Tag Archives: target

Leadership lessons from an iron man, with a golden heart

Marc Herremans

Marc Herremans

I am certain there is no better quote to describe the life story of Marc Herremans, Belgian top athlete in triathlon, Iron Man and the Iron Man for disabled people, than this one:

You can if you think you can.
If you think you are beaten, you are.

During a seminar Marc told us how he dealt with personal (ambitious) goal setting and dealing with set backs. It was a touching story that I would like to share with you.

Everybody has a main goal in life
Marc reminded us of the fact of how lucky we truly are: we’re all living in the richest part of the world, and above that, we are all healthy.
In his early years, Marc was not sure about being a boxer or a swimmer. But after a few attempts he has set a goal for himself to become the number one triathlete in the world. He was good on his way when a major setback happened which resulted in being paralyzed from the waist down.

Every setback in life is an opportunity to fight back
While in the hospital, Marc thought his life was over: he had to give up his one ambition and now was destined to a life in a wheel chair. After a visit from his nephew he saw the light again and set a new ambitious target: to become the number one triathlete… in a wheelchair.

Everything started again for Marc, only his aspirations were changed.

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see the reality

Everything is possible if you believe in it
Years of hard work and training resulted in winning the Iron Man in Hawaii in 2006. Marc emphasizes that you do see one man going over the finish line, but there is a whole team of 30 members involved. A team that would have made his victory impossible without.

You have to reach your goals before your end is near, so you have to do it now
My question at the end of his presentation was: what’s next? So I asked him about his next goal in life since he already made his one ambitious goal. Marc responded that he’ll devote the remainder of his life to coaching other athletes, running the Project U-turn and To Walk Again foundation, and his family.

You can only control the controllable
One lesson I take along from Marc’s touching story is that you cannot control everything, so there’s no need to get stressed from stuff you cannot control. When it is about setting results, it’s about you. Comparing yourself with the other’s gear, state, strength, etc will only make you uncertain.

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Lessons from triathlon for corporate athletes

Last week I went to a presentation where the athlete & Belgian triathlon champion, Simon De Cuyper, gave an interview about setting clear targets. Just like in the corporate world, in the sport world is setting targets an important part when acquiring results. During the interview Simon shared some of his experiences and lessons learned.

Triathleet Simon De Cuyper

Triathlete Simon De Cuyper

I’ve made a list of key insights for you to share.

Focus on the process and process targets

When you’re only focussing on the end result and the end target, you might get caught up by stress too much. Simon has learned to focus on the process and set process targets. For example, the start of the swimming part of the triathlon and the change-over between the sports in triathlon.

When you only keep the end target in mind, focussing on it might freeze you. When you focus on the different steps and parts to make it to your target, you’re focussing on how you’re doing your job in the best possible way.

To quote Steven Covey: “Begin with the end in mind”.

Set a target

One of the differences between a professional and many recreative athletes, is the principle of setting targets. When you want to improve upon something, whether it’s triathlon, squash or incident management, you’ll have more chance to success when you set a target.

The target will keep you focussed and allows you to measure progress, which motivates.

Set a realistic target

Simon has set his target for the 2014 Olympic Games to be in the top 8 of triathlon ranking. “Why not go for gold?” was the next question of the interviewer. Simon replied that he was aware of his capabilities and choose to pick a realistic target. A target where he needed to stretch himself, but which he could make.

I’m not sure what to do with this takeaway. I understand how this could work, but history has learned us that setting inspiring targets can work too.

See for example Microsoft, Apple and the Nasa.

President John F. Kennedy, May 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”

Bill Gates, Microsoft: “A computer on every desk, and in every home”.

Steve Jobs, Apple: “What we want to do, is to change the way people use computers in the world.”

Use a coach

Unlike in the corporate world, in the sports world it’s very common to have a coach. A coach who coaches you, supports you, challenges you. The coach doesn’t have to be better than then athlete, but who is committed to the success of the coachee. A good coach will make you stick to the commitment of running 4 hours a week, even when it’s raining.

