In the midst of the pandemic, Joran Oppelt, a skilled facilitator and executive coach, played a pivotal role in reshaping the trajectory of an orthodontic clinic's business. The clinic faced challenges posed by virtual competitors like Invisalign and struggled to adapt, feeling reactive rather than proactive.
Joran's expertise in team alignment and team building became the catalyst for change. Through an extensive process of re-engineering meeting protocols, creating a clear vision and values, and establishing new communication strategies, the orthodontic clinic not only weathered the storm but emerged stronger and more resilient than before.
Here’s what the Operations Project Manager had to say, “With Joran’s help, I led my team through redesigning our meetings protocol and organizational values. Thanks to his work, our company was not only able to overcome business disruptions due to COVID-19, but we were able to innovate, strategize, train, and synchronize our operations while exceeding financial goals!”
Central to their success was the development of a competitive virtual offering, a strategic response to the threat posed by Invisalign. The clinic morale improved as they went from feeling like a victim to being a proactive player in the market, retaining and even expanding its patient base.
The visioning process led by Joran played a crucial role in setting the clinic up for success during the challenging and isolating time of the pandemic. By defining clear vision, mission, and values, coupled with a comprehensive Team Charter, the clinic was able to ensure that everyone knew their roles and responsibilities.
Most importantly, they identified and empowered the right person for the lead administrative role. Throughout the process, the team realized the need for an integrator – someone with the ability to drive these new systems and keep everything organized. This strategic shift not only streamlined operations but also accelerated the clinic's growth.
Two years post-peak pandemic, this orthodontic clinic continues to thrive. Expanding their team with multiple calls for new assistants and hygienists, they are not just surviving but actively growing. The focus has shifted to marketing and patient base expansion, with a new social media and marketing plan in place. Their collaboration with a marketing company attests to their commitment to staying ahead in a competitive market.
This success story is a testament to trusting in the process and the transformative power of facilitation and coaching. Joran's guidance not only helped them navigate the economic risks and cultural challenges posed by the pandemic but also set them on a trajectory of sustained growth and prosperity.
At Illustrious, we’ve claimed to be the Leader in Team Alignment since 2022.
We know what it’s like to turn the pain of transformation into the adventure of a lifetime. We’ve seen first-hand the amazing results that our clients get by working with us. And we always find it difficult to explain them to people who are curious about what we do – or curious about whether engaging us would be a good fit.
So, during our recent 2024 Power Visioning Retreat – where we took a look back at what we accomplished in 2023 and imagined what we will accomplish in 2024 – we asked ourselves the question, “How are we specifically contributing to Team Alignment?”
After exchanging some quick blank expressions, we got to work brainstorming the process we see our clients go through all the time – as they move from confusion to clarity, or from a milk crate full of tangled cables into a compelling and well-organized stage show.
THE ILLUSTRIOUS FORMULA FOR TEAM ALIGNMENT:
What usually happens first with the teams we work with is they are somehow exposed to the visual tools and frameworks we use at Illustrious – whether that’s graphic recording, The Grove’s Strategic Visioning or Team Performance models, or the various visual frameworks found in Gamestorming or Liberating Structures.
Either way, there is a ‘Woah!” moment that leads to curiosity. This curiosity can look like excitement or skepticism. And while we’d prefer everyone be excited right away, it’s OK for the team to be skeptical in the beginning. One particularly resistant client said, “Hold on! We’re deciding our strategy based on cartoons?!”
Few people have experienced the science of visual thinking proven out in a business environment. Few people have been through a process that starts out as stickies on the wall, moves into tension and groaning and pushback, and ends up as humans witnessing each other and hearing each other without judgment. But each small win helps make the process easier for even the most resistant in the room.
Next, the visuals tend to create a focused attention. People lean in, either to learn more about the tools (usually posters on the wall or canvases in apps like MURAL), or to pick them apart and tear holes in them. It matters little to us, as long as they’re leaning in and engaged.
At this point, either in the spirit of herd mentality (agreement) or pushback (disagreement), we see two camps emerge – “I’m interested in learning more” or “I’m interested in proving this wrong.” Again, the group’s interest and engagement is what matters.
Once most fears are addressed, defensiveness is taken down a notch, and people are assured that no one wants to do their job for them, the group usually starts to lean in the same direction.
This is when the fun starts to happen. I liken this stage to a pile of metal shavings being activated by a magnet. Slowly, and one by one, the shavings will start to wiggle and vibrate. Then, they turn in the same direction, sometimes piling on top of or crawling over each other in order to answer the pull of the magnet. And, suddenly, in a rush, they are like one body – or a murmuration of birds – having one shape, one energy, one purpose.
That stirring of energy and positive provocation is what it looks like when a group is oriented together and facing a problem or objective arm-in-arm.
Finally, once the team is curious, interested, and facing the same direction, the primary aim of any visual tool or communication is to inspire commitment. The team moves away from dependence and resistance, gets clearer on their roles and responsibilities, has a better grasp on the resources they need or lack, and discovers new ways to plan and make decisions.
