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Level Up Ep. 3 – Strategy Execution with Monte Pedersen

Monte Pedersen enjoyed a 35-year career in hospitality management before deciding to form his own leadership and training firm focused on Strategy Execution Management. In this episode, James Lee and Monte discuss some basic concepts of strategy formation, execution, and how it all ties to taking care of the people who make up your company.
Key takeaways offered in this episode will help leaders to examine their own company’s strategy execution and their role in creating a culture around accountability to one another.  Get out your pen and notebook!  This episode has a lot of nuggets of wisdom throughout.

James:
Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of Level Up with James Lee. I am really excited, for this is really the first true episode in the way that I had imagined it. The first episode was an introduction to why I’m doing this podcast. And then episode two went into a little bit of my own leadership model. But here’s our first official guest—somebody not from the senior living world but somebody that I’ve followed on LinkedIn for some time. I can’t wait to have this conversation with you, Monte, and share it with the audience. So this is Monte Pederson. I don’t know how we got connected. It was through LinkedIn, and I’ve just followed a lot of the stuff that you’ve written in. We’ve had a chance to talk together, and I’m so excited you agreed to be my first official guest. Thanks for being on.
Monte:
Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you, James, for having me. I’m excited to be here. Excited, obviously, to be the first guest, and I have to say, I’m equally excited about Bear Wise Consulting and what you’re doing with your work and the podcast and happy to be a part of that. So I’m looking forward to it.
James:
Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, it’s going to be an episode I come back to over and over again, and for the audience who hasn’t had a chance to get familiar with Monte yet, he is also very active on LinkedIn. I recommend that you follow him, and he’s got some great content on there. Monte Peterson is the principal of the CDA group. Monte, your career isn’t in senior living. You’ve had a successful career, I think, in a somewhat related field. Would you share a little bit with the audience, your background, and what you’re doing now?
Monte:
Yeah, sure. I had a very long, successful career with two hospitality management companies, contract service providers. Some people call them Aramark and Sodexo and never really thought that I wanted to do anything else. But when that career came to an end, and I had an opportunity to look back at what I had done and how I had done it, I had really just sort of opened up the flood gates with respect to leadership and how I managed and did things. And so that sort of led to the formation of the CDA group and me wanting to go in and help organizations and businesses succeed at a better level, mostly making up for a lot of the mistakes that I experienced over my career.
James:
Well, I love that you’re very open about that phrase in particular that you’re coming from a place of not just that you knocked it out of the park your whole life, but that you learned a lot through successes and failures, and that really helped you to get to this position of helping organizations with their strategy execution. And so that’s the topic of today’s conversation. And it made sense to me that as I’m exploring this podcast about leveling up our own skills and abilities, that the foundational topic here has to be strategy execution management. And that’s what you’re all about. So of all things that you could have really focused on here in this part of your career, why did strategy execution kind of stand out to you as this is the thing that you want to do?
Monte:
Primarily, because when I discovered it, I recognized that it’s something that if I would have had it while I was leading in the roles that I led in towards the latter part of my career, I had a pretty significantly sized organization that reported to me. But if I would’ve had that system and knowing execution management, and been able to put it in place, I could have significantly improved the lives of a lot of people and probably made a lot less mistakes as their leader. So that probably was the biggest driving factor in going this direction.
James:
Well, let’s dive into the topic. And I’ve got a lot of places that my brain is kind of going to in this topic, but let’s start with the 30,000-foot view. And just start with strategy. I think a lot of people have kind of their own definitions of strategy. I know it’s a hard thing to kind of nail down. And quite honestly, if you were to ask me, how do you define strategy, James, I think I might give you a different answer every time you ask me. But let’s start there. When you talk to folks about strategy as a starting point for execution, because presumably, you can’t execute on something unless you know strategically what you’re going after, how should organizations, how should firms be thinking about strategy? Let’s say it’s a brand new company, so I just launched Bear Wise Consulting. How should I be thinking about strategy in terms of the importance of a success of a business if I’m just forming it right now?
Monte:
Well, the standard practice of strategy is you’re trying to create something that’s unique, right? That differentiates you that provides value for your shareholders or your guests, your customers, or whoever. And it leverages specifically what it is you do. And that’s sort of what people start out with. They build that, and they really do a good job with it, right? Whether they do it with a board or with an outside consultant, they really go to great lengths, and they build these great strategies that seem to be very fitting for their organization. But, typically, what happens is the problem they run into is that all of a sudden, they have to take that strategy, and now they need to execute it.
