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Repeat the Remarkable: How Strong Leaders Overcome Business Challenges to Take Their Performance to the Next Level

Repeat the Remarkable: How Strong Leaders Overcome Business Challenges to Take Their Performance to the Next Level

by Perry Holley

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Learn how IBM has overcome its toughest challenges—and how you can replicate iconic company's success

Over the past 100 years, the IBM Corporation has survived several recessions and innumerable twists and turns in the global technology market. And even in an economy of global recession, this icon continues to repeat remarkable


Learn how IBM has overcome its toughest challenges—and how you can replicate iconic company's success

Over the past 100 years, the IBM Corporation has survived several recessions and innumerable twists and turns in the global technology market. And even in an economy of global recession, this icon continues to repeat remarkable performance after remarkable performance—reinventing the meaning of corporate sustainability, employee loyalty and value-added leadership—and followed by memorable customer service.

Repeat the Remarkable reveals the leadership lessons of a top IBM leadership development trainer. In it, Holley gives you the tools to tap into your own personal success—so you can lead your company to remarkable and repeatable performances

Perry Holley is program director, IBM Leadership Development.

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McGraw-Hill Education
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McGraw-Hill Education

Copyright © 2014 Perry Holley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-181119-4


Remark-ability: Enter Here—Laying the Foundation

Remarkability lies in the edges. The biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult. It doesn't always matter which edge, more that you're at (or beyond) the edge.


Being remarkable at what you do is an aspiration that almost every person possesses. However, delivering and repeating a remarkable performance are achievements almost every person and every organization struggles with in one way or another. The steps are not necessarily difficult, but they do require a consistent, intentional, mindful approach if you hope to achieve the level of the truly remarkable. The world is full of one-hit wonders, like music groups that reach the top 100 charts with a hit song, but after their brief flash in the spotlight, they fade back into obscurity. That's not what I mean by being remarkable. Remarkable consists of delivering results that are not only beyond excellent—but also sustainable and repeatable. In our competitive world of bigger, faster, and cheaper, the achievement of remarkable is the differentiator that will move you and your business to the top. Being able to lead teams that deliver and repeat this rare, outstanding level of performance gives you a competitive advantage that will be difficult for others to match. To begin our journey toward creating consistently remarkable performance, let me share with you a story that I found to be truly remarkable.

A Remarkable Journey

One hundred years of anything is generally considered a remarkable accomplishment, but when that "anything" is competing in the global technology market, it is truly cause for taking notice. For the past 100 years, the IBM Corporation has been involved in such a remarkable journey. From its founding as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) in 1911 with the merging of three separate businesses (Tabulating Machine Company [founded 1880], International Time Recording Company [founded 1900], and Computing Scale Company [founded 1901]), the International Business Machines (IBM) company has proved itself to be truly remarkable in both technology advancements and human resource accomplishments.

From its earliest beginnings, IBM established itself as a leader in every market it would serve. The company also took great pride in positioning itself as a leading place to work, pioneering workplace solutions decades before other companies or government regulations required them to do so. That's one of the hallmarks of remarkable people and remarkable companies—they don't wait for government regulations or others in the industry to innovate and find the way; they find the way and show others what is possible. This is the essence of what IBM has been doing for the past 100 years. Have there been setbacks and unremarkable times? Absolutely! It is very difficult for any individual or company to be remarkable all the time, but truly remarkable people and companies exhibit a key characteristic, and that is the ability to make course corrections that lead back to the pathway of remarkable performance.

When most people think of IBM, they typically think initially about the development of the first supercomputers. Depending on your age, you may think of the IBM Selectric Typewriter that enjoyed 75 percent market share and pioneered the word processing and desktop publishing markets. Or perhaps you recall the development of office copiers, the SABRE Airline reservation system, or IBM's leading role in the U.S. space program. There may even be areas that you are not aware of where IBM led the way with innovation and product development—things like the first artificial intelligence systems, hard disk drives, and the magnetic stripe on your credit card. IBM was also first to market in speech recognition, laser printing, LASIK eye surgery, and the UPC codes used at almost every retail checkout counter worldwide. And who can forget the first personal computer and portable personal computers? Most recently, Watson the supercomputer—the quintessence of IBM innovation and technology—competed on the popular game show Jeopardy, successfully defeating past champions in the challenging game show format. Whether you know it or not, the IBM Corporation has been a large part of each of our lives by bringing technology solutions to market that affect us all in one way or another.