In the corporate world the same logic can be applied to the role of a coach. The coach doesn’t need to know it all, the coach doesn’t have to be older, … The coach needs to be committed to the success of the coachee, provide an honest mirror to him and motivate him when the going gets tough.

Know your limits

Simon works at continuous improvement, but he is aware of his (physical) limits. There will be a day when continuous improvement is not possible anymore. A big “transformation” will be needed then, maybe a change to a total new sport, like long distance running, he testified.

We often hear this remark at the work floor too: is it possible to keep on improving, even with tiny bits? Instead of improving peanuts (and violating the Pareto-rule), it might be interesting to question it all and try something new. To make a transformation.

Additional reading

The Making of a Corporate Athlete by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

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Improve team flexibility and continuity with skills matrix analysis

A skills matrix (also refered to as knowledge matrix) is a map or index of the team skills, listed by each team member and cross-referenced with the different areas or expertise.

The skills matrix is used for mapping the current skills, identifying potential harmful situations and taking action.
Uses for a skills matrix:

  • A skills matrix comes in handy when a new member joins the team and you want to get him up to speed.
  • When a team member leaves the team, the skills matrix can be used to identify possible knowledge gaps.
  • The skills matrix can be used proactively to guarantee team continuity.
  • Identify knowledge sharing and development needs between team members.
  • Installing cross-functional teams (in cross functional teams, team members have no specific speciality only, but a more generic profile).
  • Check the impact of key persons leaving the team: will it be a problem?
  • Increase team strength & flexibility, but also team spirit (eg. during the huddles team members will know each others areas better).
  • Create a RACI for the different areas of expertise: who are the SPOCs? Who are the experts to be consulted?
  • Identify which roles in the team need which skills (eg. soft skills vs. technical skills).
  • Set development targets.

Why do you need a skills matrix?

You need a skills matrix when you pick up following signals:

  • Estimations for new assignments are not made when key persons are not available.
  • Estimations for new assignments need to be approved or checked by key persons.
  • Permanence is difficult to arrange.
  • Statements like “if person X leaves, we will be in real trouble”.
  • Difficult arrangements for team continuity during the holiday periods (eg. summer vacation, Christmas).
  • Single Point of Confusion instead of Single Point of Contact.
  • Unclear responsibilities.
  • During a huddle, team members have no clue whatsoever what the other team member is talking about.

Skill matrix analysis

To score skills you can determine the criteria yourself:

  • None, insufficient, basic, good, expert
  • None, trained, coached, lead, training given, coaching given
  • Scoring on behaviour types

You can also use weights for both a horizontal and vertical analysis:

  • Horizontal: the extent to which every area is covered by different team members and expertise levels.
  • Vertical: the extent to which each team member is covering different areas and taking on different expert roles.

What can we learn form a skills matrix:

  • New team members will color red over the whole line. Use the skills matrix to set priority and focus for training purposes.
  • Identify key persons which are dominant in certain areas. Make sure these areas are also covered by more team members.
  • Identify knowledge gaps in certain areas.
  • Which team members have certain expert knowledge in areas which we don’t have (eg. Java knowledge in a .NET team).

Ready, set, go!

Setting up a skills matrix without taking further action is like creating a risk matrix without a mitigation strategy.
If you invest the time & effort to create one, don’t just hang it on the wall, but use it to take action and improve your team strength!
Next to each skill assessment you can add a target for the team member in that expertise area. Not all team members will have/need the same targets.

Further, the skills matrix is outdated from the click you use to close the file. People learn all the time.
So plan a recurrent update and action time slot in your agenda to check the progress.

Additional reading


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The PDCA cycle applied to your diet

For the readers that got here searching for an approach for their diet: please read further and work out your plan!

Explaining the need for installing a performance management culture in your organization is not an easy job. There are many approaches for it and each has its disadvantages. The key is that you’ll have to attune your approach to your audience.

Following metaphor has worked good for me when explaining the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, the base for a performance management culture, to people on the work floor.

PDCA cycle

PDCA cycle

The PDCA cycle applied to your diet

It’s January first and you decided in your new year’s promise that you want to lose weight. It’s the same promise as the year before, but this year you’ll make it stick.


