The Conversations That Transform Business Performance Every Day. Expert Interview With Sandy Richardson

Sandy Richardson

SANDY RICHARDSON is a recognized expert in the areas of strategic planning, strategy mapping, performance measurement and management, accountability and governance framework development, and organizational alignment.

Why you should listen to her:

Sandy is a business performance management professional who believes that every organization deserves to be the best that it can be and has a true passion for working with visionary business leaders and engaged employees to achieve their business performance objectives.

Sandy has over 20 years of business performance leadership experience, including 7 years of hands-on strategy creation and execution, and balanced scorecard management leadership at companies such as the Canada Life Assurance Company and Barrick Gold Corp, and 12 years as a strategic planning and strategy execution advisor in both the public and private sectors. She is currently focused on helping business leaders and their teams achieve exceptional business performance results by helping them pinpoint and overcome their strategy execution challenges quickly, effectively, and permanently.

Sandy is a frequent conference speaker and regular blogger, commenting on the process and benefits of strategy execution excellence and building a strategy-focused organization.

Sandy Richardson is the author of the books Business Results Revolutions and The Practical Guide to Strategy Mapping.

Learn more about Sandy Richardson


Mirla Ferreira: Hi Sandy, when we read your book Business Results Revolutions, we understand that sustainable success is achieved through focused conversations that answer the right questions. Can you tell us more about this approach?

Sandy Richardson: A critical first step in achieving business success is knowing the right questions to ask. When I say “right” I mean the questions that are focused on ensuring that your company is optimally positioned to achieve maximum customer and financial results and success. Of course, I believe that the three questions outlined in Business Results Revolution are the essential “right” questions!

Once you have those questions in place, you need to answer them – HOW you go about answering the questions is, in my opinion, more important than the answers themselves! When you look at successful organizations you see that they put a great deal of effort into the how of answering the questions and their preferred method is through conversation. That is, they engage people inside and outside their organization in a two-way dialogue that enables thoughtful discussion and the exchange of ideas in response to each business question. Besides ensuring that an organization has the best possible answers to the right business questions, conversations inspire high levels of commitment and emotional investment by employees and customers alike. This, in turn, translates into better customer outcomes and better business results.

Research has shown that successful organizations employ an integrated process of conversation that features four important elements: intentionality (they have a clear purpose), intimacy (they enable mental and emotional closeness), interactivity (they include an exchange of ideas), and inclusion (they enable people to participate in determining the topic of discussion). When conversations include all of these elements, you will notice a significant improvement in the confidence you have in your company’s responses to the key business questions.

Everyone in an organization should be encouraged to develop conversation leadership capabilities. The good news is that conversation is a skill that can be learned. As people across your organization develop their conversation skills, the quality of the answers will improve. And there is a direct relationship between the quality of the answers to the business questions and the level of the business results achieved.

Engaging in conversation as an organization on an ongoing basis helps a company ensure that the answers to its critical business questions are always current and relevant. Conversation helps companies succeed by giving employees a venue to highlight what is and isn’t working, to learn and innovate together, and to get on the same page so that they can move forward together. This capability translates into a more efficient and capable organization. Conversation with customers allows companies to remain responsive and relevant to the changing needs of their customers – a capability that is critical for staying ahead of the pack in a competitive marketplace.

The reward for making conversation the centrepiece of your approach to strategy creation and management is an energized and focused workforce and organization that is a customer magnet because it delivers high levels of customer value, consistently and reliably (a key differentiator in almost every marketplace you can think of), generating high levels of customer loyalty, business performance, and growth.

Mirla Ferreira: I hear people talking about their goals all the time, but they seem to resist any action to put into practice these goals.  This also happens to organizations. What are the basic points to consider when we try to put the strategy in action?

Sandy Richardson: There are so many things that get in the way of strategy execution but here are three “must have” success secrets I’ve discovered over time:

Involve people in creating the strategy, activities, and goals/results you want to hold them accountable for. People are more open to doing things when they participate in creating/defining them. Why? Because they understand where they came from, how they fit into the big picture, and how they contribute to success. When this is clear to people it’s easier for them to get behind what they are being asked to do. Also, when employees are involved, it’s more likely that the goals and actions that are created are more achievable – many times business strategies are so high level that it’s hard to see how to put them into action or the actions that get defined are too stretch for the organization to realistically achieve. Employee involvement in developing action plans can help eliminate this problem. Finally, I find that involving employees in the strategy process builds their passion for achieving the intended results – it’s easy to put strategy into action when you are emotionally invested!

Assign clear accountabilities and then reward people when they come through. Sometimes ownership for getting things done is unclear – when this happens, it’s no wonder that strategy-critical activities don’t get completed! Establishing clear performance expectations and assigning responsibility and accountability to specific people are the first steps in enabling successful strategy execution. Formalizing these accountabilities in personal goal plans puts greater emphasis on the importance of getting things done successfully and opens the door to rewarding people for delivering on their accountabilities through your employee performance management process. When accountabilities are formalized in this way, organizations stand a much better chance of successfully translating their strategy into action.

Give employees (and your organization) the resources needed to execute your strategy. Too many times I see organizations establish a new strategic direction without thinking through what the organization needs to do to achieve that strategy. Many times successful strategy execution requires an organization to do new things or do existing things at a new level. It’s often not realistic to expect that existing resources and capabilities will be sufficient to enable new levels of performance. This usually requires investment in additional tools and resources and/or investment in training and building new employee/organizational capabilities. In the end, it doesn’t matter how accountable your employees are – if they don’t have access to the resources they need to execute your strategy well, your strategy execution efforts will be sub-optimized.

For most organizations, if they focused on doing these three things well they would be in a much better position when it comes to strategy execution.

Mirla Ferreira: Why is so important the answer to the third question: “Are you sure”?

Sandy Richardson: It is always important to confirm or validate that your organization is actually doing what it said it was going to do AND that doing what you said you were going to do is actually translating into desired customer and financial results. Asking and answering the question “Are we sure?” helps you do just this.

It actually turns out the “Are we sure?” question is really three questions:
“Are we sure that our organization is positioned to execute our strategy as planned?”
“Are we sure that our company is actually executing our strategy as planned?”, and
“Are we sure that our customer value proposition is producing loyal customers?”

Answering these questions helps you assess how your company is currently doing and identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. When you have this information you can take focused action that will translate into higher levels of customer and business performance.

However, it’s not good enough to guess at your answers to the three “Are we sure?” questions – you’ve got to know the answers for certain. The best way to do this is through a combination of measurement and conversation.

While measuring results gives you good information to start with, measurement isn’t always as powerful as you might think. It rarely gives us the insights we need into what is really going on. That’s where conversation comes in. Conversation adds depth and insight to measurement results, giving you the confidence you need to answer the three “Are we sure?” questions and take appropriate action if needed.

Mirla Ferreira: Thank you so much for your time, Sandy!”

Now it’s time to take some action. I want to see how many companies want to focus their strategic models in strategy conversations!

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Mirla Ferreira

Mirla Ferreira

Project Management Consultant & Trainer at Emeteclass. She focuses on helping companies to implement a consistent Project Management process using international best practices. She also is Co-founder and speaker at The 1st Floor Challenge. Say hi to her anytime @mirlaferreira. Linkedin profile.