This confidence fills the team’s sails and creates a renewed feeling of camaraderie and teamwork. Culture improves, communication improves, productivity increases. Because the team is saying “Yes” to each other – and to the mission.
If you have questions about how this looks in action or would like to see this kind of alignment happen on your team, let's schedule some time to chat.
A Conversation with Joran Slane Oppelt and Sumaya K. Owens
THE MUSIC METAPHOR
Sumaya: You mentioned some of the work you do is more difficult to explain or that it's maybe more theoretical. I know one of the types of content that you regularly share about is music and using music as a metaphor in the work that you do. I was wondering if you could share some examples of this with us.
Joran: Music metaphors are a big part of what I do because I am a musician. I recorded and toured and performed and produced other people's bands and did all kinds of things in my music career, or my “past life” as a musician. So it's a language I speak, even when talking about the four Jungian flows or archetypes for facilitators. I really am rooted in how things travel in waves, or how things land with an audience, or how we listen to each other when there is interplay or improvisation. All of these learned behaviors or traits are things that I’ve carried forward into my coaching, facilitation and consulting work.
When we speak in musical metaphors it feels so loud. For me, the comparisons are front and center because of the time I've spent on the stage. Now it's my turn to coax my clients out on stage in front of the crowd (their audience, their team) and teach them how to work the microphone (their messaging, their vision) and how to stay cool under the lights (their strategic goals, their competition).
So, one of the metaphors I can talk about today is the life cycle of a business. That model was originated by Ichak Adizes in the late 80s. It talks in detail about the stages of a business from Startup (or Birth) to Toddler and Teenager, then you get into the Zone of Maturity, then aging and eventually Institutionalization and Death.
You can point to this life cycle and say, “My business is at such and such a stage.”
If you're a startup, you're at the Birth stage. You aren't standing on your own yet, you don’t have the resources you need. But the moment you take a risk and involve other people in the business, you really are moving to the toddler stage.
The Teenager stage is typically when the organization or business has a little cash flow, and they're making some not-so-wise decisions. They've got the Lamborghini and are crashing it into a tree. The Teenager stage is where the business makes some mistakes with staffing or resources or spending or strategy, you name it. But that's what the Teenager stage is for. As those of us who are parents know, that's when you're supposed to make those mistakes.
If you get through that stage, you move into the Zone of Maturity, which is a stage of stabilization and optimization. You have the right resources and a scalable leadership structure in place. That's the top of the curve.
Then, it goes back down the other side of the curve into Aging as the structures begin to break down, and the resources, platforms, and systems become outdated.
The Institutionalization stage has you asking questions like, “What even is this business anymore? Are we providing value or providing a service to anybody? Are we connecting with our audience or are we isolating ourselves and spinning our wheels?”
Then, Death, because sometimes businesses end or dissolve.
So that's the Adizes model, which I discovered when Tony Robbins co-opted it for his Business Mastery program in the 90s.
What I did was relabeled it to be the journey of a rock band.
So, you start out as a Singer/Songwriter sitting in your bedroom, writing songs and coming up with elaborate ideas. You might know what the business (music delivery) model looks like or what the stage show will be. You may have the whole lighting schematic in your brain, but you don't have the team to execute it yet. You’re still in startup mode.
Then, you move into the Garage Band stage. Anybody who's a musician knows that as soon as you convince somebody to be your bass player, drummer, or keyboardist, they are placing an immense amount of trust in you. They're following your vision. They like the songs you write. Maybe they're moved by them. They believe in what you're trying to do. The Garage Band phase really is the Toddler phase. You've got a group of people now that are taking risks together in a business. You're prototyping what it looks like with your first team.
A lot of small businesses stay at this stage. They may occasionally get a bump in cash flow (from being a Club Band and working a lot) and wonder, “What are we going to do with all the money we made this quarter?”
They may say, “Let's reinvest in better gear or get a bigger van.”
Most small businesses kind of stay at that Garage or Club Band level and that's fine. If you're constantly growing and scaling and reinvesting, that means you’re adding on staff and resources. In the life of a rock band, that means the drummer now has a drum tech – someone who's setting up and tuning the drum kit for you. You've got a guitar tech who's tuning your guitars and handing them to you between songs. You can afford to tour and you have a crew that's working for you, believes in your vision, and is collecting a paycheck at the same time. Moving from Club Band to Touring Band is an important step for a business.
After that, it’s Legacy (the top of the curve) and down the other side to Crossroads, Irrelevance, Bargain Bin, and Breakup.
USING THE MODEL
Sumaya: Let's talk about how you use this model when working with clients. You recently shared a blog post about determining which musical instrument you are as an executive. That was really interesting to me – how the different members of the band communicate, engage, and cooperate with each other.
This is a model I believe can be complementary to that idea (in terms of the musical framework), but instead of thinking about the team, you're thinking about the business overall and which stage of the business you are currently at. Now that we have a basic concept of what it is, can you tell us about how you use this with clients?
Joran: Yes. In one case, all it took was for us to show this Lifecycle model to a client and ask the questions, “Where are you on this lifecycle? Where are your clients on the lifecycle? Where is your competition on the lifecycle?”
