The Power of a Good Conversation

Do you ever think about how invigorating a good conversation can be? We all take it for granted because we move from one conversation to another throughout the day and throughout our lives. I appreciate a good conversation more than ever. As a solo consultant who runs his own firm, I do not have the luxury of having an office full of colleagues with whom to discuss current events, sports or the latest business news.

I search for conversations…..with clients, with friends, with colleagues. But it makes me appreciate a good conversation even more. So what makes up a good conversation? Simply put, you feel challenged, invigorated, engaged, energetic and passionate all at the same time. But what is it about a conversation that makes it good? I have come up with three things:

  1. Mutual respect – the people involved in the conversation must have respect for each other and the process of the good conversation. This eliminates petty name-calling or being angered by a differing viewpoint. Respect leads to a discussion, not an argument.
  2. Interesting topic – the topic must be of mutual interest to all parties. This could be ways to improve a client's business or the latest upset in the NCAA basketball tournament. In all cases, it must be something of interest to the parties involved.
  3. All parties should learn something new – I walk away from all good conversations learning something that I did not know before or at least having a new perspective on a topic, so they are growth experiences as well.

There is an art to good conversation and they can take place with old friends or total strangers. They can happen in person or over the phone. In all cases, you know when you have just had a good conversation because you feel engaged and alive. It is a great feeling and one that we should be trying to find more often. You know what they say:  "a good conversation a day keeps the doctor away."

Leadership accountability at WestJet

As you have likely heard, WestJet will be changing CEOs in April. This comes as a bit of a surprise to business people since Sean Durfy has done a great job of growing the market share of the airline and creating a business model different from the competition, where customer service is the main focus. So why the sudden change? Well, the obvious answers are that profits are down as compared to the industry and WestJet's competitor(s) and there was a major issue with the rollout of their new reservation system. These issues caused people to take off the starry-eyed glasses and realize that WestJet is just another company that is not perfect.

I see a more underlying story in this leadership change–the story of leadership accountability. There is no doubt that Clive Beddoe still has his fingers all over the airline that he created 14 years ago, and he and his board of directors have brought in a level of accountability rarely seen in today's corporations. Beddoe successfully ran WestJet for 11 years and then moved out of the way and passed the torch to Durfy to take WestJet to the next level. Durfy was successful in growing the company over the past three years, and was given an opportunity to continue its growth. However, the recent issues have put into question his ability to take the company forward. It is a breath of fresh air to see a company make its leader accountable for the results that it must achieve. Whether by choice or by being asked to leave, by changing the CEO position, WestJet is showing that it holds its leaders accountable. If Durfy decided to leave on his own, it shows a corporate culture where accountability is king. If you do not perform, then move over for someone who can. If Durfy was asked to leave, we draw the same conclusion, if you do not perform, then move over.

Leadership is an interesting concept these days because we see so many leaders getting paid exorbitant amounts of money to run under-performing companies, the argument being that the company would be in worse shape without those leaders. This is a rare case where a leader did not live up to the expectations of the shareholders and the public, thus is being replaced. The airline industry is a very competitive one and WestJet was poised to really challenge Air Canada for canadian airspace supremacy. The last few months have been a setback, but with a corporate culture focused around customer service and employee accountability, WestJet is destined for even greater success.

Let's just hope that unlike other companies we are currently reading about, WestJet does not sacrifice the quality of its service for the speed of its growth.

The new Imax bubble

You may have heard that in order to take advantage of the new love for 3-D movies, Imax is considering the idea of creating portable bubbles in which 3-d movies can be shown. These bubbles can be built virtually anywhere, from main squares to rural towns, and can be used for promotional events or just to show movies. I think this is a brilliant idea by Imax. These bubble theatres cost only $1 million to construct, which is still a lot of money, but not compared to building an entire movie theatre. The bubbles can hold almost 500 people at a time, so they are big enough to re-create the feeling of a real movie theatre. Best of all, they can be set up anywhere to show 3-D movies. The projectors are digital and therefore the quality will be great. The bubbles can also be used as a giant billboard, so companies will be able to advertise and sponsor the bubbles as they are constructed. This helps generate revenue to cover the costs of construction.