Monte:
Now, how do you take that off of the paper, the well-documented PowerPoint or binder, and get that into the heads of your people? And so, a well-executed strategy is something that’s well known and understood by your organization, and that’s where execution comes in. To be able to drive that down, to be able to effectively translate, basically what’s formed way up here at the top, at the 30,000-foot level, and how do I bring that down to the people on the front lines who are tasked with doing the work and accomplishing what they need to do to contribute to the strategy. So it’s really that idea of taking strategy and figuring out how to get the results and the outcomes that you want from it.
James:
You know, Monte, when I hear you speaking about this topic, I think that the standard way most organizations think about strategy is that it’s formed at the top, and then it cascades down. And magically, things are executed because the strategy was so clear, so great. And just by that virtue alone, people are going to be able to execute on it. Of course, we know that’s not the case. So why do companies get it wrong so often? And specifically, I’d love to hear some thoughts around that kind of communication chain that’s cascading; those are my words, not what you said, but why do people miss out on that telephone game of strategy?
Monte:
Well, it’s a lot of what you shared, James. It’s mistakenly thinking that they’ve done all the work and that the strategy has been done so well that it should be able to be handed down to area leaders, directors, VPs, whoever, and they should be able to do it. And now that leaves you really open, right? You’re solely relying on those people to be able to do it. And what typically happens is the senior leadership writes a strategy that’s really for them. It makes great sense to them, and they understand it completely, and they buy into it, but they don’t take it to the next level and the level after that and get it down to their people. So, what you see happening, common mistakes, is that they’ll only take it down a couple levels and think that’s enough.
Monte:
Sometimes they’ll pass it over to HR, and they’ll tie it into the career development or performance management. And the big fly-by is that there’s no connection to results. And if you don’t link it to outcomes, then strategy is absolutely meaningless to most people inside the organization. And again, the strategy rollout process proves that because how does it happen? Well, you get all your team together, or you go on a roadshow if you have multiple units across the country and locations, and everybody gets excited about it, and they cheer, and basically, the people sit in the audience and say, well, that’s great. It sounds good. Let me know when you get there. I’m going back to work. And that’s the problem. It just doesn’t connect and resonate with people throughout the organization to the extent it needs to.
James:
Oh, man, I could tell you I’ve been in the audience for some of those roadshows, and if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve also been in front of the room for those roadshows. And, I’m thinking about all those times when strategy formation, much less execution, it almost always was just kind of done in a bubble of the titles in the room, and let’s get the strategy done, let’s think it through. Then it’ll be so profound, and then let’s roll it out, go on the roadshow. In this day and age, when we’re on zoom calls, now they’re virtual roadshows, or emails, or whatever version of communication that we think is effective. But as you said, people sitting in that audience are probably thinking, yeah, it sounds good, but I got to get back to work. So it begs the question, why the disconnect? Do you think that frontline or unit-level managers and employees don’t care about strategy, or what’s the missing ingredient here? Why is there such a disconnect?
Monte:
Well, they care to the extent that they’re engaged or involved in the process. And generally, when I engage an organization for the first time, I just take their strategy as is. I make no judgments on it whatsoever. I just kind of take it, and I say, “okay, well, out of this, out of your strategy, what are the four or five critical things that you’re trying to accomplish this year?” Yeah. And that’s where we start. And then we slowly engage the rest of the organization in what their part is in helping to achieve that. And that’s really the part that they’re missing, that’s not happening. And you could engage the whole team in strategy development, and there are ways to do that.
Monte:
But really, when it gets down to it when you get down to those four or five or six strategic initiatives that are really critical to the success of that company for that year, those are the things that you want to connect your people to. And you’ve got to get them understanding what it is they do at their level that contributes to that success. And when you do that, you get intrinsic motivation because they understand why they’re doing it and who they’re doing it for. And they understand the benefits that are going to accrue to them as a result of that happening.
James:
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s right on about how we engage all levels of the organization. It sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s important to involve and engage people in the formation, but where most people get it wrong as that communication and that communication cadence, I think I’ve heard you speak about it before that sometimes strategy can be kind of an annual set it and forget it. We formed the strategy, and now we’re spending a year measuring our performance against that. What’s your view on how often should leaders be revisiting that strategy?
