2019: Courage, focus, and the fork in the road

2019: Courage, focus, and the fork in the road

Yogi Berra, the timeless philosopher and all-star catcher for the New York Yankees, famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” While his phrasing might not have passed the scrutiny of a high-school English teacher, Yogi’s notorious sayings never lacked for passion or meaning. And this quote hits a home run in terms of helping companies deal with their biggest challenge: creating a flexible strategy to power growth in 2019 and beyond.

In baseball, the catcher is the on-field leader, consulting with the coach, setting the infield and advising the pitcher. This natural gift for communication might explain how Yogi, in just 12 words, gave us such a useful model for addressing business purpose and change.

  1. The road: The choice of path that your organization will travel to make the most meaningful impact on its customers represents your strategy.
  2. The fork: How your organization manages ongoing choices and opportunities represents your tactical and operating plan.
  3. Take it: All organizations need a succinct framework and set of criteria to quickly assess new options. This is your decision-matrix, which incorporates strategic, financial and go-to-market benchmarks.

These three simple steps enable us to analyze opportunities at many different levels. They help us to balance the big picture and the details; act on those details in the most innovative way; and make the most of our limited resources.

There’s just one problem. In my experience, most organizations don’t recognize when they’ve reached a fork in the road, because they’ve never committed to a focused vision or an aligning strategy. Without this consensus, an organization is a traveler with a map, but no destination – making every fork in the road a potential peril.

I used to think this was just an issue for entrepreneurs: people who live by the gut, chase shiny objects and hold their breath. But, over my 17 years at Spyder Works, I’ve found ambiguity and hope influencing organizations of all sizes. At a recent meeting where I challenged the clarity of an organization’s vision statement, one senior executive actually said, “We wanted to keep it a little vague so as not to box ourselves into a corner.”

My direction? “Don’t be vague. You have to be fearless, focused and disciplined.”

Your organization can’t begin to be fearless, focused or disciplined if its leaders can’t describe what it is, what it does best, and why.  Leaders need to figure out what business they are really in, who their markets are, and what those markets really need. Yet most still work through guessing and assuming.

This is why many businesses get stuck running what already is, instead of understanding and innovating what could be. For instance, someone, somewhere, once asked: Can a gas station sell more than gas? Is a corner store in the business of selling milk, snacks and cigarettes – or does it provide a web of convenience for busy customers?

Strategic thinking begins by questioning the status quo. If you’re selling gas and sundries, it’s hard to differentiate commodity products – but you can deliver a difference through time and convenience. That’s why we have seen gas stations turn into multipurpose convenience centers selling fresh coffee and hot snacks, complete with drive-thrus, ATMs, lotto centers and grocery sections. This evolution is even evident in the branding, with new logos such as ExxonMobil’s “On the Run” aiming to build brand equity in the corner-store sector.

If you don’t understand what your customers value, and how you solve their problems, then it’s hard to determine which assets and ideas will get your organization where it needs to go. Or as Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”

Fortunately, it’s not that hard for organizations to rediscover their purpose and chart new paths. At Spyder Works, we’ve built a team of experienced business professionals who have helped their own organizations strategically expand their impact. In just the past year, we have helped clients find many ways to break through market clutter to achieve success:

  • Continuing an ambitious growth plan with a leading retailer to increase revenue by 50% in less than five years;
  • Beating a longstanding retail sales record for a mass consumer brand by a full 25% in only the 2nd year after launch;
  • Developing a targeted digital marketing strategy with one of Canada’s largest retailers that improved monthly sales performance by 20%;
  • Working with a financial-industry association to address the sector’s aging workforce with a platform that attracts new entrants and helps them build more fulfilling careers;
  • Designing and implementing a 12-month onboarding program that boosted employee effectiveness from Day 1;
  • Creating a holistic growth and transformation model, including quantitative and qualitative metrics and operational support, to help a client achieve its growth targets;
  • Combining journey mapping with customer insights to improve a national retailer’s overall customer experience;
  • Helping a wellness organization uncover and implement innovations in product, service and process.

These are just a handful of the benefits that accrue when companies figure out what paths to follow and how to navigate forks. With such skills, 2019 can be a year of courage, discipline and growth for any organization.

How to get started? Yogi Berra got it right again: “Somebody’s gotta win, somebody’s gotta lose. Don’t fight about it. Just try to get better.”

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Spyder Works teams up with ICG to amplify “Ecosystems of Opportunity”

Spyder Works teams up with ICG to amplify “Ecosystems of Opportunity”

For more than a decade, Spyder Works has been a leader in studying and applying intrapreneurship best practices. Now we are pleased to announce a collaboration that will enable us to better deliver intrapreneurship knowledge and training locally and worldwide.

Earlier this year, Spyder Works forged a collaboration with Internal Consulting Group (ICG), a growing global network of more than 4,000 consulting and training specialists. ICG’s commitment to organizational change, thought leadership and the process of innovation makes it an ideal partner to further Spyder Works’ intrapreneurship revolution.“Intrapreneurship is the most powerful innovation tool we have, because it solves businesses’ two biggest problems at once,” says Spyder Works CEO Ken Tencer. “Intrapreneurship empowers people throughout an organization to generate ideas for positive, lasting change. And this mindshift produces dramatically higher levels of employee engagement and retention.”

