Defining roles and responsibilities in project management

Project management is a very much misunderstood profession that has often been equated to herding cats. Much of this confusion comes from the fact that project management isn’t a single discipline but rather the practice of bringing a set of disciplines together in order to achieve a common goal.

One of the big challenges in project management then is the definition and attribution of individual roles in projects that often require expertise and involvement from across an organisation. Today, I want to take a look at how these roles and responsibilities are defined and maintained and the importance in doing so.

The PRINCE2 methodology definition

Project management methodologies are frameworks and principles that underpin the planning, execution and success of projects across any given corporate structure, industry or deliverable. The definition of roles and responsibilities are core to all project management methodologies. If we look at the principles of the PRINCE2 methodology, which is the most widely practiced in the world today, we’ll see the importance of roles and responsibilities is described like thus. As Wikipedia notes:

“Roles are separated from individuals, who may take on multiple roles or share a role. Roles in PRINCE2 are structured in four levels (corporate or programme management, project board, project manager level and team level).”

PRINCE2 methodology stressed the importance of role definition and hierarchy but is also flexible to recognize that some pre-defined roles can be merged, while others can’t.

Broadly speaking, the stated hierarchy is defined by the level of involvement.

  • Corporate management level refers to the project’s sponsors, whose primary involvement will be defining the project’s mandate, defining project level tolerances and ensuring that the project delivers value for money.
  • The project board (sometimes referred to as a steering committee) can be seen as the executive and will comprise key decision-makers, including a business-oriented individual who is ultimately responsible for the project. It is the job of the board to provide the necessary resources and funding to the PM and his/her team.
  • The project manager is responsible for the day-to-day management of the project and is responsible for liaising and reporting back progress to the project board. Because this role is so pivotal, it cannot ever be merged with other roles and exists on a hierarchical level of its own.
  • The project team are responsible for executing and delivering the project within agreed time, cost and quality tolerances. Team member’s roles will vary depending on project scope and size. These could include various support roles with administrative and data compiling duties, as well as asset management.

The importance of hierarchy is largely an operational consideration in the execution of a project, in that it creates clear boundaries between roles. At a deeper level, PRINCE2 also has a clearly defined responsibilities tables with each product (outcome) broken down by where any given producer, approver or reviewer sits in the wider hierarchy.

Stakeholder roles

Another core aspect of role definition in project management methodology are the stakeholder roles. These stakeholder roles are defined by their interest in the project and its deliverables and are as follows:

  • Business sponsors: Individuals who make sure the project delivers value for money.
  • Users: The beneficiaries of the product that the project has been setup to deliver.
  • Suppliers: Those supplying the resources or skills in order for the project to deliver.

PRINCE2 methodology dictates that all stakeholder roles must be represented at both the project board and project team level. Individuals at all levels should be able to understand what is expected of them, what is expected of others and who the key decision makers are.

Specialists vs. generalists

In many projects, especially smaller projects, skills might need to overlap in order to fully utilize the individual skillsets available to you. The tension comes when there is a need for a specific specialism or technical skill set in order to complete a given task. In these cases, the more generalist skill sets of a project team may not be able to fill the gap.

It is the role of the project manager to balance a multi-skilled team with a more specialized one. This will involve thorough planning and the management of the project in stages (another PRINCE2 principle) so as to fully understand where and when specific skillsets will be required and what other stages will be dependent on this.

In some instances, it may be necessary to outsource or bring in external specialist help, but this presents its own set of challenges, not least in getting the budget signoff required.

Project management requires a structure and framework, but it also requires flexibility in order to adapt to any given environment and the unique challenges they pose. A key determinant of success, however, will always be the proper definition of roles and responsibilities. Getting this right from the outset will make for a smoother journey, where everyone involved is engaged and in the loop.


David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with PRINCE2 Training. Working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum and Lean Six Sigma. PRINCE2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organisations and individuals throughout the world.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Everyday analytics: Ask the right questions and embrace incremental improvement

Analytics have now permeated into all levels of any company’s organizational hierarchy, creating exciting new opportunities but also some interesting challenges.

Not all businesses are equipped with data scientists and analytics experts to help them navigate what can seem to be a flood of information. The challenge companies face is making data accessible to a range of stakeholders who have little to no experience in data science so that organizations can derive insights and the greatest value from them -- without overwhelming staff.

There are several steps businesses can take to foster a culture that habitually and successfully maximizes the benefit of analytics at all levels.

Analytics can seem intimidating simply because of the massive amount of data that is at our fingertips. I often liken it to an author working on a novel: the hardest step is usually getting started. Being inundated with data from every angle makes it difficult for an everyday user to get started gleaning insights from analytics.