Monte:
Well, if it’s done correctly, almost constantly, like weekly and daily in some cases, if you’re really going to drive your people to achieve those things. And again, I guess I should qualify that I’m not thinking about the whole strategy, but again, what are those priorities? What are we trying to accomplish this year? How do we define success for this year? And, when you do that, you keep it top of mind for everybody in the organization, so they know what they’re working for and why they’re doing it. Because really without that, they’re just out there turning wrenches or taking care of a resident or serving a customer, and they don’t have the background. They don’t understand the why behind what they’re doing.
James:
Yeah. Let’s take this and dive into, I’m curious about your focus on the word execution or the execution component of strategy. I think what I understand about having followed you on LinkedIn and having a few conversations with you; it’s really execution. That’s the key kind of concept here. A lot of people talk about strategy. It sounds good. It feels good. It makes us feel smart. But at the end of the day, are you executing on those deliverables? And are you measuring those things that are tracking your progress? So let’s break down execution here a little bit. If I am a leader, let’s say a mid to senior-level leader, I think that’s kind of the typical audience that would be on this podcast. So you are not at the C-suite, but you’re somewhere in the middle kind of leadership level. I would say, in some cases, most accountable to those execution components, how should I be thinking about execution? And, where do I start? Let’s say, I buy into, I’m responsible for the execution of this now, where do I go?
Monte:
Yeah. Well, let me just back up a little bit on that and give you two definitions that I think will help put it into a little bit better perspective globally. So if you’re part of a senior leadership team, execution is about creating a set of behaviors and techniques that will give you a competitive advantage. So basically, if you execute better than your competitors or anybody else in the marketplace, then you’re going to have a decided advantage and probably be highly successful. Taking it down to that middle manager, or departmental vice-president, or whoever, it’s all about aligning the daily tasks and activities of everybody on your team with the strategic objectives of the organization. So that’s that buy-in piece. That’s getting your people to understand what we’re doing, who’s doing what at what time, and like you shared, monitoring it, measuring it, and making sure that we’re tracking towards it so that if we get off base, we know we’re off base and we can course correct, and we can bring it on.

Monte:
And really, almost in real-time, keep up with what those key objectives are. And I think that’s the thing that people miss with execution is that it’s a dynamic process. It’s meant to change. It’s an expectation that things will change. So many organizations that are out there set people up with goals at the beginning of the year or certain tasks that they want them to do, and then you go through the whole year, and all the business conditions change over the course of the year, but the goals are the same. And they’re being rated performance-wise at the end of the year on something that’s no longer applicable. And execution, it’s not static. You have to be able to get your people focused and refocused sometimes, I mean, especially a year like this last one we’ve experienced. You have to get them understanding that change is expected, that things are gonna happen. This is not going to be a straight path. It’s just like success in life. It doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. It goes all over the board—the same as with executing on strategy.
James:
So many good points here. I circled a couple of words here, Monte, so we can kind of deep dive a little bit more. What you said at the senior level creating strategic initiatives that create a competitive advantage. I think that extra qualification there that the initiative should create a strategic or competitive advantage versus your competitors. I’ve got to say, I’ve been in a lot of strategy formation conversations, but that specific thing right there that would you said about this should create some kind of a competitive advantage for us. That’s usually missing in conversations, at least some of the ones I’ve been a part of. But wow, what a big takeaway here that it is incumbent on all businesses that you’re going to compete against other people, and you have to have some kind of a value proposition that differentiates you from everybody else.
James:
And I can tell you from my industry’s perspective, the senior living industry as a layperson or a customer who isn’t in the day-to-day nuance of what we do, our firms in the industry may feel like there are differentiations between one another, but in the eyes of the customer, we’re pretty much the same. You have a different name on the building, but we’re pretty much all just lumped in as senior living. I’d love to kind of peel back that onion a little bit about competitive advantage. Why is that not something that is intuitive to people when they’re coming up with strategy?