We were initially brought in to help them facilitate the shuttering of the organization. They wanted to “park the helicopter.” Most people had served in the organization (a non-profit) for many years. And people had stopped volunteering for the important roles. They were burned out. This model and this set of questions was enough for them to kickstart a conversation about radically rethinking their value proposition.
They were at the Crossroads stage. Another organization had offered to buy them – their infrastructure, membership list, branding, and IP. But, when we showed them this model, they realized their clients were way over on the left side of the curve and they were way over on the right side of the curve. Their competition was further to the left and saying things that the clients wanted to hear. They realized they needed to not only rethink their positioning and refine their message but double down on a new offering. Instead of accepting the competitor’s offer, they actually recommitted to a big event that year, hosting a big conference that repositioned them in the marketplace and launched a new suite of digital offerings.
The Lifecycle can be a catalyzing model used to start a conversation with executives or leadership teams. If there’s ever confusion about where you are in the lifecycle or whether you think you're at the Crossroads or the Bargain Bin, pull up the model and check in. The conversations are always unexpected and productive.
More recently, I used the model with the Executive Team at a fintech startup. They were eight years old and had just gotten their leadership team in place. The CEO was committing to stepping down and letting the executive team lead as they were beginning to experience both growing pains and the effects of Founder’s Syndrome.
What we discovered when we put a poster of this model on the wall and had a conversation about it was that a lot of their direct reports across the organization still thought of the company as a startup. Even though they were eight years old, had just gone through an IPO, were moving away from the hub-and-spoke model of leadership, and were growing in all the right areas, there were still team members that thought of themselves as a punk band.
There were entire departments that had a DIY mentality and a “fuck the mainstream” ethos. These were people who had a stake in the company behaving like a startup and not maturing. They didn't want to grow up. They didn’t want more stable leadership structures because that reeked of “selling out” and a corporate mentality.
Startup culture can feel like the Wild West. The speed of ideas is fast, decisions are made on the fly, experimentation and innovation comprises a large percent of the business activity. They have to pivot and stay nimble. And at some startups, culturally, anything goes. I’ve seen the same companies with foosball tables and cereal bars at the startup stage become the ones that work way too hard (read: burnout and churn) and play way too hard (read: vomiting at the company retreat) when the cash starts to come in.
But, it’s possible to have both a great culture and stable business structures. It’s possible to both have an actual org chart with people who are accountable to each other and be able to pivot quickly.
The executives I was working with had just realized their team was further up the life cycle than most of the organization. At that point in the session, the priority became figuring out how they told that story. How might they make the entire business feel safe?
How can we remain Green Day in our hearts, but act a little more like the Rolling Stones. Can we stay inspired to go out and sing “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” every night, even though we don't want to? They needed to act more like a legacy or touring band but preserve that DIY/punk ethos in their values and in the way they communicated with each other. They were, after all, up against some big competitors and some monster old school financial institutions.
The new storytelling initiative included things like re-introducing the “rockstar” executive team they had assembled, painting done around the vision they were casting and the future they were building, and getting everyone excited about building it together.
Sumaya: I appreciate you incorporating the element of ethos into how you approach scaling a business. Because of my experience of working in corporate and from what I hear from my clients and colleagues, they have similar experiences where the larger a company scales, sometimes it feels like there's this loss of company culture or values. Communication breaks down and people have more difficult relationships. The more you scale, the effects of Founder’s Syndrome can become more apparent. How do you maintain ethos as you scale?
Joran: We've mentioned Founder’s Syndrome a couple times now. I think the further you get to the top of the lifecycle, the more risk there is for things like ego or stuckness - especially if you’ve seen some success. The status quo and a “this is the way we've always done things” mentality can damage the way the business is operating.
“If it worked for us as a startup, then it must work for us now,” is not true at all. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
You've got to be reinventing and rethinking at every stage of the cycle. And at each stage, a new management style, goal-setting tool, cultural agreement, or way of working will be required.
For those founders with an inflated ego, it’s sometimes because they have been pushed out in front as spokespeople or faces for the brand. The more comfortable they get with public speaking and doing interviews on podcasts, the more it becomes part of their identity. If they are in the public eye and an active mouthpiece for the company, then as you shift into more distributed leadership models and away from more legacy structures, someone will need to tell them, “We don't need you to be brand ambassador anymore. We've got a chief communications/evangelism officer now that's going to handle that.”
That can be hard for founders to hear.
Similarly, when you find success with a musical group, inevitably they need to recreate and sustain that success. They may need to maintain a position on the charts in order to keep the hits rolling and keep everyone paid. That's typically when you involve amazing songwriting or production teams to create anthemic songs that will be popular and activate people's hearts. We’ve all experienced a time when our favorite artist went through a time when their sound changed or the writing changed. Sometimes it’s because the artist was growing and innovating. But sometimes it's because there were other voices (or players) involved. For those artists, instrumentalists, or lead singers, that type of change and collaboration can be hard. The ego will ask, “If it’s my songs that people love, then why should I have to take a back seat and collaborate?”
