change the dialogue altogether. Smart companies will no longer talk about the differences between generations, gender, or ethnicity, but will begin to harness the power of the totality of diversity.

Rajeev Vasudeva, CEO of one of the largest leadership consulting firms in the world, opened his 2017 Board Diversity Study by saying: “This last year has seen the world repeatedly proven wrong on predictions for leadership. One thing is clear: There is a need to redefine what great leadership looks like.”

In today’s business environment, a modern organization can only be as successful as its leader’s ability to navigate near-constant change. In our work advising senior executives and boards around the world, we see leaders struggling to find the path to growth and unlocking their organization’s potential through more effective leadership.

What is happening here? We are witnessing a dramatic shift occurring in what it will take to lead the boardrooms and organizations of the future. No one leader can be the catalyst for the entire organization’s success anymore. Leadership today entails moving the focus from individual excellence to building a culture of high-performance teams and collaborative success. This can only be achieved if we cultivate more diverse and inclusive leaders who can recognize and nurture the best in people. Yet despite social and economic progress in other areas of the business world, diversity at the leadership level, particularly in the boardroom, has not kept pace.

In Vasudeva’s Global Board Diversity Analysis, his most comprehensive to date, we see that, sadly, progress is slow. In some countries or regions, there is virtually no improvement. Change in the gender diversity of boards is not occurring at the rate commensurate with how the world is evolving in many other ways.

There are indeed positive gains in the overall picture that should be acknowledged: Vasudeva’s findings show that 84 percent of all large company boards globally (market capitalization of at least EUR 6bn) include at least one woman director, up from 76 percent in 2012. However, our experience and independent research suggest that, for gender diversity to start to have a meaningful impact on governance, a board must have three women directors.

Leaders who can drive sustainable growth today need to be masters at collaboration and make everyone on their teams feel like they belong and can make a real contribution. They must also have the ability to influence diverse constituencies while remaining adaptable and nimble in the face of change. Leaders who bring diverse experiences and perspectives are better positioned to work in these ways.

For diversity to be a source of competitive advantage for the organization, it needs to start at the top with the board. We continue to be an advocate for greater diversity and inclusion on boards, and throughout the leadership ranks.

Boards without diversity can spell disaster. The Volkswagen emissions scandal is well-known. A BBC News article reported:

“We’ve totally screwed up,” said VW America boss Michael Horn, while the group’s chief executive at the time, Martin Winterkorn, said his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public”. Mr. Winterkorn resigned as a direct result of the scandal and was replaced by Matthias Mueller, the former boss of Porsche. “My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned,” Mr. Mueller said on taking up his new post.

The Volkswagen board, which numbered twenty members was a perfect example of what often happens when a board or leadership team lacks diversity. Nineteen out of twenty members were German, and one was Austrian. There were no females, no one under 40, and no Americans, even though 55% of Volkswagen’s market is the United States. Totally homogenous groups often fall victim to groupthink, fail to challenge one another, and have a very myopic view of the world in which they operate.

Presented in this piece are at least five very different perspectives on diversity. You notice that only one spoke of generational diversity. None spoke of hardwiring and thought. The best teams, whether focused on board-related activity, investment strategy or operating tactics are carefully crafted to leverage the broadest possible diversity while being united with a common purpose and vision and holding homogenous values. A tough balancing act for certain.

We hope that this piece has been interesting, thought-provoking, and perhaps even useful.


Warmest regards,



Diversity and Inclusion

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #44 — Why Corporate Purpose Initiatives Fail


By Rob Andrews with paraphrased content from Lisa Earle McLeod’s December 2, 2020 article in Harvard Business Review.

I read Lisa Earle McLeod’s article on Purpose in today’s HBR with great interest. Lisa notes that many organizations are shifting to what she refers to as a purpose-driven strategy, which as she states, can be an effective north star in helping guide employees. She goes on to say that as the purpose movement goes mainstream, the pressure for organizations to deliver on their purpose is high.

“An effective organizational purpose acts as the strategic north star for the organization. It defines how you make a difference to your customers and the world. Yet too often purpose gets slapped onto a T-shirt and relegated to HR or social responsibility teams and fails to deliver the financial return that copious amounts of research have shown is possible. As a growing chorus of customers, employees, and investors ask organizations, “Do you have a purpose, or do you just sell stuff?” leaders find themselves challenged to make their purpose more than a tagline.”

McLeod, who has worked in the area of Purpose for a decade observes three stumbling blocks that cause purpose initiatives to fail.