In order to overcome this challenge, it is important first to define the question to investigate -- essentially starting with the first step of the scientific method. By defining the top priority question, the focus is narrowed, eliminating swaths of data that do not contribute to answering the question. This first step is the most important, and the key question can often be determined by the people on the front lines in the organization on a daily basis. They have much greater insight into the question or questions that need to be investigated first.

Even though the people working on a particular question may not be analytics experts, it is essential to understand the source of data and the methodology used to collect and organize it. This is where communication becomes critical. Think of this as research that authors do to equip themselves to best write their novel.

When presenting results either internally or externally, many questions are sure to emerge about how a particular insight was produced and what data was used to produce it. In order to answer these questions, business leaders must work to bridge the gap between themselves and data scientists -- what the MIT Sloan School of Business calls an “interpretation gap.”

Ask questions until everyone involved is clear that the data being produced are applicable to practical, real-world scenarios. This will produce more reliable results that business users can lean into with greater confidence.

Companies must remember that analytics are not a substitute for the intimate, first-hand understanding of a business, referred to as domain expertise. The Boston Consulting Group defines domain expertise as “superior knowledge and insight into a business or category,” and goes further to state that domain experts “use this insight to spur innovation, to see through complexities, and to imagine what could be.” Data are not a replacement for domain expertise but rather complementary to it.

This distinction is key to avoid falling into the trap of viewing analytics in a vacuum. If something doesn’t seem like it adds up in the data, apply domain expertise and ask questions until you have a clear understanding. As Florian Zettelmeyer of the Kellogg School at Northwestern University points out, “Knowing what you know about your business, is there a plausible explanation for that result?”

This is where authors combine research with their own experiences to craft a story with a logical plot that will appeal to readers. Companies cannot rely on data or on their own observations alone to guide actions but should use the results of both to form a holistic view of the business or the particular question they are trying to answer.

Success in applying data-driven insights relies on taking action. But it is important for business leaders not to feel the need to create action plans that completely overhaul or revolutionize their organization -- instead focusing on more granular goals.

McKinsey makes this point: “The impact of ‘big data’ analytics is often manifested by thousands—or more—of incrementally small improvements. If an organization can atomize a single process into its smallest parts and implement advances where possible, the payoffs can be profound.”

Too often, companies ignore the value of small improvements and the potential for exponential payoffs that can result from building on the foundation of these minor victories over time.

The real key to success in applying everyday analytics comes down to one thing: engagement. Leaders and their teams that are simply engaged with analytics are already ahead of the field. This is true of any facet of business, but especially so of analytics. The goal in the end is to use data to make better decisions and to increase efficiencies within an organization.

Producing analytics must not be a goal in and of itself. The author does not publish a novel simply to do so, but to delight readers and to make a contribution to society. On an organizational level, analytics are really not so different.


Ryan Mandell is director of performance consulting at Mitchell International.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

The 4 Most Common Challenges Facing Enterprise Strategy Teams Today

Strategy teams are tasked with seeing around corners. It's a challenging job.

The advantage of disadvantage

Each month, When Growth Stalls examines why businesses and brands struggle and how they can overcome their obstacles and resume growth. Steve McKee is the president of McKee Wallwork + Co., an advertising agency that specializes in working with stalled, stuck and stale brands. The company was recognized by Advertising Age as 2015 Southwest Small Agency of the Year. McKee is also the author of “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding.”

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

Running an advertising agency located in an out-of-the-way place like Albuquerque, N.M., has its drawbacks.

There aren’t a lot of big-budget clients here, it’s not the place famous brands tend to look for help, and it’s generally off the beaten path. But our location also has its advantages: stunning landscapes, an amazing climate, and fabulous cuisine, to name a few. Perhaps the biggest single advantage operating our firm here provides is, oddly enough, its disadvantages. They force us to be inventive.

That’s what struck me when I visited several ad agencies in a much bigger city a few weeks ago. I was introducing to them a software tool we have developed to make our agency more productive. As I strolled the city between two of my appointments, I wondered why I was sharing my firm’s innovation with them rather than them sharing one with me. The answer was apparent: We innovated because we had to, and they didn’t because they didn’t. Advantage: disadvantage.

The eminent economist George Gilder said that "the most important feature of an information economy ... is the overthrow, not the attainment, of equilibrium.” It’s when things go wrong that people become motivated to make them right. Gilder says, “The key to economic growth is not acquisition of things by the pursuit of monetary rewards but the expansion of wealth through learning and discovery.”

Never are we in greater need of discovery than when we’re at a disadvantage.