Monte:
Yeah, it’s a head-scratcher in some regards because I think some of it is centered on comfort and safety. There are organizations that are risk-averse, and they look for ways to provide certainty, meaning consistent profitability or measuring profitability. But we get a little bit complacent, and we don’t think about those reasons why we’re initially in business. And obviously, you want to create and keep customers, but the way you do that and the way someone who becomes a resident in a senior living facility is all about differentiation. They like this place better than that. They like these people better than that. And if you don’t separate and create that differentiation, then everything looks like a commodity.
Monte:
And at that point, you spiral downward because you look like everybody else, and then it becomes a cost game. And then, people are just lowering their room rates or doing things like everybody else is doing because that’s the organizational drift. And so, at a senior level, avoiding that organizational drift is just real critical. And again, how you execute, in my mind, at least it is how you differentiate yourself. Because if you do it better than anybody else, meaning that executive director greets you at the door and they have a large presence and they know what they’re doing that gives you trust, that gives you confidence. And I think there are a lot of leadership teams that don’t get that exposure. Or they had it at one time, and then they lost it, and they lose it.
James:
Monte, it sounds like you’ve been in our industry, the way that you’re almost kind of applying your knowledge and expertise in strategy execution to things that you’re saying here about when you don’t have competitive advantage and when you’re not executing on those strategic initiatives, you eventually get down to just price wars with your competitors. I mean, that’s a sensitive topic I think for people in my industry, is the heavy use of incentives and how much should we discount? That becomes a big part of the day-to-day conversation. I’m tracing it back now towards this kind of idea of creating advantage through your strategy. And that the execution work is aligning the day-to-day actions to strengthen that competitive advantage. Is that fair to you? You didn’t say it that way, but is that fair to interpret that way?
Monte:
It’s absolutely fair because you can charge a premium for better service, for better value. I mean, there’s price elasticity in that if you’re considered the best or one of the best, or people have proof positive of your ability to deliver on what you say you’re going to do, then you’re going to be able to command a better price and probably lead the market. And probably continue to be more innovative and a good supplier of whatever your product or your service is.
James:
Yeah. Okay. I’m going to ask you a question here. I think I know the answer to this, but maybe a good segway into this next part of the conversation. I have seen a lot of summaries, strategic summaries. So let’s say that the senior team has done the work of figuring out what are the things that we’re going to focus on this year? And then you summarize that down. And inevitably you’re going to have somewhere on there, improve sales from three move-ins a month to five move-ins a month across our portfolio. Is that a strategy?
Monte:
No, that’s a metric. And metrics in and of themselves are not bad things. And when you can communicate at the right level, a metric like that, that makes sense to people. And maybe, that’s at the executive director level, I’m not sure where it would fall inside senior living. But you really want strategic initiatives that, like I shared earlier, align people with what you’re trying to do. And so you may have a strategic initiative where you’re trying to increase your… hospitals come to mind, they may use something called the Press Ganey score, which is kind of the outpatient summary of how their visit went. You know, if you have that kind of a similar thing where you’re wanting these very good ratings, well, how do you do that?
Monte:
Well, obviously, it’s about resident satisfaction and you want to drive resident satisfaction. So really, you want to craft strategic initiatives that everybody can keep top of mind that they’re easy to recite. They understand what it is you’re trying to do, but then you know you want to measure using the metrics. Let me give you a better example. Very few financial metrics make sense to people except senior leadership. So if your goal for the year is to year over year double sales. So maybe you’re going from five to 10 million, nobody in your organization cares about that but the senior leadership team. So why would you use that to try and intrinsically motivate and get somebody to work? You really need to say that we need you to perform at this level so that we get this many people coming in the door or whatever it is, but you’ve got to relay it in terms that they can understand. And that’s really what makes the difference, I think, in a good strategy and having initiatives that are executable.
James:
Yeah, well it’s the right way to look at how poorly some strategic initiatives are even formed in the first place. That a lot of people put a goal or a metric as the strategic initiative, and it’s not how we’re creating competitive advantage. It’s not the things that are driving our different story. It’s just a measurement. And I think a lot of times people can think, well, our strategy is we need to increase sales. We need to decrease move-outs when whatever those are. But that doesn’t get to the how. It doesn’t get to the why. It just gets to what we hope to see by the end of the year.