  1. A lack of qualitative metrics,
  2. A failure to infuse purpose into the sales function, and
  3. Missing the opportunity to activate purpose in your employees.

I am in complete agreement with Lisa’s research and applaud the way she articulates these three stumbling blocks. I’d like to make a few important observations from our research around purpose going back to 1970.

I don’t like referring to Purpose as an initiative. Initiatives are typically acts, strategies, or fresh approaches intended to improve an organization or situation. Thinking of purpose as an initiative suggests that it is something that can be implemented, and I don’t think that’s the case.

For example, our firm’s Purpose is To Enhance the Lives and Effectiveness of our Associates, Clients, and Stakeholders. Everything we do is driven by purpose. All of our solutions are based on Total Performance Leadership (TPL), which is the result of Allen Austin’s commitment to making this world a better place. With 90% of the world’s workforce disengaged, and a broken executive hiring process that results in almost 50% failure, we believe this work is desperately needed. Clearly, the opportunity is significant to make a better, more productive global workforce. And we decided as a group that we have the ability, and indeed the responsibility, to help break the cycle. It is literally the reason we exist.

Tulsa-based QuikTrip, quite possibly the best run small box retailer on the planet, has a simple but powerful Purpose, To Provide Opportunities for Employees to Grow and Succeed. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines’ Purpose is to Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel, and have fun doing it. In both cases, these companies exist to fulfill their purpose, and every single thing about them, including their vision, values, and strategy flow from their core purpose. Purpose then is more about being, rather than doing.

No amount of reading or studying can take the place of becoming totally immersed in your own process, and spending time with those who have lived and experienced the benefits of practicing these principles. The things that we’re learning from incredible leaders who’ve led their own organizational transformations are astounding. And what’s even more amazing is that this group of phenomenal leaders has been willing and eager to share their “secret sauce” because they fully support our effort to help others build extraordinary organizations. One CEO I interviewed in 2014 said of leaders who aspire to drive their organizations with purpose, “I know they don’t get it when they ask me how long it’s going to take to implement this”. Purpose is not an initiative you implement, rather it is something that has to be discovered and then lived.

Our research confirms that driving your business with purpose can produce extraordinary results and deliver superior shareholder returns. The findings are irrefutable: organizations that are truly purpose-driven outperform their next best peers by 25% or more, deliver substantially higher customer satisfaction, have employees that are engaged and satisfied, experience dramatically lower workforce turnover, a higher degree of strategic clarity, and much more effective execution.

Leaders of purpose-driven organizations have made a commitment and a decision to start a journey that never ends. They’ve discovered a purpose greater than just making money. They’ve conceived and instilled vision, mission, values, and strategy that energize and engage the entire workforce, not just the shareholders. They’ve figured out ways to measure the things that matter most including employee engagement and customer delight. They’ve committed to being the best in their sector and they’ve removed cost from their enterprises where the customer can’t see it.

We reject that people work only for pay and extrinsic rewards; that they need close monitoring, constant supervision, rules, and confining policies. We know, through our research, observation, and study, that when organizations share a purpose greater than just making money, and engage their entire workforces, they produce substantially higher returns for their shareholders and have a lot more fun doing it. Purpose-driven organizations place their customers and employees first, and shareholders next. They lead with values and standards, not rules and policy manuals. They measure things that matter, and lead to superior shareholder returns: Leadership, Employee Engagement, Customer Delight Strategic Clarity and Execution Excellence.

Purpose-driven organizations look and feel good; the deeper you look, the better the view. Beyond exceptional returns, you’ll see trust, smiling faces, exceptionally low turnover, spirited and healthy debate, systems that are driven by purpose, frontline employees who sound like company spokespersons and delighted, evangelistic customers. TPL organizations have frontline employees and customers who tell stories about them and are in fact their most effective salespersons.

It’s tempting to think of purpose as a corporate communication that cascades down. But leaders must go beyond messaging to activate purpose in the hearts and minds of their teams. EY CEO Carmine Di Sibio notes, “We have ingrained our purpose (‘Build a better working world’) into what every individual is doing on a day-to-day basis.” For example, an auditor can look at his or her daily tasks and identify how each one makes the working world better. You can do the same with your team. Ask your people: How does our work make a difference? How do we positively impact our clients, our team, and our community? What role do you play in delivering on our purpose?