My firm has lived this firsthand. After an initial half-decade of rapid growth, we got stuck. Really stuck. Near-death stuck. To say we were desperate for learning and discovery is an understatement. That made us willing to take a risk and spend what little cash we had to commission a sweeping study of rapidly-growing companies. We wanted to see what we could learn from their success and inadvertently ended up learning more from those that failed. That set us on a course of continued research and innovation to become our industry’s leading expert on the revitalization of struggling brands. Advantage: disadvantage.

One of the joys of working with stalled, stuck and stale organizations is their openness to change; nothing will make you open to surgery more than hemorrhaging. Because companies in decline acutely feel the disadvantaged situation in which they find themselves—whether it’s industry commoditization, shifts in the competitive landscape, tardiness to technological advancements or any one of dozens of other reasons—they’re more open to taking calculated risks.  Pain has a way of focusing their minds on seeking transformative solutions.

Sometimes those solutions involve new product development, where it also pays to seek advantage through disadvantage. Amantha Imber, CEO of an innovation consulting firm in Australia, chides companies that become enamored with “cool ideas” rather than customer pain points. Imber says innovation must begin with “things that frustrate people, that are (annoying them). This is the stuff that they will pay more money for if we can solve their frustrations.” In other words, look for advantage in your customers’ disadvantage.

We’ve applied this lesson in a fun way by creating a “What Doesn’t Work” wall, on which our staff is encouraged to post annoyances small and large as a way of coping with their own everyday irritations. Items on our wall range from titanic frustrations like the US health care system to minor annoyances like crosswalks in Italy, no-show socks and wet coasters that stick to the bottom of your glass.

The “What Doesn’t Work” wall is more for inspiration than anything, but who knows—maybe one of these days we’ll come up with a solution or two. (I have personally volunteered to study crosswalks in Italy.)

All kidding aside, finding advantage in disadvantage is a powerful way of looking at the world. A few years ago, a company came to us that was facing sudden and significant challenges, not because of its own operation but due to changing consumer dynamics that were rapidly overtaking its industry. No matter how strong the company’s competitive position, nor how well it was executed, nothing was going to save it. It was facing existential disadvantage.

Our task was, as Gilder might have described it, to find a way to overthrow the evolving industry equilibrium. We began with extensive research to explore the frustrations still being felt by the industry’s customers, of which there were many. And we recognized in those frustrations an opportunity for an entirely new business model.

Because of its acute pain, our client was willing to risk raising millions of dollars to launch a startup that would redefine its industry’s playing field. Fast forward to today, and our client’s old business model, like all of its competitors, is increasingly antiquated. But the company is in the driver’s seat of disruption rather than being run over by it.

Seeking innovation in frustration is an evergreen method of creating change. And there’s one other benefit: It keeps you from feeling sorry for yourself. When everything’s going your way, something’s bound to break. But when you’re down, whether you’re out or not is up to you. That’s a great way of looking at the world. Advantage: disadvantage.

How to develop the skills of innovative leaders

I attended a private school until the eighth grade. The only students were my brother and myself because we lived on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming. The nearest town was 90 minutes, one-way, on a dirt road.

There were no other kids to play with, so I played with trucks and dolls when I was young. As I got older, I spent time with animals. I talked to them and treated them as friends -- indeed, the only ones I had!

When we role-play, we imagine ourselves in different situations. One week, I would be a veterinarian and patch up all sorts of ills that befall animals on a ranch. Or a John Wayne character who packed a gun and brought justice to the wild west.

I always imagined myself to be someone whom I aspired to become like when I grew up. At that age, my hero was someone very real to me. My imagination gave me permission to walk in the shoes of my hero, if only for a few moments.

Research tells us that children who have a good imagination grow up to be more creative as adults. Imaginative and creative people also tend to be more innovative as well.

Innovation is the secret sauce that can accelerate a company’s profits and growth beyond its competitors. In a recent study, innovation was ranked a long-term challenge for driving business growth. It is a key talent needed at all levels of leadership, starting with the CEO.

Despite its importance, innovation is a difficult quality to cultivate in both leaders and organizations.

As a leader, what if you feel you’re not innovative? You may need to fake it until you make it, but it is possible to create a mindset that will allow you to develop your creativity. Oscar Hammerstein wrote that by whistling a happy tune, “when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”

Creating an innovative mindset takes work and may require some retraining, but anyone can innovate if they develop these core competencies:

1. Seek out innovative environments

Our environment plays a major part in developing our innovative characteristics. We can’t change the circumstances of our upbringing, but we do have a choice in the kinds of people with whom we associate and surround ourselves.

We tend to take on the same characteristics as the people we spend the most time with, so be picky! It’s fine to spend time with school chums and old acquaintances, but we need to challenge ourselves to develop new friends who will truly nourish our desire to be the person we want to be.

Likewise, spend time with colleagues who possess high levels of innovative traits.