Monte:
That’s right. And I think the piece that’s missing for a lot of organizations is just that tie back to culture. And if you read much about strategy and leadership, and this happens annually when leaders get surveyed, they find it difficult to tie their strategy back to their culture. And the way execution management looks at it is, if we live our mission every day, if we work towards our vision, our longer term view of where we want to go, if we adhere to our core behaviors, kind of those minimal behavioral standards for people on the team, and if we aspire to our core values and we hit our strategic initiatives, then more than likely the profit mode is going to be satisfied. Our shareholders are going to be satisfied. Our customers are going to be satisfied. So in many respects, that cultural aspect defines success for the organization. And that’s really a better, I think, broader way of looking at it that we get to the profit. We recognize we need profit. We wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t have it, but we did all these other things so well that the profit just came in and it came abundantly.
James:
Yeah. I I’d like to share with you some of the ways that I’ve thought about strategy and execution as an executive director of a community. And we’ll just kind of do this in terms of you’re my coach. I’m coming to you and saying, “here’s kind of how we’re formulating this.” Because I also want this to be tangible for people who are listening to kind of evaluate, am I thinking of strategy execution in the right way? So I think we’ve established that just setting a metric goal is not a strategy. Those are just things we hope for or measure. So the first time I was an executive director, there were two kind of main components of of our strategy that we developed.
James:
And we went over and over, and we kept measuring against it throughout the year. One of those things was to increase our brand awareness in the community as the education source for all things senior. So what we wanted to do is, however we were going to execute that, we were going to create a differentiation in that if anybody, if a medical provider, if a family member of a senior, a senior themselves, if they wanted to learn something about the senior experience, that you are going to come to our community for a seminar or whatever. So that was one component of it. On the employment side, a key part of our strategy was let’s become the employer of choice that helps people to improve their wages, whether it’s with us or somebody else. So that wasn’t a key part of our business, our corporate strategy, but for us locally, we decided we have to attack this problem on employee turnover.
James:
I think the way that we’re going to achieve that is, let’s start letting people know that if you come work with us, you’re going to improve your skills. You’re going to improve your interview skills, things like that. And we got to the point where we were as a team celebrating when people got a promoted job outside of our community. And so there were a couple of other components of how we did this, but those were two what we believe to be core parts of our strategy, that education brand awareness for seniors, and then the employer of choice by helping people to improve their standing if you come work with us. How would you evaluate that in terms of strategy?
Monte:
I’d say they were done pretty well primarily because, and again, on the first one on it, on increasing your brand awareness and your knowledge base around all things senior, that educational component, if you’re taking that. You’re basically offering that to your people and saying, I need to make you as knowledgeable as me about this business, so that if that family member, or if that doctor, or that nursing assistant comes up to you, you can answer their question without hesitation. So that continuous improvement, that strive to learning, I don’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to help live up to that, increasing the brand awareness because it’s improving them. And really, the same way with the employer of choice.
Monte:
And again, that’s kind of buzz language that everybody uses, but when you put meat on the bone behind it, and you say, we’re going to pay our people more. We’re going to hire better. We’re going to invest in them. And if they’re going to grow personally, and if they grow with us, that’s a great thing. But if they find a job with another provider, that’s a promotion because we couldn’t give them one at the time, then, you know, we got to thank them for their service and say, we did our part, thank you. And maybe they come back again and work for you again at another point. But the reality is is you’ve just shown your people that you care, and caring is a big part of execution. Because these people who are charged with doing the work, they’re either going to persevere for a paycheck, or they’re going to go lights out for you because they believe in what you’re doing. And they know that if they work hard and you win, they’re gonna win as well.
James:
Yeah, absolutely. On that topic of being the employer of choice, you’re absolutely right. That phrase, that buzz term, it’s pretty ubiquitous. Not just in our industry, I’m sure, in many industries. And so we really challenged ourselves on those execution points. And some examples of the ways that we executed on that were we developed a kind of internal work-study type program, internship type program where employees of any department could go work in another, like a managerial department. So a frequent use of that would be a dining associate, typically younger in terms of our age spectrum of employees. They would go and work in the business office once a month. Put on their business clothes and come learn about the finances of a senior living business.

