Icebreaker Executive Learning and War Stories from 2013 

1.            Are You Aligned With Your Target Customers?

McKinsey surveyed 90 Fortune 500 businesses.  They found that most b2b propositions were misaligned with what their customer’s valued.

It is easy to lose that intimate and honest contact with customers and become blind to what is familiar?   This familiarity can disastrously undervalue the profitable core of our businesses…

“Even though an aerospace business had earned huge technological competitive advantage they took their core business for granted and diversified from it.  They also undersold the value in their core business.”

icebreaker executive engage with businesses that cannot see or need help to resolve their performance issues.  Then implement the changes.   It follows that icebreaker engage in unfamiliar territory or in a customer blind spot?   If the customer is unaware of their scenario how do we define when to use us?

“A print business lost sight of the aspects of their business that were difficult to replicate. These aspects defined the justifiable and defendable margin.”

Since 2006 icebreaker has focussed on our differentiator “transforming capability concurrently with change or strategy execution”.    Icebreaker rely on communicating the extraordinary customer testimonies and sharing our learning to communicate what we do.

Research shows 65% of the best executors of strategy have financial performance well above average.


What do your customers value most about your offering and how do you derive value from it?

“The Print, Aerospace, Building, and Electronics Business lost their focus on selling value which caused them ALL to focus on lower value add areas to the detriment of their core businesses.”

2.            Icebreaker Strategy Execution Survey Results


Reflecting on the icebreaker survey results:

“The How and the what:”    The icebreaker survey illustrated that creating value during change is about the “HOW” not the “WHAT”.   And ensuring the right people are on the bus.

“Creating more time:”    Major strategic change depends upon concurrently improving productivity and the business process.  This improvement creates the space and time to execute change.   (Icebreaker as operations experts give this away free of charge!)

“A large format print business lost control of the financials.  This created such a distraction and stress which prevented them selling the business value and sustaining margins. The directors buried their heads in the sand working on the shop floor.”  The sales force were liberated, simple finacial controls established and business process put in and a 6m pipeline of high margin business was created in a few months. ”

“A fast growth building company grew on the back of differentiated service but margins, people interaction and flawed business process made the service delivery unsustainable.”   The business process, financial governance and structure is now in place and roadblocks to growth removed.”

“Humility and I am cleverer”:   In terms of being effective at leading change – paradoxically humility is the key differentiator.

“A major UK VC invited us to transform a culture in a VC portfolio business.  Their selection criterion for recruitment was centred upon verbal and numerical reasoning.    This internal norm reinforced the root cause of the very same cultural issue.    “The culture I’m cleverer than you” was at the root cause of their cultural issue.   The VC had created this and was blind to it.   This is a fundamental catch 22 cultural issue.    The culture won’t change as they chose to continue to recruit in this way as per their norm.”    The answer to changing the culture lay in bringing some different types of people into this business.”

Engagement:  The ability to transforming a business resides in recognising the complexity of executing strategy, how people: engage, their diversity and strengths, the organisation, and the way your people work together.

“The executive owners’ management style and lack of structure in their electronics business prevented employees from performing and prevented them retaining or attracting the best staff.   This caused sales to drop by 50% and huge month on month losses.    The answer was to get the organisation, trust and delegation right. The business returned to profit in 2 weeks, with a pipeline of work expected to improve the cash position by £1m by year end.”

Aspirations vs. capability:   My experience shows that when you create the right environment, people’s capability becomes much the same.   What determined the people’s attainment is the level of their aspirations and the way they are managed?   Every time I get the change and management process right to liberate the best from people, the most unlikely people (in the managements view) come to the fore and begin to excel.   Conversely those perceived to be the best tend to be found out and need extra support.   It is interesting to see how those who typically prosper in a business are often the talkers.  A unbalanced culture often makes the most capable people dormant.

Decision making is very often flawed:  How do you rationalise your disagreements with others?

  1. “They are ill informed and you can persuade them otherwise?”
  2. “They have a selfish desire and refuse to see the truth?”
  3. “You are unable to take on board what they are saying?”

 Humility:   The hardest way to disagree with someone is to recognise that they might understand the scenario differently?   This requires courage and remains the biggest management challenge.   ( Recognising these gaps requires an external catalyst. )

3. The top 12 School Boy Errors Executing Change

 “Project management drives successful change” and managing change  should be separated from the business as usual.   No! This is unfounded because it is only ever front line management that execute and lead change.    No value is created on a project plan.   The key to successful change is to enable l  ine management.

 “Content free coaching is the panacea for performance”.   No!    You need a depth and breadth of business skills and experience as well as coaching skills to transform a business.    Employees often too run out of skills.

 “Internal staff can do it.”   Agreed but No!  Staff eventually become blind to the familiar, and need help to see and remain honest to the challenge.

 “Recruiting the brightest people”.    No!   “I’m cleverer than you” is a de-motivating starting place that creates a very unproductive culture with adverse PR.   Most people have basically the same ability.  The challenge is to raise employee’s aspirations, and create a climate in which people excel.   Then use this culture platform to attract the best.

 “Emotional intelligence does not deliver hard financial results”.   No!   People are spiritual creatures completely driven by our emotions.   Emotional intelligence and our natural attributes therefore differentiate the effective from ineffective.

 “Leaders should be Charismatic”.   No!    Selflessness, self awareness and humility are the key drivers – charismatic leaders create worshipful followers.    This detracts from the business best interests.   People are made to worship, improve relationships, recognise our own and our peers unique worth.

 “Focus on the financials”.   No!    The financial performance of a company is a LAG indicator of activity.   Strong cash flow is a product of effective teamwork and financial controls.

“Neuroscience is the last bastion”.   No!   Whilst there is much value in executive coaching skill it is only one tool in the tool kit.   Coaching without common sense is nuts.   Knowing when and how to switch ones style from coach to mentor to director etc is more important.

 “Delegation loses control of risk”.   No!   Even in critical engineering environments, not trusting staff is the only sure route to unpredictable results and losing control of risk.

 “Businesses don’t need mavericks”.   No!   Mavericks are essential internal catalysts for change. Organisations tend to try and change mavericks into clones and they leave.

 “Inward migration to the EU is a problem”   No!  Skills will drain from Europe into emerging markets not the other way round.

 Indirect staff productivity is OK?   No!   Indirect productivity is normally about 20%. Furthermore indirect functions often don’t recognise internal supplier customer relationships, so their effectivess is further reduced.

There is a pressing requirement to get the best out of our scarce people resources, show employees far more grace, and get our young people into work.

Worth a discussion?

Tom Pickering CEO

T: 0207 1935518