First of all, you plan for results and pick an ambitious target: by the end of the year I want to weigh 10 kilograms less. The target is ambitious, but not unrealistic.


How are you going to do it? For losing so much weight, you need some adjustments to your diet. No more sugared soda drinks, only one time a week French fries and no whipped cream, except for at celebration parties.


To make sure you are on track to losing 10 kilograms by the end of the year, you need to check upon your progress. There are two types of measurements here:

  • Lagging: after the facts. These are history and cannot be controlled anymore.
  • Leading: predictors. These can be monitored and controlled.

As a lagging KPI you can follow-up the grams and calories you have eaten every day in your diary. Other measurements could be the number of “good” and “beat” food you have eaten that day and a smiley face with your personal perception on the day (I have actually seen this in practice!).

Because the lagging KPIs cannot be controlled anymore, you also need a measurement you can influence. As a leading KPI you measure your weight every week. But wait, isn’t this a lagging indicator too? Indeed, the facts have already taken place, but measuring and checking up upon your weight is a predictor for you making your target in time: 10 kilograms less by the end of the year.

To make sure you reach the target, you can create a plan for your weight with milestones along the way (during the year). For setting out this KPI, you need a base (starting point) too: your current weight.

Create a realistic plan for your weight loss: the summer holiday period is probably not the best time to lose much weight.

When you have a base (starting point), target and plan (intermediary milestones), you have your plan for action! (see figure)

Diet plan

Diet plan


Time to follow-up and act upon your progress. When your measurements are not according to plan (see February), it’s time to act. What is the reason you’re not making your target? It could be many: wrong KPI, wrong base, your diet is not strict enough, too ambitious target, too ambitious plan, defect scale, … Do a Root Cause Analysis and find out the real reasons why.

If you know the reason why, you can adjust can take the lessons learned along in the Plan and Do steps of the PDCA cycle. You can adjust the Plan (less weight loss, other deadline) or adjust the Do (more strict rules for not eating unhealthy food).

PDCA cycle for your diet

PDCA cycle for your diet

Lessons learned from positive formulation

The careful reader has probably noticed that it’s difficult to pick to items in the “Do” list of the PDCA cycle. The way is formulated now, it’s an exhaustive list that needs to be adjusted every time again when we see the diet is not working.

If we use the power of positive formulation then the Do step can be reformulated in such a way that it triggers our brain in the right way and is more durable.

Do-step positive formulated

Do-step positive formulated

Much success for the readers actually on a diet!

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Help your coachee realize his Impossible Future

The “Impossible Future” is a concept which Robert Hartgrove describes in his book “Masterful coaching” and can be reformulated as a very ambitious goal, a big challenge.

Too often we lay stretch targets which are too easy to reach. You have to work a bit harder or a bit different to get there, but there’s nothing fundamental changed in your approach or behavior. Because of this, the stretch targets can be considered as a Predictable Future. The concept of the “Impossible Future” is used to let your coachee think about realizing more than his Predictable Future and see how coaching can get him there.

Let’s take a closer look at it.

What’s the Impossible Future?

Currently, your coachee is in the “now” state, expressed by the house in the picture. His current habits and behavior took him so far and he knows it’s working what he doing.  If we create a stretch target for him, expressed by the second house in the picture, he will have to change his behavior, his approach, etc. a bit, but probably still can reach the target.

Compare it with the Hawthorne effect: changing behavior because you’re just paying attention to it.

If we create an Impossible Future for him to realize, expressed by the castle in the picture, his current behavior and approach won’t get him there. A radical change is needed, expressed by the “new me” in the picture.

The Impossible Future

The Impossible Future

Your task as coach

Your coachee needs to be a bigger version of himself and you need to help him with it. Hartgrove describes in his book an approach that has worked for me in real life:

  1. Help the coachee imagine that he currently stands in the Impossible Future to find out what got him there.
  2. Let him describe the leader which he has to be in the Impossible Future:
    1. Which characteristics does he need?
    2. Which behavior does he need (to model)?
    3. What is the gap between him as current leader and his future me?
    4. As a coach, find out how you can get him there. What is your added value? How much of your time does your coachee need for it?