The best founders will check their egos – not allowing, but encouraging other people to step up as leaders and collaborators.
It all comes down to listening. The universal essence of the music metaphor is that in order to create (music or anything) with others, we must be listening. Any virtuosic musician is really listening to what's happening around them and responding. It's also true in any product innovation cycle – you're listening to the customer voice and responding with a prototype, attempting to test or validate an idea in the business.
And so it is with leadership. How much are you listening to what's happening around you – in the business and the marketplace? How much are you allowing for interplay between stakeholders and team members? How much are you open to empathy or inviting someone else's lived experience and letting that inform your decisions.
I always say it's the 80/20 rule (The Pareto Principle) that states 20% of your effort will lead to 80% of your results. You should be listening more than you're speaking. You should be seeking to understand more than you're executing.
In music, it’s important to have a clear line of sight to your fellow players in order to read their body language, but also to have a clear and balanced monitor mix so that you can hear them. That’s what allows you to create a cohesive and expressive musical experience for a crowd. But are you also listening to that audience? Are you taking their requests? Are you noticing when they are listless or dancing? Are you responding to market trends or writing the same songs over and over again?
Listening can also help facilitate the conversation about who's playing which instrument in the band. Consider what is appropriate as you move to the next stage. Do you really still need two drummers or could you get by with one? Is everyone cross-trained? Could the keyboardist play the bass notes with their left hand in case of an emergency? If we’re touring more and playing a show every night, is it sustainable to have one person out front singing? Might we find a way to have other vocalists in the band share that burden?
All of these conversations through the musical metaphor or lens can help inform the direction and strategy of the business and its leaders.
THE HEADLINER AND THE CROSSROADS
Sumaya: Can you give us a brief highlight of the Headliner, which I believe you've touched on a little bit. But what sticks out to me is how you describe it as, “Settle down and get serious.”
Joran: Sure. And it doesn't need to be serious all the time.
It doesn’t mean stop having fun. I think at the Headliner stage, you've got a team in place and business decisions are made strategically at that point. They're not made based on how much (or how little) risk you're taking (i.e. How many records we press is based on how much cash we have on hand). They're not made out of response to a crisis (i.e. We’re re-routing our tour because we have a flat tire on the van). They're now based on strategic decisions that are going to affect the success of the broader organization.
Again, with the music analogy, when you've got a manager and booking agent on your team, you can make better decisions that take social and financial systems into account. When you have publishing set up for the songs you've written, you can take advantage of other revenue streams, like TV commercials. When you've got a crew to help you out on the road, you can set up, tear down, and get to the next venue faster, meaning you can book more dates. When you've got these elements in place and they are working in concert with one another to leverage a broader ecosystem, that’s Headliner moving into Legacy. It’s the high performance stage of the Team Performance model.
That stage of the life cycle can be elusive. You can be functioning at that stage for a while but then slip back into Touring. Or you can over leverage and over perform at Legacy and find yourself at Crossroads. It’s not a situation where once you achieve the Legacy stage, you're done. Every stage is dynamic and temporary.
Sumaya: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Crossroads?
Joran: The Crossroads is that fabled moment where Robert Johnson sells his soul to the Devil so that he can play the guitar. The crossroads is the “do or die” moment of organizational decision (usually in crisis) where you've got a few options on the table and urgency is at an all-time high.
Some of those options might be continuing to grow with the current offering, continuing to pump more cash into the business, or laying people off, streamlining the crew, and getting a handle on profitability.
The crossroads could look like anything. But at the heart of the crossroads moment is a decision to re-commit, renew, and double down or resign, step away, and let the endeavor die and compost into something else.
In music, we might ask:
The Crossroads can open the door to real structural and operational challenges at the highest level.
For example, if your singer is going solo (i.e. if your CEO is going to now spin off and start another company) it will mean establishing new leadership, potentially new ways of teaming, and possibly dealing with an exodus of staff following them to their new venture.
Or maybe a longtime collaborator and songwriter splintered off and started another group that sounds just like yours. (i.e. a team member left, took a bunch of your IP with them, started another business, and created unanticipated competition).
All of these are Crossroads moments. When we're on the left side of the curve, we're largely making decisions in crisis. On the right side of the curve (where Crossroads lives), we're able to respond to crisis. And how we respond to crisis is important.
DYNAMIC AND TEMPORARY
Backsliding or moving back to a previous stage on the curve of the lifecycle is normal. I worked with a client recently who needed to lay off over a hundred people. It was not a good situation. They received tons of scathing reviews on Glassdoor. There was a negative perception in the market for a month or two.
But, we talked about it together in the context of this model. They were a touring, headlining band. They were on the road with lots of roadies and guitar/drum techs. They had a big crew and were doing really great work in the world. But they weren’t on tour anymore. They weren’t growing. So in between tours, you've got to let that crew go to do other work with other bands. It doesn't mean your value as an organization is diminished. It doesn't mean your message won’t be heard. It doesn't mean your work is any less important. It simply means you’re between tours (expansive growth stages) and means you can't sustain that size crew or employ that many people in the long-term.