Tip: Create a learning environment or community that generates new knowledge and perspectives. This type of networking will expose you to different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

2. Observe and be curious

Innovative leaders score high in curiosity. They desire to know more and take the initiative to learn new information. They keep their skills and knowledge current to give them a competitive edge.

Innovative leaders are mentally tough because they believe they will prevail in their circumstances, rather than hope their circumstances will change. If an obstacle pops up, they react with curiosity as they investigate the endless possibilities before them.

Innovative leaders see possibilities everywhere and constantly add new information as they learn more. They are curious about other people and come up with many of their own innovative ideas as they observe others.

Tip: Become an investigator who looks at an obstacle or roadblock from many perspectives. Curiosity and observation are two important traits in innovative people. Look for the possibilties in your situation, not the dead end.

3. Pinpoint self-fulfilling prophecies

We all have self-limiting beliefs about ourselves that often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies about what we can and cannot do in life. We can place limitations around ourselves when we predict the outcome of a situation. We change our behavior so that the prediction comes true.

If you think you’re going to fail a job interview, that belief may lead to behavior that ensures you do, indeed, fail the job interview.

Tip: The self-fulfilling prophecy can work in the opposite direction as well. Stay positive and rein in self-limiting beliefs that can sabotage your performance.

4. Shake things up

The same study cited above also revealed that innovative leaders scored 25% higher than non-innovative counterparts in managing risk.

Risk ignites innovation because it moves us out of our comfort zone. Risk does not cohabitate with complacency because embracing risk is experimenting with the unknown. We try new experiences, take things apart, and test new ideas.

Innovation requires us to make something out of nothing. It requires the grit to keep working at something until you find a solution.

When you shake things up and embrace risk, one of two things will happen: You will succeed at meeting your goal, or you will succeed in getting an education.

Tip: Seek out new experiences that will stimulate your thinking and avoid the mundane. Habits are the killer of innovation.

5. Seize opportunities

Innovative leaders take risks, and when they do, they seize opportunities. Because they are also careful observers, they change direction when the advantage becomes apparent.

Innovative leaders can anticipate potential obstacles and are not surprised when they pop up. They are prepared for them and are able to pivot and move forward, without losing valuable momentum.

Tip: Rather than accept the learning opportunities when they occur, intentionally broaden activities in strategic areas. Be proactive in moving into those areas where you want to expand.

6. Avoid phony at all costs

Aristotle once wrote, “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a certain way.” That is the source of the "fake it until you make it" mantra.

While you can fake it until you make it when you start out, there is an important caveat: Don’t expect it to take you all the way to the top.

Innovation is a mindset. As such, you work to create a mindset that seeks ways to move around obstacles. If you are a talented individual, you can fake your way through the learning process until it becomes a genuine skill you own.

Tip: If you do not have the talent, desire, or confidence to take your career to the next level, no amount of faking it will help. You risk being seen as an imposter.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.


4 mindsets needed for a better talent pipeline

As leaders face the most volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business conditions ever, one thing is clear: Talent is an organization’s most powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.

As a result, improving the talent pipeline by attracting, developing and retaining the best possible employees is among a leader’s most fundamental priorities.

It’s an unfortunate reality, however, that the pipes we’re most familiar with -- the plumbing that delivers water to our homes -- operate differently than organizational talent pipelines. Whereas water begins flowing upon demand, great employees don’t rush into the building as soon as a key position becomes available.

This means that leaders must continuously have talent on their minds and in their day-to-day behaviors. Best-in-class organizations report that that their leaders share four key mindsets that help to keep pipelines well-populated with top talent.

Mindset No. 1: I am in the best possible position to source new talent

Attracting top talent can no longer be an activity that’s delegated to HR. Local leaders are the ones closest to the needs -- and closest to those who might be best suited to meet those needs. As a result, leaders at all levels must begin expanding their job descriptions to include being a talent scout.

Talents scouts are perpetually on the lookout for prospective new employees. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they look at things through the lens of “How can I make connections that will support our needs today and into the future?” Whether it’s at a conference, reading a business journal or standing in line at the coffee shop, talent scouts recognize possibilities where others don’t. And they cultivate relationships, even if there’s not an immediate need to be filled.

These leaders are also creative in terms of where they seek out talent. Rather than mining the same tired sources as their competitors, they look in novel places and identify those who aren’t necessarily the “usual suspects.” And when they do that, they contribute powerfully to a rich and sustainable talent pipeline.

Mindset No. 2: My actions contribute directly to the employment brand we project in the marketplace

Given the instantaneous and ubiquitous nature of information today, prospective candidates can learn a lot about an organization before ever agreeing to an interview. Increasingly, leaders are coming to appreciate that the company’s employment brand may be as important as the brand reflected to customers. And that brand is the cumulative effect of the culture, behaviors and policies that affect employees.