I think this is a great example of a company using innovation to create a need. With the help of movies like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, we may never want to watch non-3D movies ever again. The experience of watching these movies is so different from anything we have ever seen before. Imax will now be able to bring that experience to anyone in the world. They have leveraged their ability to innovate while taking advantage of a new market of 3-D movie-goers. At a time where entertainment options are aplenty and have been fairly successful, Imax is looking for ways to grow to new markets and create need for a whole new base of customers.

This is a great lesson for all companies: always look for the next great idea. In this case, there were a few factors that were working in Imax's favour:

- Imax saw that people still wanted to see movies

- they saw the popularity of the new 3-D movies and

- they knew that they had opportunities to break into new markets.

They then used those factors to develop a strategy to help meet their objectives of growing the company while leveraging a new technology where they had a competitive advantage.

We shall see how successful these 3-D movie bubbles become, but if they take off, I hope James Cameron and Tim Burton have negotiated a piece of the pie for themselves.

New funding model for Ontario hospitals?

In the Globe and Mail this morning, there was an article on how the Ontario government is considering changing the way that Ontario hospitals receive funding. Essentially, the new model would allocate funds based on the mix of patients and the quality of service for each individual hospital. I am all for making the hospital system more efficient as long as it will also improve patient care. That should always be the focus of any initiative taking place in the hospital sector.

Efficiency and the public sector have never gone hand in hand over the years. Governments and organizations have made Herculian efforts to make themselves more efficient, but as health costs go up and the population gets older, this becomes an even larger challenge. It is for this reason that I support the proposed changes being discussed by the Ontario government. By basing the funding on the needs of each individual organization, it may help to reduce the competition amongst hospitals because each hopsital will be treated individually based on its patient base. Seemingly, this would mean that hospitals in communities with older patients will receive different funding than those in communities with young families.

Additional funding is also being proposed for those hospitals that perform efficiently. This provides incentive for hospitals to control their expenses and manage their organization. I just hope that this does not lead hospitals to make short-sighted decisions in order to keep costs down.

In order for this new funding proposal to work, three things need to happen:

- there needs to be a comprehensive way of measuring efficiency so that it is not focusing on volume or cost savings, it must focus on quality of patient care and maintaining (or improving upon) that quality while being more productive.

- there needs to be a way to ensure that the funding model does not focus too much on reactive care versus preventative care. Hospitals that are working on innovations that will prevent disease and sickness in old age should not have their funding reduced in order to pay for patient care for older residents. The model must strike a balance.

- there needs to be a better way for hospitals to collaborate in a more organized way. There are best practices that can be shared amongst hospitals that will allow the entire system to become more efficient.

Of course there are going to be imperfections in this new funding model, but those can be worked out within the details. The key is that the government is having the conversation about how to raise the level of efficiency of the hospital system as well as recognizing that not all hospitals provide the same services or serve the same patient bases. This could be the first step on the path to better and faster health care for patients across Canada.

Great leaders know when to get out of the way

Do you ever feel that you are getting in the way of your own company's success? Of course not, because most of us are ignorant to the fact that we cannot do everything.

I work with a lot of entrpreneurs and business owners and typically, the ones who are the most successful, are the ones who recognize when they are the reason that their company's success is stagnating. Most entrepreneurs are amazing at developing new ideas, launching them quickly and growing their company quickly. Most are not adept at managing the larger organizations that they have now created. Very few people are able to recognize when they have become the roadblock. Occasionally, you do see leaders step down in order to allow the company to go in a different direction to be more successful, but more often than not, this does not happen.

A great leader is able to see when he or she has moved beyond his or her capabilities. A client of mine once said "I have been running small companies successfully my whole life, but I have no idea what a 120-employee organization looks like." This is early recognition by someone who understands business success–at some point the business may grow beyond him. Recognizing that allows planning to be made in order to keep the momentum of growth moving. That may mean developing additional leadership and management skills or bringing in someone to manage the larger organization.

Great leaders know their strengths and their weaknesses and are able to recognize when it is time for them to pass the torch onto someone else in order to maintain or grow the success of the organization. Will you be willing to do this when the time comes?