Is it sometimes sad? Yes. These people feel like family. We wish we could keep them on all the time. But that’s not how business works. And bands (and businesses) do this all the time. When we are in growth mode and in need of help, we are creating jobs and building community. When we need to streamline and get profitable, we need to make difficult decisions and have difficult conversations.
When you’re not on tour (or in growth mode) you may have to tune your own guitar and roll out your own drum rug for a while. It doesn't mean you won't get out there again. Use that time to woodshed, write more songs, strategize, and come up with the next plan.
These stages are dynamic and sliding backward may feel like you’re falling forward toward the Death or Breakup stage, but it’s not the case. Not even close.
Sumaya: Change is inevitable in everything we do. It’s easier if we anticipate that it can be helpful and supportive in getting us to the next stage of the business or next chapter of life. I really appreciate the way you have framed this metaphor in a way that people can relate to and understand an otherwise dry way of thinking about business. It's hard to talk about. Sometimes thinking about business strictly in terms of sales or marketing can shut people down. As creative people, sometimes we need to relate to something in a more dynamic or visual way.
Joran: You bring up a good point because I wonder, “Have I created these metaphors and models to make it more interesting for me – to keep myself more interested and engaged?”
I think that's partially true. It also turns out that what I've come up with has also been interesting, informative, and instructive for other people. I think maybe that's advice for any creative person. Make it interesting for you. By doing that, you may have created something that people want to be a part of.
SOME QUESTIONS USING THIS MODEL:
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If you’re saying, “I always thought I would be an awesome leader, but now this feels different,” let’s chat about how our coaching cohort can support your professional growth.
Learn more about the next cohort of Amplified Executive Coaching:
Illustrious is a leader in the change management and team alignment space. Since its founding in 2020, Illustrious has helped companies orient, pivot, scale, and simplify. Here are the four core values that drive their team of talented, visual consultants.
As artists, we believe there is a direct line between innovation or creativity and our ability to be in the present moment and improvise. This invisible line can be tense or slack. When it is tuned up it can be played like a guitar or piano. We are at our best when helping our clients create harmony from dissonance and we love helping them shine.
As facilitators and coaches, we treat active listening as a valued skill in order to discover needs and opportunities. We genuinely like people and want to learn more about them. We cherish stories and love hearing them. People are at their best when they feel heard, valued, trusted, and understood.
Belief in Human Potential
As humans, we have a relentless belief in the greatness of other humans. We don’t see them in their current state of blame, confusion, uncertainty, fear, or insecurity. We see the white, hot light at their center. We see them on their path to future growth as they commit to being the ideal version of themselves. Humans are at their best when someone sees them deeply and believes in them.
Commitment to Quality Outcomes
As thought partners in your business, we are focused on professional mastery. That means we are committed to learning, transparent processes, dress and technical rehearsals, and enthusiastic attention to detail. The sooner we get it right, the sooner you can identify the bright line through your organization’s thinking. A business is at its best when its leaders and teams are aligned on the vision, culture, story, and strategy.
In the dynamic world of business leadership and management, effective goal setting is both an art and science. As experts in business consulting, Joran and Jennifer at Illustrious Consulting specialize in tools such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). These insights are invaluable for CEOs and founders aiming to refine their approach to setting and achieving strategic business goals.
OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are more than just a business buzzword. They are a transformative tool for setting goals and measuring progress. OKRs are not a project plan or a mere task list; they are a system of measurement and a framework for aligning and prioritizing.
Jennifer's experience operationalizing OKRs highlights their practical impact. She has observed a significant shift in how priorities were understood and how team members could confidently discuss their objectives and key results with leadership, fostering a culture of empowerment and clarity.
The Evolution of OKRs
Joran’s journey with OKRs over the years shows an evolution from skepticism to advocacy. Initially overwhelmed by the influx of new tools and methodologies, he gradually recognized OKRs as a map to navigate the complex terrain of business strategies. OKRs became a means to simplify complexities and break down 'must-win battles' into manageable goals.
Invaluable Resources for OKRs
For those embarking on the OKRs journey, Joran recommends several resources. Measure What Matters by John Doerr offers a high-level understanding, but it's Christina Wodtke’s Radical Focus that delves into the practical application of OKRs based on real-world experiences. Additionally, Ben Lamorte's The OKRs Fieldbook is an essential read for anyone looking to coach others in OKRs.
The Role of Leadership in OKRs
Yet another critical point is the role of leadership in the successful implementation of OKRs. Without buy-in from the top and a culture ready to embrace transparency and accountability, OKRs might not be as effective. Leadership must model and embed these values within the team, ensuring that OKRs do not become just another task but a part of the organizational culture.
Challenges and Solutions in Implementing OKRs
One of the challenges in implementing OKRs is ensuring that they do not operate in a vacuum. Regular check-ins and updates are vital. The concept of 'health metrics' – a set of parameters like team health, financial health, and stakeholder health – is crucial in measuring the impact of OKRs on the organization as a whole.