When you have your target leader(ship behavior), you can create an action plan for it: which steps are you going to take to realize that future target? Which are the intermediary milestones?

Road block: the Possible Future

If you define an Impossible Future that is not challenging enough, it will be no problem for your coachee to make a big change. He knows that it’s possible without major changes, without really leaving his comfort zone, and it will become his Predictable Future.

But what if it really seems impossible?

Ok, the target seems impossible, but let’s find out anyway to see what you need (to change) to get there.

Examples of Impossible Futures

  • Become product leader in your industry.
  • Deliver the same value to you customer with 30% fewer resources.
  • Become the top of mind brand in the finance industry.

Additional reading

Masterful Coaching by Robert Hartgrove

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Working with targets: the high vs. the far jumper

Result planning is a technique that is used for planning financial and other results (what’s in a name?!). For doing result planning you need certain elements:

  • A goal: why are you doing result planning as such?
  • A measurement: what are you measuring? Why?
  • A baseline: from where on do you start measuring? What is your starting value?
  • A timeline: when do you start measuring? When do you end?
  • A target: which results do you want to reach (by the end of your timeline)?

And last but not least:

  • A plan: what are the intermediary steps to your results? Is your progress linear or are you growing in steps (eg. release related in ICT environments)?

When you doing result planning for cost savings or financial benefits, we can recognize three types of people:

  • People doing no result planning at all.
  • People who do result planning like far jumpers.
  • People who do result planning like high jumpers.

Since we are now in the spirit of the Olympic Games of 2012, let’s look at the jumpers.

Far jumpers

Far jumpers are athletics who try to jump as far as possible. There are no explicit targets set for them. They just try to jump as far as they can. For them, there’s only the run line, the jump line and the sand. It doesn’t matter how far they get, as long as they get the most far of them all.

In business environments, far jumpers don’t plan for results. They just try to achieve as much as them as possible. This has some advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage is that the sky is the limit: why set limits when you’re doing actions regarding cost savings or financial benefits? Just try to reach as much as you can!

The disadvantage is that without planning, results are only a matter of luck. When you don’t plan for results, you have no guarantee that results are made. Ever.

High jumpers

High jumper Tia Hellabaut

High jumper Tia Hellabaut

High jumpers are athletics who to try to jump over a preset (high) bar. High jumpers don’t try to jump as high as possible: before they jump, they tell the referee how high they are going to jump. 2,02 meters, 2,04 meters, …

This is actually result planning: they set a target in advance and do their best to reach it. If they didn’t reach it, they missed target. If they did reach it, they can raise the bar and go for a next attempt. So, when setting new targets, the term “raise the bar” is used. Now you know where it’s coming from when your superior tells to raise it.

The advantage of high jumping is that it’s clear for everyone what the target is and what you have to do to make it. Just like in the Olympic Games, it’s probably not possible to reach your end target in just one attempt: you need intermediary targets.

Here’s where result planning comes into place: determine your end target, determine the steps to reach it and don’t be afraid to raise the bar when you make your targets too soon.

Thanks to my colleague Bart for the metaphor!

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Create plans for your strategy in action

Die Hard 4

Die Hard 4

Last night I was watching Die Hard 4.0 for the first time and one scene triggered some thoughts with me.

(Detective John McLane and Farell (nerd) are after the bad guy in one of the final acts.)

Farell (nerd): “Do we have a plan?”

McLane: “Findy Lucy [his daughter], kill all of them.”

Farell (nerd): “I mean more of a way to do that.”

First of all, McLane was emotionally involved and only thinking of the end result, not considering all risks. Further there was actually a goal, but not a plan.

Companies and their according departments create a vision, a mission and a strategy. But sometimes they forget what this implies for them. Vision and mission are defined at company level and further translated down the hierarchy. In best case, the entities lower in the hierarchy will not just copy the vision and mission, but will translate it into a version of their own and add their own interpretation, additions and departmental specifics.