James:
So we had these internship programs that we developed. We also did a alumni board in our break room where we publicly posted photos of people who had worked there but had gone on to move into other positions because presumably the work and the learning that happened while they were working with us. So it was our commitment to, let’s not just say, this is part of our strategy or a better and different story. How are we going to execute the strategy? And those are just a couple examples of how our team adapted to make that a reality. So, it sounds like that kind of thinking of how do you create advantage and then how do you align the daily work to strengthen that advantage throughout the year? And I guess we’re arbitrarily using a year as a kind of a marker here, but maybe we don’t have to confine it to that time period.
Monte:
No, because certainly you can have a vision which includes some broader, longer-term goals, but you can break those goals down, and execution management allows you to do that. You know, maybe it’s just, you have to do these two steps before you can get to the next level of what you’re trying to accomplish. But it all makes sense. But really what you’re saying, and what you’re hitting on here, is that whole idea that when people know that leadership cares and they trust them to do their role, they’re gonna knock your socks off in terms of their performance. I mean, they just are. They see it. They want it. They understand it. It changes people.
Monte:
If you run a commodity-type organization, you’re just not going to see that because everything’s predicated on costs. Everything’s done at the expense of the employee and the employee is an object and a function to the success of leadership versus being the other way around. People ask me the question a lot, what should come first? Should it be your people, or should it be the organization? And, and I always say it’s the people because, without them, things just aren’t going to work well if you don’t have people doing what they need to be doing consistently and doing it well on a daily basis.
James:
Yeah. I love that. And I think that kind of segways us into the final kind of component of this discussion I’d like to have with you is, one of the things that’s pretty evident to me in having gotten to know you is that these conversations about strategy execution management can feel very kind of vague and concept to a lot of people. But at the end of the day, one of the things that resonates with me about your message Monte is that it always grounds in how does it relate to the person, the employee, the person taking care of the business. I can’t think of many industries where that isn’t more critical to our value proposition than senior living, where if we don’t have a focus on our employees, we have nothing else. And it’s almost become this unquestionable mantra of senior living that you put the senior first. I’ve often prescribed to, we put our employees first, and if we really backed that up, then we’re putting our seniors in a position where they benefit from all of our work. So, let’s explore that a little bit. When it comes to leadership and people management, how does execution tie into just being a good business of people?
Monte:
I often tell people that my role is taking execution from that vague notion you spoke about to turning it into a teachable skill that both individuals and organizations can master in order to get better at what it is they do. And so I think when you look at execution in that vein to say that it is a teachable skill that, being able to take, just something as big at times and vague as a strategy, and then boiling it down to what needs to happen on the ground in order to accomplish it. That’s more than what most people go to work for every day. People wake up, and they go in and they know that they have to do this, and they have to do that.
Monte:
But if they can’t attach it back to why they’re doing, it’s just a struggle, and it’s not going to bear fruit. But when somebody, I mean, you’ve seen this in a lot of commercials, right. Where they talk about people being their priority. But reallythe priority of a worker or a person on your team is to just know where they stand with you with their boss and their organization on a day-to-day basis. And that’s what execution management does. It lays everything out. So succinctly and clearly that they have clarity around their job responsibilities, they know what their goals are. They know what they’re trying to hit when they fall off or when they’re falling short. Their boss doesn’t come to them and threaten them or give them written documentation.
Monte:
He says, Hey, what’s going on? What do we need to do? Here’s where we’re supposed to be, and how do we get you back on track? So you have to kind of flip the perspective because you’re just not dealing with robotic individuals, you’ve got humans that have lives and things going on. And if they’re not going to give you their best, unless you understand them and what’s going on in their lives. So building trust and building respect with the team members, if you do that, you’re going to be miles ahead of the competition. There’s no question about it.
James:
Well, it seems like a strong execution management culture on a team really almost takes the place of performance reviews, because you’re just constantly realigning to the things that you’re doing every day to execute on that strategy. It makes me think a little bit about that same community where I was the executive director of this example that I just shared with you, we definitely didn’t do annual reviews. We had very frequent kind of check-ins against that, like hey guys, okay, this week, let’s talk about, let’s focus on this employer of choice and how are we creating that differentiation. And then everybody would kind of report back, and we did other things of course, but we had a focus on, every time we go to the standup meeting, we’re all going to contribute to how we’re moving the ball forward in terms of this particular leg of our strategy.