Asking people to identify their own connection to your purpose (versus telling them) takes your purpose from corporate mantra to personal ownership. This creates a mental map of a connection to a higher calling that your team members can use to reset themselves during times of change and uncertainty.

Helping companies large and small, private and publicly-owned, discover their purpose, vision, mission, values, and strategy is something we’ve done for a while. We go a step further and stick around to help them implement and execute their strategies and fill key leadership roles within their organizations.

For more information on building purpose-driven cultures of peak performance, please give me a call.

Warmest Regards,




TPL Insights: Building Peak Performance Cultures #43 – A Thanksgiving Case for Gratitude


There is no better time of the year to express gratitude than Thanksgiving. A blinding flash of the obvious, right? Less obvious is how a daily commitment to gratitude makes for a better leader on many levels. The effects of gratitude were studied in the works of Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California, Davis. Emmons studied the impact of gratitude on physical health, psychological well-being, and our relationships with others. Immersed in this work for over a decade, Emmons found that gratitude comes with benefits few realize.

Practicing gratitude leads to better physical health. Being thankful, even during days when things are not going your way, lowers stress. Operating under a constant state of stress bathes your organs with a constant solution of cortisol and adrenaline which will ultimately burn them out and ruin your health. Hard-charging leaders need to be diligent about practicing gratitude and maintaining a sense of optimism. 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year, so gratitude and optimism may not be top of mind, but they are necessary. Emmons found that people who set aside time each day to reflect and give thanks have stronger immune systems, fewer aches and pains, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass indices. They also tend to exercise more and enjoy more consistent restorative sleep.

There are plenty of psychological benefits as well. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Emmons has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. While these are things anyone can enjoy, they’re particularly useful for leaders. When we’re thankful and optimistic, others gravitate towards us. Being approachable and inviting is key when attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent. Try these simple things to allow gratitude to enhance your leadership.

Schedule Time Every Day to Reflect and Express Gratitude

With everything you have on your plate, this one might seem difficult. If you block out a specific time to practice gratitude, it will soon become a habit. You can up your awareness by scheduling time to reflect with gratitude during a break. Consider a meditation-moment by closing your eyes and thinking about any pleasant surprises you’ve experienced so far. Imagine what life would be like without your valued colleagues. Consider how well your business is doing — and the thanks should go to your customers, employees, and your community.

Celebrate the First Downs along with the Touch Downs

We all love celebrating significant milestones, and you definitely shouldn’t stop doing that. But the massive breakthroughs don’t happen daily. However, each day you encounter smaller victories and happy moments. With that in mind, if you catch a team member doing something awesome, don’t hesitate to let them know you like that and appreciate their efforts. Those seemingly unimportant words of encouragement will add-up over time. Compliments should be authentic and genuine. Keep in mind the importance of eye contact, an actual win, a real compliment. When your efforts are genuine, it makes the other person feel like a million bucks and becomes natural to you. Examples could be complimenting your colleagues on their sense of humor, asking questions, always arriving early, or taking the initiative. Other options could be recognizing how helpful someone on the team is to others — their positive attitude, and their creativity or knowledge.

Be Grateful for the Entire Team

Every workplace has a “rockstar.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, you don’t want to always shine the spotlight on them. Give a shoutout to the back-up-singers, the backing band, and roadies as well. Recognize your support columns, not just your angel-corbels at the top. Take a real interest in your teammates.  Take a couple of minutes to shoot the breeze with them. Some of your employees have no one but their work team to lean on. Send an email, shoot out a quick message — do something. Ask your team questions so you get to know who they are. Inquire about how they’re doing, and what they’re into and thinking about. It’s a simple way to show that you care about them as a person and that they’re a part of your community.

Provide Opportunities for Growth and Success

Research from ClearCompany shows that 76% of employees want opportunities for career growth. Provide them with personal and professional learning opportunities. Examples are online classes, workshops, or the chance to participate in an industry conference. When employees can voice their opinions and share their ideas, they feel more valued. It’s also another way to express your gratitude since it lets them know that you want them involved in big decisions and successes.

Stay Focused on a Culture of Peak Performance

Finally, focusing on building a culture of peak performance will make your team happier, more fulfilled,  productive, creative, collaborative, and profitable. Being deliberate and articulate about the culture you’re trying to build and engaging your workforce in the process will add tremendous enthusiasm and make your employees feel more like owners.