Strategy means your actions and action plan for accomplishing your long term goal, your vision. This implies that you need to go further than creating a strategy house and distributing it in your entity!

How will you avoid that the strategy is deduced to hollow words and slogans? You do need to go one step further and ask the questions: how will we fill in the strategy?

If your strategy contains “we want to give the customer the best experience” ask yourself: What does a “best experience” mean for us? What does it mean for our customer? How will accomplish it? What are we going to do about it?

These actions will probably not be accomplished overnight, so you need a plan: an action plan, a commitment plan, a steps to milestones plan, … If you create a plan, you need to provide a way to check if you’re on target: define actions, set intermediary milestones, find measurements (KPIs) and plan a strategy follow-up meeting every six months.

Don’t forget: if you fail to plan, you plan for failure.

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Workshops are like concerts

ConcertWorkshops have some resemblance with rock concerts. There’s a facilitator on stage, in front of an audience and he’s delivering something (value). The facilitator’s task is to make sure the audience gets what they came for.

Just like during a concert, the performance is divided in different parts: enter concert area, intro, welcome, content (delivery), finale, outro, go home.

Most workshops (like eg. RCA, VSM, brainstorm) need a high energy level and level of participation of the participants, so you need to do something special.


The start is the most difficult part for the concert. Tickets were expensive and it was hard to get there. They maybe had to drive for hours or have been queuing for hours. The audience is waiting for long and hopes to get their expectations met. Expectations rise with the minute.

How would you address them? How can you use this energy for the purpose of your workshop?

  • Introduce yourself + explain your role
  • Why are we here? Why do we need you to be here?
  • Set expectations: when is the workshop successful?
  • Check for expectations: why are the participants here? Why did they choose to devote 2 hours or more of their lives to this workshop?
  • For long workshops, do an ice breaker exercise to get everybody warm & loose.
  • Emphasize the need group effort & team work.

Content (delivery)

Nothing more boring than a rock band playing like their in a studio or in their living room. The crowd wants to act, to react, to be spoken to, to shout, …, to sing along!
Further, during the middle part of the performance, there’s always a cool down moment. Relax, come to sense, save energy.

How would you manage this high and low energy during the workshop?

  • Be passionate & enthusiastic.
  • Involve all your participants.
  • Make time for listening.
  • When listening: focus on the contributor only.
  • Interpret reactions and check for underlying feelings and needs.
  • Challenge the input of the participants.
  • Be thankful for their contribution.


The finale is the build up before the big bang closure and wrap-up. The rock band plays their best songs, their best hits. Energy levels rise: this is what the audience paid for, this is what we came for!

The finale is also an important part for workshops: how will you commit to success?

  • Make sure there’s enough time left for the finale! There’s nothing worse than ending a workshop with only a view on the “as is” phase and no action plan, unless that was agreed up front.
  • If needed, take a short break before heading into the finale: participants will come back full of energy. But don’t forget: after a break you’ll have to do a short intro again. Compare it with picking up after an intermezzo.
  • Make sure you deliver what you marked as needed for success. If this isn’t possible, address the issue and make concrete plans for the follow-up workshop(s). Don’t postpone without a date and group committment.
  • Make sure everybody understands, agrees and commits to the actions on the action plan.


The outro goes with a big bang: the band plays a last encore, the crowd shouts in excitement and the lights go out.
What a performance! People will leave energized and talk about it for days, even longer.
This is the level of energy you want to end your workshop with: participants exited about the process, the results and the next steps.

Participants that will act as promoters of the result, participants that will act as promoters of the technique.

  • Keep energy levels high.
  • Thank your audience for their participation.
  • Explain what we accomplished today.
  • Emphasize group effort & accomplishments.
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Make every customer count

Customer - paretoA team, department, organization has in most, not to say all, cases more than one customer. When you use techniques like the oignon diagram to identify your customers and discuss the results with your peer(s), you will get to know all of your direct customers. You’ll even get to the customers they are representing, your indirect customers.