Leaders who want to support a positive employment brand must ask themselves:

  • How do prospective candidates and employees currently perceive the organization… and how well is this perception serving us?
  • How do I contribute to the organization’s reputation?
  • What does my social media footprint say about me and about the organization by extension?
  • What steps am I taking to deliver on the promises we make to prospective and new employees so they’ll stick around, become optimally engaged and be able to share their talents to the greatest extent possible?

Building an effective employment brand -- one that will attract the best and the brightest -- demands attention on the part of all leaders. It begins with cultivating the right impressions in the marketplace, and those impressions must also come to life and create a congruent experience for people who choose to join the organization.

Mindset No. 3: It’s my job to anticipate and understand talent needs and gaps -- not just in my department or group but throughout the organization   

Effective leaders are constantly scanning the environment to understand how changing business conditions will affect the work of their group. They look at economic, environmental, demographic, political and other factors to plan for the future. Highly effective leaders also use this information to anticipate and begin taking early steps toward attracting the talent that will be needed for that new future. They recruit and hire today with tomorrow in mind. But taking care of one’s own part of the business is no longer enough.

In the past, talent was frequently treated as a local or departmental resource. Siloed organizations led to fiefdoms, territoriality and, too often, the loss of key contributors to the competition. Given today’s highly interconnected organizations and competitive employment environment, talent must be recognized as an enterprise-wide resource.

Leaders who think more broadly and abundantly about talent understand that we’re all in this together. They see the value of building awareness of the talent needs, not just in their department or group but across the organization. What’s happening elsewhere may be an indicator of challenges to come.  So they anticipate and monitor their own gaps and needs while also doing the same at an organizational level. In this way, they are better poised to learn, respond, and share insights and resources to benefit the organization as a whole.

Mindset No. 4: I have a responsibility to help continuously improve organizational processes to support the talent pipeline

It’s frequently said that it takes a village to educate a child. It also takes a village to ensure that an organization can attract the retain the talent it needs to thrive. While HR may own some of the processes, leaders can provide the in-the-trenches perspectives, and these perspectives can inform improvements of the organization’s competitive advantage. So, “if you see something, say something.”

  • Are competitors offering new benefits that are luring candidates and employees away?
  • Are unnecessarily protracted verification processes causing your best candidates to accept other offers?
  • Are opportunities for advancement not sufficiently transparent to capture the imagination of prospective employees?

Your visibility to these sorts of things is the first step in addressing issues that may be compromising your organization’s ability to attract the talent it needs.

Regardless the nature of your business, people are the key to driving results. And leaders must play a central role in attracting, recruiting and ultimately hiring the people required to ensure a free-flowing talent pipeline.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Strategy by metaphor

Each month, When Growth Stalls examines why businesses and brands struggle and how they can overcome their obstacles and resume growth. Steve McKee is the president of McKee Wallwork + Co., an advertising agency that specializes in working with stalled, stuck and stale brands. The company was recognized by Advertising Age as 2015 Southwest Small Agency of the Year. McKee is also the author of “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding.”

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

If I said that the next 700 words contain the Uber of business advice, would you believe me? Probably not. It’s a big claim. And these days, a common one.

Forbes’ Daniel Newman writes, “[T]he Uber chapter in tech history has probably inspired far more copy-cat businesses than any other in recent memory, with Uber-inspired laundry and food delivery, hair styling, and even flat-tire service.” A quick Google search turns up references to the Uber of rental services, the Uber of tutoring and even the Uber of bathrooms. (Not sure I want to know more about that one.)

Despite its overuse, however, there’s good reason people (including me) are uber-referencing Uber. Metaphors work. Sometimes even more that we realize.

For instance, I was in a strategy session where the talk was all about supply chains. We were seeking a different way of understanding our client’s business when it dawned on us that “supply chain” itself had become so ubiquitous we failed to recognize that it’s already a metaphor. The simple exercise of revisiting it unlocked a breakthrough new idea.

In another case we were struggling with the positioning for a company that was respected but (there’s no other way to say it) boring. One direction felt particularly correct, but nobody was very excited about it.

After an awkward, pregnant pause someone said, “You know, we’re not the kind of company you want to date, but we are the kind you want to marry.” The tone of the room transformed as the perception of the positioning shifted, and it was adopted with enthusiasm (and I’m happy to report has been proven a winner).

And then there was the tech startup for which we were raising seed capital from existing industry players. The closing statement in the pitch presentation was, “You all are bookstores. This idea is Amazon. The only question is whether or not you want to own it.” As you might suspect, we raised a lot of money.