“We’re delighted to partner in this groundbreaking work,” says Gerry Purcell, ICG’s Global Partner responsible for its North American business. “Spyder Works’ leadership in business transformation will appeal to organizations all over the world that are looking for more effective ways to master continuous innovation and attract and retain their best talent.”

And that’s not just the usual press-release blather. The two organizations first got to know each other in 2016, when ICG named Ken Tencer a Global Thought Leader for Innovation and Intrapreneurship – an honour accorded only to individuals who “have proven themselves in the application of management science to business problems on a significant scale.”

The two organizations will jointly promote Spyder Works’ intrapreneurship programming. While the programs will initially be delivered by Spyder Work’s executive team, Purcell and Tencer look forward to training new teams from ICG’s global network of senior, experienced practitioners. “As demand grows,” says Tencer, “we will be proud to partner with ICG’s proven change-makers to ensure our approach to intrapreneurship reaches all the organizations that need it.”

Purcell believes that innovation execution is the key challenge facing business today. “The world is changing way faster than it used to, and organizations are struggling to keep up,” he says. “The problem isn’t a lack of ideas, it’s knowing what to do with an idea when you have it.”

A recent survey by the global Intrapreneurship Conference ( found that only 5% of organizations are seeing significant returns from intrapreneurship. Spyder Works’ process institutionalizes profitable change by helping visionary senior executives take ideas to market with entrepreneurial employees through a process of guided risk-taking. “This isn’t just about learning,” says Tencer. “We create productive new relationships and advance your business strategy.”

Spyder Works’ programs are delivered by its education division, Icicle Learning. Intrapreneurship programs are offered in three formats: as one-day introductory workshops, five-day “sprints,” and longer-term immersive formats with available coaching and consulting support to move your business today. All sessions include preparatory research into clients’ organizations to ensure all learning relates to their objectives and their market.


The power of intrapreneurship is its ability to address both short- and long-term needs. “We can help drive short-term returns with the sprint forward,” says Tencer. “But we can also inform one- to two-year initiatives and create an ecosystem of opportunity that will underlie long-term strategic projects.”

As ICG partners with select thought leaders around the globe, this agreement marks an exciting opportunity for Spyder Works. Says Tencer: “We see this as one more exciting step towards Spyder Works’ vision of becoming the business consultancy of choice for mid-market organizations and intrapreneurs globally.”

For more information on Spyder Works intrapreneurship programs,
contact Ken Tencer at

For more information on Icicle Learning,
contact Vivian Hisey at

For more information on ICG,
contact Gerry Purcell at


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The Accountability Paradox

nickelsThe process starts with asking the tough question: Just what are your people accountable for?

It sounds easy: Lydia’s accountable for sales. Bogdan is accountable for production. But before you can hold people accountable, you need to do two things. You need to be able to measure the outcomes of each task or function, to ensure you can actually determine success. And you need to be sure these people actually control the decision-making related to the objectives they’re accountable for.

These are systems that all successful companies should have in place to ensure they continue to thrive as they grow. But in my experience, few companies have the patience to do so. Building the right systems is demanding, detailed work. But those companies that don’t master the accountability paradox give up their ability to tie inputs to output. They end up settling for sub-par efficiency. And their key people will be working harder than necessary to succeed – because they don’t know the right buttons to push when it’s time to take action.

Here’s a real-life example of the problem. I was working with a company that thought it had a problem with frontline supervision. “They’re not being accountable for their performance,” my contact said. So I said, “Show me where it’s written down what the supervisors are responsible for.” He couldn’t do that. There were no responsibilities written down. But unless you can document these policies for all to see, how can you hope to achieve your goals – or hold people accountable for them?

Here’s the right way to make people accountable:

  1. If you are accountable for an outcome, it has to be measurable. It has to be numerical. (The word “count” is the key to “accountable.”) For instance, when you make someone accountable for health and safety at your plant, you monitor performance through the number of days lost due to accidents, or some similar metric.
  2. Clarify responsibility. You can’t hold someone accountable for production if they have no control over equipment, tooling or maintenance. Assign accountability to those who actually make the decisions.
  3. Measure the right things. More production doesn’t help if you’re making the wrong thing. Additional sales aren’t productive if production and delivery cost more than the sale price. I once worked with a company that valued sales volume above everything. They didn’t notice that the sales team was pushing through orders that weren’t exactly what the customers needed – which mean they required costly modifications. The company was losing money on each order, while the sales staff were earning bonuses.

Getting started in this work is tough. You can’t just hand it off to HR – they don’t understand the business impact of every decision. So each department has to work closely with HR to ensure they review each manager’s responsibilities, fairly resolve overlapping jurisdictions, and assign appropriate accountabilities. Each manager and executive can probably take responsibility for three to five measurable KPIs (key performance indicators). More than that is usually asking too much.
Finally, make sure your people know that accountability is a positive thing. You’re not out to punish people for underperformance. The reason you hold people accountable is to set them up for success. KPIs are for problem-solving; they tell us where to improve when something isn’t working.

The only point of measuring is to let us know when and where to take action.

Where there is no accountability, no one knows what’s not working, or how to fix it. As a result, the wrong people will be working overtime to solve the problem, while the key decision makers get off scot-free. Doing things right takes time and effort at the start, but it always pays off in the long run.

Does any of this sound too familiar? Are you seeing similar problems in your organization? Contact me for a free consultation. Revisiting accountability may be a huge opportunity for your business. I’d be pleased to help you get

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