From our research here at Allen Austin, we know that employees in organizations driven by strong purposeful cultures are exceeding grateful. Leaders in these companies are relentlessly focused on building culture, and communicating so that all their employees believe what they are saying, know where they are going, and that there is something in it for them. Companies with purposeful cultures make more money, deliver more value, and have more fun. In these kinds of rare cultures, gratitude abounds.

 For more information on building cultures of peak performance, please give me a call.

Warmest Regards,




TPL Insights – Building Peak Performance Cultures #42 – Time to Change the Way We Prepare Business School Grads

By Rob Andrews with paraphrased content from Warren Bennis and James O’Toole in the October 2005 edition of Harvard Business Review

Fifteen years ago, Warren Bennis and James O’Toole published an article in the Harvard Business Review in which they said that business schools were on the wrong track.  That they were facing intense criticism for failing to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders, and failing to instill norms of business etiquette and ethical behavior. They believed that was because the curriculum was the effect, not the cause, of what ails the modern B-School. Fifteen years later, we see little improvement.

Gartner conducted a study between June and August 2020, in which an overwhelming majority of 750 CHROs (68%) cited building critical skills and competencies as their number one priority in 2021. The survey found that the other top HR priorities for 2021 are organizational design and change management at 46%, current, and future leadership bench at 44%, the future of work at 32%, and employee experience at 28%. CHROs also ranked their top business-level priorities for 2021, with 65% selecting ‘improving operational excellence’. Growing the business and executing business transformations were selected by 64% and 54% of respondents, respectively. None of these objectives can take place without a skilled and engaged workforce.

Allen Austin completed a six-month-long multi-faceted study (Organizational Health Index) in November of 2020, for The McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. One of the central research questions was around how institutions of higher learning can deliver a better-prepared graduate. We engaged over 300 CHROs, CEOs, and business leaders across the country,  to determine which attributes and skills were most needed in today’s business environment, the importance of each, and the degree to which today’s workers are exceeding, meeting, or falling short of the business community’s expectations.

There are Major Disconnects

Our study revealed major disconnects between what business leaders expect from college and B-School prepared workers and what they’re getting. The top ten most desirable attributes and/or skills, compared to the degree to which grads are delivering are:

The Challenges Ahead

When you combine the findings of all three studies, it spells big challenges and even bigger opportunities for leaders and organizations that can get ahead of the curve. For the last 6 ½ years, we’ve been studying organizations that perform at the very top of their sectors and building diagnostics along with developing an architecture to assist our clients in building cultures of peak performance. Our research suggests that a healthy culture of peak performance is the only sustainable competitive advantage there is, and you can’t build one without the right workforce.

Too many of today’s institutions have quietly adopted an inappropriate—and ultimately self-defeating—model of academic excellence. Instead of measuring themselves in terms of the competence of their graduates, or by how well their faculties understand important drivers of business performance, they measure themselves almost solely by the rigor of their scientific research. They have adopted a model of science that uses abstract financial and economic analysis, statistical multiple regressions, and laboratory psychology.

But business is not an academic discipline. Business is a profession, like medicine and the law, and business schools are professional schools—or should be. Today, the objective of most business schools is to conduct scientific research. We believe it is necessary to strike a new balance between scientific rigor and practical relevance.

The Problem is not Scientific Rigor but the Absence of Real-World Teaching

Rebalancing runs against the perceived self-interest of many professors, not to mention the seemingly unstoppable trend in academia toward specialization. We believe the most effective levers for overcoming this resistance are personnel policies related to recruitment, promotion, tenure, and other academic rewards. Instead of blindly following the paths forged by trade schools or traditional academic departments, business schools must create their standards of excellence. However, many business school leaders now say their universities are forcing them to adopt the same standards for hiring and promotion used by graduate departments in the hard sciences. In our view, this is often an excuse for maintaining a dysfunctional (but comfortable) system. Other professional schools have carved out standards that are appropriate for their various professions; now business programs must have the courage to do the same.

 What We Can Do in the Short Term

 In the short term, organizations and business leaders who aspire to build cultures of peak performance and deliver exceptional shareholder returns are simply going to have to bridge the gap. Recognizing the problem is the first step. Better screening, better training, better development, and better mentoring will go a long way. Identifying and developing high potential workers, particularly those who are reticent to self-promotion, is more critical than ever.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll dig deeper into what is needed to build cultures of peak performance. We would also love to be your thought partner and suggest solutions customized to help you achieve your business objectives in 2021.

If you would like to see a copy of our graduate study, please let me know.

Warmest Regards,