Metaphors work for the simple reason that they make the unfamiliar familiar. In brand strategy, for example, there’s a standard approach by which one first determines a brand’s “frame of reference” and then identifies its “point of difference.” Usually the frame of reference is a category of similar products or services -- insurance belongs with insurance, soft drinks with soft drinks, and industrial machinery with industrial machinery. This approach works well when you’re trying to differentiate a brand within an existing framework.

But when the task is bigger than that -- such as the need to reposition or even resurrect a company -- it can be helpful to examine different frames of reference using the power of metaphor.

“How would we sell our insurance in the soft drink aisle?” “What would we call our soft drink if it was an industrial machine?“ How would we position our industrial machine if it was insurance?” These examples are a bit far-fetched, but then again perhaps not. You never know where a helpful parallel will arise.

A good metaphor helps you pour the confusion you’re facing into a container you can examine and see if anything settles out. It can be used to understand a challenge, frame an opportunity, define a market or identify a new direction. It’s a fruitful way to generate strategic options you may not have thought of before, even if some of them are nonsensical.

Creativity is often simply the combination of two previously unrelated ideas, so it can indeed be enlightening to ask, “How could we apply the Uber model to our industry?” Or “Could we develop a pricing platform like Amazon Prime?” Or “How would Apple package our product?” The possibilities are limited only by the comparisons you can conceive, which is why metaphors can be such a helpful tool.

You have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to go down a variety of different avenues, some of which may be dead ends. But it’s also kind of fun. It may feel odd at first, but strategy-by-metaphor is a vehicle that can take you wherever you need to go. Kinda like an Uber.

Why forethought matters when establishing your advisory board

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

If you enjoy this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter for entrepreneurs.

Q. What is one thing to always keep in mind when initially setting up a stellar advisory board for your business?

1. Determine what the advisory board is

For It seems obvious, but sometimes we do things because we look for ways to fill our time. Determine what you’re hoping to get out of setting up an advisory board. Understand why you’re seeking help, and how the board will serve you on your journey. -- Ismael Wrixen, FE International

2. Seek a mix of experience

Pick people that you want to spend time with. You want to make sure the two of you get along great, and that you value that person’s opinion and experience. Make sure to have a mix of advisers, too. Ideally, not everyone will have similar backgrounds, and try to diversify the experience that they have so that when you need something or have a question, then you have a great person to go to. -- Jayna Cooke, EVENTup

3. Ensure there's diversity and inclusion

Our biggest priority when setting up an advisory board is diversity. Diversity in gender, race, experience, expertise and industry, for instance. We are intentional about including all areas of expertise that we may need to call upon at some point during our entrepreneurial journey and make sure to bring on advisers who will continuously challenge our work with their knowledge on a particular subject. -- Matt Hunckler, Powderkeg

4. Find people who really care

What you want in an adviser is someone who actually cares deeply about what you are doing. I've seen so many founders bring on advisers who seemed like a great fit, but what makes the difference between a good adviser and an incredible one is someone who is hugely passionate about what you are doing. Always look for passion in addition to skill set. -- Beth Doane, Main & Rose

5. Seek council, not advice

Everyone is eager to give you their advice. However, council comes from those who have deep industry experience and have been in your shoes before. Finding advisers who can give you council should be your aim. Remember, the important quality in an adviser is that they are excited about your business and wants to help you. Having a stellar adviser that never answers your calls does you no good. -- Arian Radmand, TurnGram

6. Make sure they truly get what you're trying to accomplish

It's important to find those who can advise you on what you are doing truly get what you are trying to do, and how your products or services are assisting a particular audience. This is critical to get the best connections and strategic recommendations. -- John Rampton, Calendar

7. Find advisers who can open doors

The right advisory board can not only give you great advice, but also put you in contact with industry players who can make moves that benefit your company. Find people with industry experience and a network you can leverage to grow your business. -- Vik Patel, Future Hosting

8. Choose members who can listen

Way too often, advisory members are involved in companies as a way of stroking their ego. Being selected as an adviser intrinsically comes with a sense of empowerment, which might indicate that the knowledge and experience is one-directional. Advisers will often impart their opinion on the company's activities without truly listening to its unique challenges. Choose advisers who can listen. -- Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

9. Have a spot for key positions

Just like building an athletic team you want to make sure you have the right players on the field. You want to make sure you have a marketing, legal, strategy and finance executive on your advisory board. That way you are analyzing your business from a 360-degree scope -- Anthony Davani, The Davani Group Inc.

