From Humiliation to Hope
I am a proud man. I love my wife. I love my job. I love the company I’ve had the good fortune to help build. But that does not mean I’m immune to stress, frustration and angst. And it most definitely does not mean I’m immune to humiliation.
I am lucky to be a member of an outstanding CEO Peer Group that has served as a wonderful sounding board for me. None of the members have a supervisor, per se. So, it’s nice that we have the opportunity to play that role for each other. These are the people to whom I report, to whom I am accountable and upon whom I rely to keep me honest. In the summer of 2014, I asked two of the other CEOs in my peer group to perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on Kenway. Upfront, I knew there would be some difficult findings. I anticipated them and I expected them. However, I was not prepared for the extent of what they shared. I was rocked to the core. Quite honestly, I was humiliated.
There was lots of great feedback: some surprises and some expected. But the one item that took all the wind out of my sails was one sentence “your employees communicated that they don’t know where the company is heading…there is no vision”. I went through denial and anger, and then repeated that cycle for a while; denial to anger and then back to denial again. Eventually, I did arrive at acceptance, but it was far from easy. But even then, at the point when I accepted the feedback as valid, I still had work to do. I firmly believed that I as CEO needed to create the Vision, the 5-Year plan, and set the direction of the company that our employees could follow. So, for the better part of the next six months, I tried to do just that. I started outlines, visuals and metrics. And I hated every one of them. And so after six months, I failed. Not only had I been humiliated by the feedback, but now, I was humiliated by my inability to address the feedback. I was miserable.
An epiphany is defined as “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”. Well, in February of 2015, I had two epiphanies at the same time. First, I realized that I was incapable of doing what the employees of Kenway were seeking. And not just because I failed for six months (and the prior 10 years). Rather, I realized I had failed because I am not wired to think in terms of visions and destinations. Because of who I am and who I will always be, I focus on means and not outcomes. I believe in doing what is right today, this week, this month and this year, and having faith that doing so will lead to great outcomes. Predicting where we will be in 5 years is counter to my way of thinking, my way of being. So it is no wonder that I failed when trying to do so. Secondly, I realized two major things about the employees of Kenway: a) Not everyone thinks the way I do (thank goodness), and b) I am surrounded by the smartest people with whom I have ever worked. If they want a Vision, a 5-Year Plan, who better to ask to create it than this amazing group of people?
And so I did. In February of 2015, I went to an all-company meeting, and through a morning full of collaborative activities that did NOT include yours truly, the employees of Kenway Consulting (all of them) wrote our vision for 2020, which we refer to as the Kenway 20/20. I relinquished control of its creation, and promised to steward whatever they created. And for the past two years, it’s been my barometer. We as a company, and I as CEO, use it daily in our decision-making as it relates to alignment of our decisions, our projects and our pursuits.
The story could end there. But it doesn’t.
A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with two employees, one of whom had just started at Kenway at the now famous February 2015 meeting, and one who joined a little over a year ago. They were making a pitch to me, to officially launch a service offering that in many ways we have already been providing our clients. They call it Organizational Empowerment. It is rooted in the Kenway Why of helping companies, but rather than just helping in the areas of project execution, managing change and maximizing data as an asset, Organizational Empowerment is about helping companies through cultural definition, alignment and engagement.
You may be wondering, “what is the connection?” Well, instrumental to the creation of this service, is packaging what Kenway does for ourselves, to honor our own culture and our own methods to create, retain and increase employee engagement. And what did they present to me as one of the offerings? You guessed it: the activity we performed to create the Kenway 20/20 back in February of 2015. The employees of Kenway Consulting came to me to say that they believe we can help companies do what we do for ourselves on an ongoing basis. It dawned on me (perhaps epiphany #3) that through my humiliation, and through my own personal weaknesses, we found the next arrow in our quiver to help companies in more ways than we do today.
So with that as a backdrop, it is exciting for me to say that Kenway Consulting is formally launching an Organizational Empowerment service offering. Whether it be assessing cultural current state, defining core values and guiding principles, evaluating alignment, identifying sponsorship issues or helping with visioning, Kenway is excited to formally bring to market what we are proud we do for ourselves. And for me personally, I am ecstatic to move from humiliation two short years ago, to hope. From that humiliation, now comes hope that we can help companies prevent and solve cultural shortcomings and unleash the full potential of their organization. We are open for business. For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.