James:
I’m curious about you made a post recently (recently is relative because, by the time this podcast airs, I don’t know how far back that post will be), but I loved it. I wanted to bring it up for conversation today, and it had to do with performance improvement plans, the dreaded PIP. From both the receiving end and the giving end. I don’t think there’s anybody I’ve come across who’s really loved the PIP process when it comes to managing someone’s performance. What’s your take on the performance improvement plans in terms of leadership?
Monte:
Yeah, it’s inception can be tied back to really the advent of growth in HR leadership. 20, 30, 40 years ago, you had maybe one HR person inside of one organization, and now you have them closely embedded to maybe even in one of your residential living centers, you’d have an HR person to help oversee that team. So they were really created to be sort of the third, I call it a third step. And again, that stems from this idea of three strikes and you’re out kind of thing, but it was always kind of developed as a way to get somebody back on track. I think the initial intent of it was good in that you’re trying to help somebody who’s struggling as an employee, turn it around and be better. But really what it sort of morphed into was that third strike that, okay, I’m going to give you a verbal, and then I’m going to give you a written, and then I’m going to put you on a performance improvement plan, which is really code for you’re about to be fired.
Monte:
And, if it’s good for you, you’ll start looking for another job. And what it became was that sort of that CYA document that leadership could be assured that if they were going to be sued by somebody, for being let go erroneously, that they would have the backup. And again, it’s just an example of where the intent was brought in with the best of intentions, and then all of a sudden, it just morphed into this idea that, you’re going to be put on a PIP and then as you and I both know, most people look at that and viewed it as the kiss of death. Right?
James:
Yeah. And even how you phrase that, “I’m going to put you on a PIP,” that’s almost always how people conveyed that. And I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the phrase, I’m going to put you on, and then fill in the blank, and felt positive about that expression. There was a line in your post that I just loved. I’m going to write it on my board and think on it. I think it’s something to the effect of, the PIP is the last act of cowardice of a leader for firing somebody for the leader not doing their job. I’m sure I butchered that. But the sentiment of it was so profound to me. I’d love your thoughts. Maybe expand on that.
Monte:
Yeah. It centers on this idea that, and I was guilty of this too, throughout my career. But you need to take ownership of those people who are in your charge. And that means, when they fail, you fail. And when you have ownership of that, you take the responsibility of seeing to their success very seriously. I mean, just think if compensation were based upon whether or not the people under your charge did well, or not. I think people would start to pay attention to it. All of a sudden, you had massive turnover this year, you had a department of 25 and 75% of them turned over. And, when we think about it, those are usually kind of the kinds of things that management sits around and thinks up.
Monte:
But, the whole idea of ownership is predicated on this idea that you own those people and their success. And that if you really care about them, you’ll work with them to get them to where they need to be so that they understand what it is they need to do. Because quite frankly, you mentioned communication earlier. I mean, most of the issues center around communication. That people just don’t know what’s expected. And that’s the nice thing about execution management, because people never ever lack knowing where they stand and what they need to be doing.
James:
Yeah. It’s really kind of full visibility and accountability for how everyone relates to the work. You know, this is the job of a leader. This is the job of everybody on the team. And you’re constantly measuring against that. I love this concept of that execution is also dynamic. I think I heard this phrase recently about a dynamic equilibrium. It sounds really academic, but in concept, what I interpreted that to be dynamic equilibrium is that the balance within your team is always shifting. And so, you can have a state of balance on your team, but it’s going to move. And I think that’s what leadership has to be. Is kind of recognizing when has something shifted in the dynamic of our work and how do I kind of counterbalance that again, so that everyone feels that equilibrium. In senior living, during the pandemic at a time when a lot of the strategy around our industry was just kind of, okay, well, let’s just repeat what we did last year.
James:
Just let’s do a little bit better. There wasn’t a lot of dynamism in strategy or execution or people management. And so I think we’re all kind of having that reckoning of, okay, how do we do this a little bit different? And I hope this episode and this conversation leads people to think through how are they thinking about their own strategy execution? And how are our frontline people, our managers, our caregivers, the people charged with kind of that brand management of our industry really, how are they involved in it and how are they engaged in it and participating in it in the first place? This has really been an eye opening conversation. I think it could probably lead to a whole series of conversations. This is really kind of tip of the iceberg. But Monte, if you had to kind of try and like try and summarize or not summarize, but I’d love to end here on a couple of takeaways. Just some practical things that if a leader has listened to this episode and said, okay, you know what, I really want to focus on this. I want to get better at this. Do you have any kind of words of wisdom or just kind of tips here for us?