10. Study their rrack Record

Look for those that have a track record of running their own businesses successfully or investing in and growing companies that have succeeded. These are the masterminds you want to have on your board to get you to the same place. -- Murray Newlands, Sighted

11. Have their equity vest over time

The time of the best advisers is very limited and extremely valuable. To keep your advisers motivated to continue to add value to your company over time, give them a piece of your company's equity pie, but on a vesting schedule. The vesting schedule will help hold them accountable if they are rockstars in the first few months, but do not add as much value to your company down the road. -- Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC

12. Don't forget that trust Is earned

Advisers should be mentors and peers that are trustworthy and will steer your business in the right direction, and not just in "their" right direction. They should be objective, insightful and continue guiding you through your journey in a way that allows you to achieve your goals. But trust should be earned, and not assumed. Ensure your board has earned their place at the table. -- Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker

3 ideas to help drive change in your company

According to a Deloitte Consulting study, 88% of executives state that to build an “organization of the future,” they must transform their business practices. Transformation requires extensive change, which is difficult. Or is it?

In the Harvard Business Review article "Stop Using the Excuse that Organizational Change is Hard," organizational psychologist Nick Tasler writes that we’ve come to believe the trope that “change is difficult.” Tasler observes that many change initiatives do actually achieve success, but negative biases “can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Perhaps changes isn’t as difficult as we think it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are legitimate barriers to transformation, both personal and organizational. Consider these three factors to help you sort out your change management challenges.

Outdated change-management philosophies

Many change-management practices are rooted in philosophies that are nearly three decades old. The problem is, many of them don’t take into account today’s business realities. Many change management systems are aimed at helping organizations maneuver through a specific, large-scale change rather than dealing with myriad micro-changes that leaders and their employees continually experience. Many of the models are linear and process-oriented, with the framework of grief or loss as their conceptual underpinning.

“Modern change management theory is based on a model of destruction, whereas the change management theory that I have found actually works for individuals and organizations is based on a model of creation,” writes Dana Theus of InPower Coaching. Theus advocates for leaders to see change as an act of creation, and invite people into the change process earlier.

New York Times-bestselling author Cy Wakeman believes it’s time to move past the “stages of grief” philosophy common in many change management models. In her latest book, "No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results," Wakeman writes, “Although change can indeed be a challenge, I don’t see how it make sense to grieve the natural and inevitable changes required to make a business successful in the same way as we would a death.”

Reframing the change-management conversation

Traditional change-management models that are based on loss and driven by a select few at the top of the organization tend to frame employees as helpless casualties. When a small cadre of leaders assume the majority of responsibility for managing change, it “generates negative energy and passive participants,” writes Theus.  

Wakeman concurs: "When people are allowed to remain passive it breeds contempt,” which makes employees even less likely to engage in the change.

Wakeman advocates a shift in the way we talk about coping with change. Calling change management “so 1990s,” she suggests that we move from “managing change” to developing “business readiness” in employees. In the former, leaders bear the burden of softening the blow of the changes from employees. The latter helps develop a change-ready workforce.

“To be relevant in the future, leaders need to leave change management theories in the past and focus instead on ‘readiness’ by developing employees’ future potential on a daily basis,” writes Wakeman. “Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary and neutral.”

Leaders can do this through daily “downloads” of easy-to-digest information that create a workforce that’s ready for what’s next. They don’t shield people from reality, or invest excessive amounts of time with work arounds so that people will be more comfortable with the change.

Resilience as a key competency for change readiness

The key to being ready for whatever your workday brings is resilience.

Dean Becker is managing director of Adaptiv Learning, a company that provides resilience training. Becker has studied resilience for nearly two decades. Resilience is about “bouncing back” says Becker. Beyond that, it’s also about staying focused when there is ambiguity or oncoming change in your work situation. Speaking at the WorkHuman conference, Becker defined resilience as “the intelligent deployment of limited resources.”

“Most of us have wasted precious time and resources trying to solve problems over which we have little or no control,” says Becker.

Leaders and employees alike need to learn to put their resources where they’re likely to do the most good. But we’re often tripped up by what Becker terms our “habitual patterns of thought” -- some of which lead to unproductive thinking. This dwelling in what “should” happen, or what’s “not fair” leads to what Wakeman calls “emotional waste”: mentally wasteful thought processes or unproductive behavior that keeps leaders or their teams from delivering the highest level of results.

Both Becker and Wakeman say that we can learn to redirect these unproductive thought patterns. Wakeman encourages leaders to give brief, targeted feedback, then encourage employees to reflect on their past actions and focus on the reality of their current situation.

Becker adds, “We all have habitual patterns of thought -- about ourselves, our world, our future -- that can interfere with our ability to accurately assess problems and find solutions.” With practice retraining our thinking, we can make better choices, he says.

Moving through change is a challenge but one worth attempting. As Tasler observes, “Change is hard in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon. Yes, it requires significant effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed.”

Think about the changes you’ll ask of your team over the course of the next few months. How can you rethink your change management practices to help your team become more change-ready?