Preparing for OKRs
Before diving into OKRs, teams need to be prepared. Illustrious Consulting emphasizes a thorough onboarding process, discussing past efforts, securing leadership buy-in, and ensuring cultural readiness for a new way of working. Their approach includes visual tools and graphic recordings to make OKRs more accessible and engaging.
The Future of Goal Setting with OKRs
As we look towards 2024, OKRs stand out as a structured, effective method for goal setting. For teams and leaders pondering their next steps in strategic planning, OKRs offer a proven framework for alignment, clarity, and success.
In conclusion, it’s clear that OKRs, when implemented with the right resources, leadership commitment, and cultural readiness, can significantly enhance an organization's ability to set, pursue, and achieve its most ambitious goals.
For more insights into harnessing the power of OKRs for your business, reach out to Joran at Illustrious Consulting, and don't miss their upcoming conversations on team leadership and effective leadership strategies.
Learn more about OKRs and schedule a free discovery call here: https://calendly.com/joranslane/30min
Happy goal setting, and here's to a productive and focused year ahead!
DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives are growing quickly in organizations around the world. Leaders and entire departments dedicated to DEI – or EDIB (equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging) – are being installed in for-profit and nonprofit organizations. These teams are committed to deeply embedding DEI principles into the values and actions of the business so that it can be more accessible, welcoming, and empowering.
Here we’ll discuss the “E” in DEI. Compared to diversity and inclusion, the words equity and equality (with which equity is sometimes substituted) are ambiguous terms that can be defined very differently from organization to organization.
According to Robert Harris, Director of EDIB at National Audubon Society, it's "not advisable to use equity and equality interchangeably."
"In general," he says, "equality is when folks receive the same resources in amount and proportion and equity is when differences are recognized. Resource allocation varies based on those differences to achieve equality."
How you implement your DEI initiatives will depend on how these terms are defined. Your definition of these terms will also influence your culture deck, hiring process, team charter, operating agreements, mission statement, media/investor relations, etc. Making sure that they are clear and meaningful for everyone on the team is very important.
Equity may be defined in the following ways:
To review, diversity means that you have various people in the room, equity means that there is awareness that they are not all on equal footing, and inclusion means that you have a process for engaging them. Equality is the outcome of people being equally resourced.
If you’d like to have a conversation about team performance, team design, or team development, please schedule a discovery call today.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT SUCCESSION PLANNING
Interview featuring Joran Oppelt, Founder of Illustrious Consulting, and Sumaya K. Owens, Founder of Present Moment Media.
Sumaya: Let's dive in. I know you work with founders, CEOs, and various other executives. What is coming up for them? What do they have in common? How does this topic relate to them?
Joran: The most common theme I hear when I work with leaders and teams at the top of the organization is bottlenecking. I'm always talking in metaphor. So we're either bottlenecked and stuck in the decision-making process, or they start talking about the pie like they have their fingers in everything. They can't get out of the day-to-day. They can't step back and let the team lead and make decisions.
There's that kind of pain that you hear from the team. Sometimes from the C-suite or sometimes from direct reports, but for the leader, it almost looks like the opposite. It's like, “I don't know if I have the right team. I don't know if I trust the people I have.”
And as a founder, as a leader, that's important. That's an important sense of security and stability to have, that you trust the team you have and that you have the right people in the right seats. The funny contradiction about that is that they sometimes need to be told what they need to do to demonstrate that trustworthiness.
So, it is you as a leader who is responsible. You are beholden to communicating what you need to see demonstrated to have that trust in the team and know that the time is right to step back and let them lead.
Sumaya: And how do you help them work through these bottlenecks and other issues they're having?
Joran: At a high level, we use a lot of the coaching methods around team coaching or one-on-one development plans. There might be some visioning or some chartering that needs to happen around the team or the team's goals. Sometimes that's a short process depending on what internal, intrapersonal and interpersonal work they've done already. It just depends on how ready the team and the people on the team are for that. If they have some of those foundational building blocks in place – they might have a vision and need to orient around it and get everybody leaning in the same direction and filling each other's sails around that one vision – that’s one thing. They also might have five different ideas of what the vision is. So having those foundational building blocks in place first is really important. Once that's in place, then the leadership development piece can come online.
Sumaya: And what do they need to believe in order to be ready for this step?
Joran: Yeah, that's a big one. It reminds me of the coaching question, “what do you need to believe in order for this to be true?” That founder or CEO really needs to believe in the power of the process.
The best leaders really love and appreciate what coaching and having a thought partner can provide. They also budget for it.
It sounds self-serving for me to say this, but the best people I've worked with – and the people I've seen the most success with – have a budget for consulting and coaching, just like they would have a budget for marketing or innovation. They plan for coaching and consulting as part of the process. They launch with the intent to scale with this as a line in the business, because they know it's an important piece. They know it's a vital piece – not only for them, but the people they are going to have reporting to them.
Another key is that they are queuing up leaders behind them, constantly getting people set up to lead in their place. So there is a belief in the power of the process. There's a belief in the power of human potential. There's a belief in their team to get things done, and a belief in their team to make the right decisions.