Monte:
I drafted three notes here before we started. And the first one is that execution management is about investing in your people. It’s creating a repeatable methodology that they can easily understand, and that links them directly to the strategy, to those key outcomes and how they contribute to the organization’s success. Another one that I would share is that execution is not performance management. Performance management is always past orientation, right? You’re always reviewing things in a rears and it just doesn’t connect with your people. And then probably the last thing is that execution takes courageous leadership. And what I mean by that is, when you decide to go on a journey to look at or master execution, you’re going to quite literally expose every single issue that you have inside your organization.
Monte:
So you’ve got to have a strong stomach because you got to get ready to face some truth, because if you don’t face up to that truth, it’s going to be awful difficult to change or transform your organization. So, I think those three things, are just real, real critical in knowing, because everybody’s gonna listen to this and to say, yeah, that sounds really good, but this is typically what happens. In order to change, it’s gonna require you to do something different than what you’re doing today.
James:
I love those takeaways, Monte and it’s ringing true for me. And it’s both corroborating some of the things that I’ve felt I’ve been doing right, but also challenging me on things that I know I can keep doing better for myself and the clients that I hope to work with. And the last one in particular about execution requires courageous leadership. Part of even how I formed the company named Bear Wise Consulting. I don’t know if I shared that story with you Monte, but Bear Wise, where that kind of came from was that I think there’s a big difference between knowledge and wisdom, knowing something and having wisdom in that thing, and that the gap between is courage. Nobody gets to the point of wisdom just by attaining it, you bear the process of earning wisdom.
James:
It’s going to be tough, it’s going to require courage. And so Bear Wise was just kind of a combination of that. That you’re not going to gain wisdom, you’re going to bear it. And it’s a call to leadership that if you really want to pivot and change what your company is, if there are gaps in how you’re meeting your customer’s expectations, and maybe even more importantly right now your own employee’s expectations, because they’re giving you their heart and they’re giving you their blood, sweat, and tears. Right now, if organizations aren’t re-examining how they’re doing their strategy execution, they’re gonna really miss out on this silver lining opportunity that I think COVID has exposed for all of us, that we got to re-examine things, and we’ve got to try to do things a little differently. I hope that this episode resonates with people in this industry and in any industry. I think this is accessible to anybody who’s in a leadership position. This has been an awesome conversation, Monte. I hope you enjoyed it. And thank you so much for being here. How can people get to know you or reach out to you? What’s the best way to do that?
Monte:
Probably two places James. The first, connect with me on LinkedIn. The last name Pederson, P E D E R S E N. I’m pretty consistent there. And my company website is www.clarifieddeployachieve.com, which is how the acronym CDA was formed. So those two places, you can get my contact information and connect with me directly. But I would love to have you follow and engage on LinkedIn. If you just have a passing interest in wanting to learn more. But if you want to talk directly, I’m certainly open to that as well.
James:
Awesome. You know, Monte, I know we’ll continue to have a lot of offline, comradery, and conversations and LinkedIn, it’s been an amazing platform to meet people like you. And we’ve developed a kind of comradery across many, many miles, but where are you living? Just for people who don’t know where you’re based.

Monte:
I live in the hills of Northwest Illinois and for people that in the great Plains, they don’t normally envision hills in Illinois. I live in a small Hamlet called Galena, Illinois, which is historic, Ulysses Grant lived here when he was president, his father and brother were blacksmiths here. So there’s some historical significance to the town, but it’s just a peaceful place. It’s just a nice place to be so great place to live out of pandemic for sure.
James:
I’m here in San Antonio, Texas. So, across many, many miles during the pandemic, we’ve had a chance to connect and really get to know one another. Monte, thank you so much for sharing some of your thoughts and wisdom on the topic of execution. I hope this helps. I know it will. And so hang tight after I close this episode, I want to talk to you for just a few more minutes. But to everybody else, listening to the Level Up podcasts, thanks for listening to this episode. Uou can find Monte’s information in the show notes and all of the LinkedIn posts that we’ll create around this episode. Thanks for joining today. Have a great week leading from the head and the heart, and we’ll see you around.

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Level Up Ep. 3 – Strategy Execution with Monte Pedersen