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Understanding the executive search process

Dennis C. MillerThis post is an adapted excerpt from “A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO,” by Dennis C. Miller, which you can buy here. The book helps nonprofit executive search committees identify ideal candidates for their organization and learn which questions to ask so that the new hire is a perfect fit. Miller has written three other books related to nonprofit governance as well as an autobiography. 

If you enjoy this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have newsletters for HR executives and nonprofit board members, all free to sign up.


If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. -- John Quincy Adams

Your organization’s CEO just announced that she is resigning or retiring from her position. Now what? You relied on her for so much, from human resource management to fundraising. Now what do you do?

Before you embark on this tremendous responsibility, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who on our executive team or board has extensive experience with chief executive recruitment?
  • Who has the knowledge and insight to identify the required skills and experience the new CEO will need to be effective in this role?
  • How likely are we to recruit and persuade candidates who are happy in their current positions to leave their organizations to work for us?
  • Who will do the actual work of recruiting, screening and performing initial reviews of candidates?
  • What will the ultimate cost be for taking on this task internally, compared with the cost of retaining a search rm?
  • Can we use the search process as an opportunity to become a better organization?

As an experienced executive search recruiter for the nonprofit sector, I admit that I am biased against any attempt to recruit your next chief executive on your own. My observation has been that boards who take on the CEO recruitment challenge without professional help are apt to limit their search to applicants who are actively seeking new employment.

While it is, of course, possible to find a qualified CEO this way, you are still working with an incomplete picture of the executive talent available to you. A professional search consultant will expand your candidate pool to include highly motivated, high-performing executives who are not currently in the market for a new position.

The biggest reason given by boards to conduct their search themselves is to avoid the fee for engaging a retained search rm. Retainer search consultants charge a percentage of the chief executive’s base salary, usually in the range of 20% to 30%. If your CEO’s salary is $200,000 and your search fee is 25%, your expense for conducting the search will be $50,000. However, when you find a successful match, the amortization of this fee over the course of your next chief executive officer’s tenure in your organization could be $5,000 per year if they remain in their job for a period of 10 years.

I will be the first to say that executive recruiters are not always perfect and they do occasionally misinterpret the quality of a match between CEO and organization. However, unless an experienced executive recruiter serves on your board, it can be a costlier endeavor in the long run to recruit your next CEO on your own. In fact, most organizations seriously underestimate the time and energy that will be required by the board to conduct a search. Combine that with the risk that a poor match will require a repeat search within a year (which most search firms will take on at no additional charge). Your organization will suffer as board and staff energy are funneled away from core activities such as programming, public relations and fundraising. And make no mistake: Major individual and institutional donors will become concerned when your organization is operating for an extended period without a chief executive.

Once you have made your decision to perform the search either internally or hire an experienced search firm, I recommend the following process for searching for your next chief executive officer:

  1. Identify the strategic challenges the new CEO will be faced with in your organization along with the skills and experience needed to effectively address them. What is your desired future direction? What specific strategic goals and implementation plan needs to be developed to achieve the new vision?
  2. Conduct an objective, in-depth assessment of your organization and board governance to determine your strengths and any areas in need of improvement related to best operating and governance practices.
  3. Develop a comprehensive customized position and ideal candidate profile for the CEO. This profile will include the specific competencies and experiences you are seeking in your next CEO.
  4. Conduct a targeted search into organizations and sectors that align with your organization to identify executives with the relevant skill sets and qualifications required by your organization.
  5. Develop a list of qualified prospects for consideration.
  6. Approach potential candidates to test their interest in the new position, communicate the strengths of your organization, and persuade strong candidates to consider the new opportunity.
  7. Organize a board-level search committee to screen candidates and schedule interviews.
  8. Present the most qualified candidates to meet with the search committee after conducting in-depth interviews and reference checks.
  9. Select the most qualified candidate and o er them the position.
  10. Negotiate a compensation package and other related benefits.
  11. Notify all candidates who applied and interviewed for the position and thank them for applying.
  12. Provide a plan for onboarding and ongoing support for your new CEO.

Developing the Ideal Position Profile

It is amazing to me how many times I have asked members of the senior team and board to describe the experiences, qualifications and knowledge they wish to have in their next chief executive and they answer, “We want someone just like our current CEO.”

Now, I will agree that is a nice endorsement of your current CEO. I am glad to know he or she is well-respected and admired by your organization. But the challenges and opportunities that confronted your former CEO may be very different from those facing your organization today and in the coming years.

Wouldn’t it be better to identify the strategic challenges ahead and the new leadership skill sets needed by your next chief executive officer to meet them?

If you would like to see a sample position profile for a new CEO, there is one on my website.