There's all kinds of beliefs they need to have. And that is a mindset shift for some people. Not everybody starts a company believing in their team. Founders at startups have typically never led people before. But it’s not too long before their focus needs to move from managing people to keeping up with the constant pivoting.
That transition can be hard if your team isn’t showing you the things you want to see. They will make decisions differently from you. They will lead differently than you. They will communicate in a style that's different from you. That's sometimes where those bridges need to be formed to build trust.
Sumaya: One of the things I've heard from you about working with founders is that at times it's challenging for them to let other people lead or step up to the plate or take more ownership. I think that leads very well into this topic of succession planning. Whenever we've talked about it, my understanding is it's really about the sustainability and the long term goals of the company, with or without the founder being present. Can you talk a little bit more about what succession planning is? What is involved?
Joran: I think succession planning should come online earlier than most people think. You should really be thinking about it early on.
As the business scales, you get to the point where you should start thinking about it. You're going to have to model the way, show the team how to communicate the vision, and be queuing up leaders behind you. It's usually later on that the team is learning how to play new instruments or the business finds itself flat lining. It could be that you're not bringing in more business because the founder is in delivery mode all the time. You’re unable to scale because the leader is unwilling to develop more leaders.
You may find yourself at a crossroads: “Can we bring more business on and scale? If we do that, that means that we need somebody else (or multiple people) in delivery mode.”
I think planning before that moment happens would really benefit people so that they can be ready for it. Looking at your business roadmap and knowing you're approaching that crossroads moment is crucial. You can say, “OK, here is that crossroads moment we read about and predicted. We knew it was coming so we’re ready to act.”
I think the key components of a really good succession plan are having the right team, knowing you have the right team, believing in your team, and then measuring what your team is doing.
The hard part that we don't always talk about is that some tough decisions might need to be made before you get to that crossroads moment. I say tough decision because it's hard sometimes to discern whether it's the founder or CEO saying, “I don't think this is the right person to step up and lead in my absence” or whether that founder or CEO just hasn't asked the right questions yet. Maybe they haven't poured their knowledge, wisdom, and experience into them properly. Maybe they haven't opened the door to give them opportunities to prove themselves and demonstrate their leadership in important ways. Maybe they haven’t allowed them to build that trust.
It really is a two-way street to figure out whether you have the right team before you start to step away.
Sumaya: Absolutely. And whenever a leader, a CEO or founder decides to begin this process of succession planning, who do they go to? I know that as a consultant, this is something you offer, but, what do they look for in a coach or a consultant if they're looking for someone to help them with succession planning?
Joran: You work with who you trust. You work with people who have helped someone you know. People almost never look up a consultant on Google. You might have someone on your team look up the pain points they’re experiencing (change management, team development, culture work, etc.). But most times, you're reaching out to somebody in your Mastermind group or a friend in the industry and saying, “Hey, we're dealing with this. Who do you know that can help us get through this crossroads moment?”
It's also not just taste or style. Sometimes there are worldviews you want somebody you work with to align with. It's not just, “I went to college with this person” or “they're into sports, or music, or whatever.”
Sometimes it's, “Can I get a sense that this person is developmentally just above or below where I'm at?”
It's like the emotional tone scale. You want to communicate just above or below where people are at. That's where we can get the sense of matching culturally with an organization or share the same sense of humor or values.
Sumaya: And that's important because how you run your business is based on your own values as a leader. I've definitely been in those situations. I’ve worked with a coach or consultant who was recommended to me and the way that they wanted to implement certain strategies or grow or scale the business in certain ways didn't align with me.
If you had to think of a couple of values that are important to you as a coach or consultant, what would they be? The reason I ask is that I'm curious to know if there are other people out there listening who may resonate with them and share similar values.
Joran: Illustrious has a set of values in order that we might deliver the best possible, most creative, premium work and value to our clients. But how I’d like to respond to that question is, “What values might I look for in potential clients?”
There's something around honesty for me. I've worked with leaders and teams before that weren't necessarily forthcoming, weren't willing to be truthful, weren't willing to be honest with their leaders, and leaders not willing to disclose all the details to their teams.
This just builds up resentment. Teams and leaders who are willing to be radically honest with each other, those are the ones who are the most fun to work with. There might be bumps along the road in the process of being honest with each other, but it's like any other relationship. I'd rather have honesty and communication now, and be able to face the things now, rather than have this stuff building up over time. So, radical honesty is important as a value. It doesn't have to be listed on the “About Us” page on their website. But, if I get a sense from the team that they're being honest with each other, then that's a green flag.
The other one is the belief in human potential. I mean, they've got to believe that people can change. They've got to believe that people can get better. They've got to believe that if they feed and water something, it will grow. There's just a belief in potential that's gotta be there. It's the growth mindset as opposed to the static mindset. It sometimes takes some digging, because people will say things you want to hear – not just to me, but to each other.
They might say, “We believe in this” or “We value this.”
But then, when you look at (and talk to) the team, you can clearly see they’re not living it. And that lack of transparency and dishonesty leads to a lack of psychological safety. Then, we’re talking about larger problems – distrust, people shutting down, and turnover.