When you know all your customers, you can attune your Voice Of the Customer strategy to evaluate the opinion and improve your product and service.

But how would you divide your time and attention among all these customers?

The best customers get the most of your time

According to the Pareto principle probably 80% of your profits are made by 20% of your customers. If you would take this into account for customer interaction, evaluation and measurement, it means that you will be spending more time with that 20%.

Customer satisfaction feedback could be attuned and you could weigh in these important customers more.

For example:

Customer Satisfaction score Weight (based on eg. sales or profit) Weighted satisfaction score
Customer ABC




Customer XYZ




Customer DEF







From the perspective of profits and finances, this is the most suited customer strategy.

Organizations that follow this strategy are typically finance institutes (private banking), companies that target big market players, niche industries, etc

The disadvantage of this technique is that bad customer satisfaction scores will not make it to your dashboards. In this case 66% (2 of the 3) of the customers is actually very dissatisfied, but you won’t see it in the weighted satisfaction score: they only count for 20% (8 + 12%) of the total based on sales or profit numbers.

If these dissatisfied customers are not dealt with (please read: “helped” or “supported”) your Net Promoter Score will not lie about it.

Each customer is important

Another customer strategy is giving each customer the time and attention they deserve: each customer is equal and is equal important. No matter how much sales and profits they contribute to, your time and attention is divided among all of them.

For example:

Customer Satisfaction score
Customer ABC


Customer XYZ


Customer DEF




From the perspective of sustainability and long-term customer relationships this is the most suited customer strategy.

Organizations that follow this strategy are typically not-for-profit organizations, public health care, hospitals, etc

The disadvantage of this strategy is the fact that the KPIs you use to steer your organization are very sensitive and will immediately react on negative satisfaction scores, no matter what or who the customer is representing.

So how are you dividing your attention?

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Evaluating your KPIs from top to bottom and beyond

It all starts with a vision and mission statement for the company. With these statements you can compose the long-term strategy. To see if your strategy is working, you need measurements. KPIs are KEY performance indicators: these express how good we are in implementing our strategy.

KPI tree

A KPI tree is a visual representation of the KPIs in your organization. It provides a visual for which KPIs (and measurements) contribute to other KPIs.

How do we now we have the correct KPIs and KPI tree set up?

Top level evaluation

Do the KPIs fit your strategy? Did you pick the KEY measurements to see if you’re going in the right direction? Do the KPIs capture the focus in a correct way?

Top down evaluation

When you have loose ends, the top-level KPIs are not connected to the work floor. Check why the top-level KPI was picked and why you are not measuring it lower in the hierarchy.

Remark: it’s possible that not all KPIs are fit for the work floor and are actual aggregations.

Bottom-up evaluation

KPIs which are not connected to KPIs above imply that the KPIs are not suited for accomplishing the strategy OR that we did miss something when setting up the strategy and the KPI tree.

In both cases: talk with the responsibles and try to understand why they picked the KPI.

KPI matrix

Since the KPI matrix contains more information, there’s more to evaluate:

  • Is the RACI clear? Who provides the data? Who is accountable?
  • Does the measurement frequency fit the need?
  • Are we measuring all aspects of the work floor?
  • Are there both lagging and leading indicators? (see further)
  • Is the KPI in place and is it used (or is it considered waste)?

Leading vs lagging

Strategy - plansThere a subtle difference how and when you’re measuring performance. Lagging KPIs are measured after the facts: the result cannot be influenced and employees can only react upon the KPI. Leading KPIs are predictors for the lagging KPIs. Leading KPIs are predictors for an event in the future.

When you’re taking decisions on the base of leading KPIs, you are working in a proactive way.

An example: indicators for a heart attack:

Lagging: pain in left arm, number of heart attacks, …
Leading: weight gain, cholesterol, heart attacks in family, …

If you are only measuring the lagging indicators: you’re too late and the heart attack might be fatal. If you’re measuring the leading indicators you can proactively steer and change your behaviour or limit impact.

Having only lagging indicators implies that you’re only taking note of events and reacting to it. Leading indicators hand over the control to you. Make sure you use it.

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