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"I Was Fired For Doodling"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 8/8)
Jay: Joran, I'm gonna go in a slightly different direction. I would like to understand what happened in your life that would most explain why you do what you do today.
Joran: Back in ‘94 or ‘95 I needed a job and I needed to start making money. I had worked all kinds of jobs there in Florida. The Florida Spine Institute was a premier medical organization in the area at the time. I thought, “If I can get a job there, I'll be set.” So, I got a job as a transcriptionist. Don't ask me how, but I got it.
My first day on the job, I was listening to the doctor’s notes on the headphones and I picked up my yellow legal pad and blue ball point they had given me. And I was just doodling. Probably a dragon or a skull or something, you know, just kind of doodling in the margins of my paper.
I felt this hand pat me on my shoulder, like, “Come with me.” I was dragged into the office and fired on the spot. Day one, fired for doodling. And it rocked me. I was like, “Oh, okay. Am I gonna have to put down my creative self? Am I gonna have to change who I am at my core to grow up and have a job in the adult world?”
It really affected me for a while until I landed in publishing with a team of creatives and realized, no, there's a tribe of people out here doing creative work and making money at it. But, that, I think, is why I do what I do – so that people don't have to be so rigid and feel like they can’t doodle in the margins of their life. Sometimes doodling in the margins provides the perfect respite or reframe. Sometimes it makes your work better or more effective.
If there's something I have to say, it's that life doesn't have to be either/or.
Business doesn't have to be a yellow legal pad and a blue ballpoint pen. It can be skulls and dragons and mythic quests and whatever else you want to make of it.
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"What Makes Illustrious Great"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 7/8)
Jay: One of the things that you were, I think, very articulate about in the first part of our show was the need for a leader to let go. A need for a leader to get beyond command and control and look outside of themselves to a team, be it internal or external. That always reminds me of that old saying, “You are the company you keep.”
I think when someone looks to work with another company to help them, they want to know that they're working with the best because that is actually a reflection on them and the standards that they set and how they see themselves.
Joran: I have to respond to that because when you said, “You are the company you keep,” what I heard was the double entendre of not only surrounding yourself with amazing people who make it look easy and can do what you need, but also, you are the organization that you're leading, right?
It's both of those things. And you know, we'd say that the degree or amount of change that's available within the organization is equal to the degree and the amount of change that an accountable champion or leader can sustain. The organization will bear what the leadership can bear, right?
Jay: Indeed. And I wish I was actually the author of that quote, but I fear I was beaten to it by that very wise individual who goes by the name of Anonymous. Having said that, it certainly begs the question, “When people look at Illustrious to understand what it is that makes you great at what you do, what can they latch onto when they're looking for help?”
Joran: What makes us great? I would go back to our values. We have a set of values that we live by – as every organization should.
We've got three values that I think articulate who we are and what we believe.
We are creative and outside-the-box thinkers, so Energizing Creativity is one of our core values.
Second, we are Committed to Quality Outcomes, which means that if we have to redo something and iterate again to get it right, catch all the misspellings, get the colors matched by hex code, and proofread the email five times, we do that. I don't want work going out to the clients that looks anything less than stellar.
Third, we are Compassionately Curious. We ask questions because we are coaches and facilitators and consultants and that art of inquiry and getting to the next “why” is the game we play, that's how we learn. That's how we get better.
And, I will say, because I've mentioned the coaching we do a couple of times, I might add a fourth value in there, and that is a deep seated Belief in Human Potential. When I am with clients, I don't see them as the story they're telling. I see them as the white hot center, that light that is in them and that potential that they have to unfold and become and grow. That's what I see and that's who I'm working with.
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"The Pain of Change"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 6/8)
Jay: What are the pain points that you resolve for your clients, and why do they need you to get rid of that pain?
Joran: That's a good question because sometimes it's a little ambiguous. Some of the things we hear are, “We're constantly pivoting and we're unable to manage and respond to change in a timely fashion.”
We call that decision fatigue. Or purpose fatigue. Like, “We've changed our North Star 10 times this quarter, where are we even headed?”
Misalignment is another. Lack of clarity around who is setting the North Star. Does the team understand where we're going? Is everybody leaning in the same direction every 90 days? Do we have the right people in the right seats? All of that misalignment and chaos can be felt throughout the organization.
Innovation wise, they might be feeling irrelevant. They might feel the pressure in the market to come up with new ideas or launch new programs or products. That creative spark might feel like it's gone out. Again, going back to the idea that people in a misaligned culture can be withholding and stop bringing their best ideas to the table.
So, what can we do about it? What happened? Has this gone on for a long time? They don’t usually describe their own culture as toxic. But they'll say it's “uninspired” or “misaligned.” They may say, “We've got a lot of personal conflict or drama.”
If you're an organization experiencing this, you are at great risk of churn, losing your top talent, and having to spend six months onboarding new talent. This, in turn, causes you to miss out on goals or KPIs and lose money.
So, that's what we have our antenna up and are listening for.
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ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.