The label of "remarkable" is not one that I, or you for that matter, should take lightly. While it is remarkable in many ways to bring innovative products and technology to the world in which we live, I also found it remarkable how IBM established itself as an international force in the midst of some of the most difficult external circumstances the world had ever seen. During the 1920s, IBM pioneered a new 80-column punch card that ran on its computing and tabulating machines. This expanded the amount of data that could be processed and was clear evidence that IBM saw a future in computing. Then, with IBM ramping up manufacturing of these tabulating machines, came the 1930s and with it the Great Depression. While most companies cut back or stopped manufacturing all together, IBM kept its plants running and stored the stockpile of machines in warehouses. When other companies were laying off their workforce, IBM maintained full employment and even instituted new employee programs to maintain high employee morale. It was during these tough and trying times that IBM developed such things as a 40-hour workweek for manufacturing employees, offering the first- ever salary plan for plant workers. IBM established the first employee training department and group life insurance. The leadership of IBM was definitely taking a risk, but the risk would pay off in remarkable ways.

As the Great Depression began to subside, the U.S. Congress passed what was to become known as the Social Security Act of 1935. With the enactment of this legislation came the immediate need for the government to collect, store, and calculate benefits for the 26 million citizens of the United States, and there was IBM with warehouses full of tabulating machines ready to go at a moment's notice. Some might call that lucky, but I call that remarkable: Remarkable leadership. Remarkable innovation. Remarkable results.

Creating a Model for Remarkable Performance

The remarkable journey of IBM and the stories of the men and women who have led that journey teach us that being remarkable and providing a remarkable performance is not something that happens by chance. What you will learn from the story of IBM and even your own personal experiences is this: being remarkable is not a gene, a birthright, or talent; being remarkable is a choice. Each one of us has the power to say, "I have decided to do whatever it takes not only to succeed, but to succeed in such a way that others (customers, employees, family, friends, colleagues, etc.) will sit up and take notice."

As a reminder from the Introduction to this book, here is my definition of remarkable:

Remarkable is the ability to consistently differentiate your self or your company through the quality of your attitude, your actions, and your outcomes that drive undeniable value for your customers and cause others to sit up and take notice.

To put that definition to work for you, I have built a model that will guide you in constructing every remarkable performance you deliver. The components of this model come from my observations and experiences through my years working at IBM and training IBM leaders. I have discovered that the qualities described in this model are a part of every remarkable performance. This model is made from the building blocks I have found to be necessary if your goal is to lead either a team, a company, or yourself into remarkable performances. When you or your organization can embrace and embody these building blocks, you will be able to consistently differentiate yourself and your organization through your remarkable results. And you will be able to replicate those performances to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

The model for remarkable performances consists of three main layers (see Figure 1.1). Each layer must be designed and developed for strength, but the exponential strength of the layers is revealed only when they are combined to deliver remarkable performances.

* The first layer is the foundation. Nothing of any value will stand if the foundation is weak. While you don't always see the elements of the foundation, they are there—silently upholding everything else. The foundation is the first thing you construct when building for remarkable performances. Later in the chapter and in Chapters 2 and 3, we will discuss the two key building blocks in the foundation for remarkable that will make the foundation strong.

* The second layer is the framework. The framework allows you to expand the structure so that it can house the important concepts of delivering remarkable performances. The framework is what you interact with on a daily basis—including the traits that support remarkable performance. In Part II of the book we will discuss the four building blocks in the framework for remarkable performances—similar to supporting walls in a home.

* And finally, the third layer of our model is the exterior siding and roof, which will bring functionality. Without the exterior, rain would get in and destroy everything you have worked hard to create. The exterior with which you wrap everything you do will protect your efforts and ensure that they are sustainable. The exterior provides the face that others see each day. In Part III of the book we will discuss the two key building blocks in the functionality for remarkable performances—similar to the siding and roof of a home.

These three layers comprise the characteristics of being remarkable, which—if properly developed—not only will support us but will also shelter us from the external circumstances and environmental forces that often derail our best efforts and leave us stranded in average or mediocre performances.

As I have worked with IBM leaders and their teams that are pursuing remarkable results, I also have found that there are a handful of "wrecking balls" that can keep even the best-performing teams from doing it right the first time and building remarkable. I will detail throughout the book a few of these wrecking balls that can destroy your efforts at becoming remarkable.

The Building Blocks of the Remarkable Foundation

As we explore the foundation, I will detail its two key building blocks. Think of these building blocks as being the mortar and stone that get mixed to create the concrete foundation.

Foundation Building Block #1: Know the What—the Outcomes—of Your Goal

The first main building block in the foundation of remarkable performances (see Figure 1.2) is know the what—the outcomes—of your goal. That is, know and articulate what you are trying to accomplish. If you do not know what you are trying to accomplish, you have no hope of achieving a remarkable outcome. At IBM, our leadership does an amazing job of painting the picture of what the desired outcomes will be. This starts with a five-to seven-year view of where the company will be, and it works its way through our fabric to the individual level of what is required of me to generate the results we need to generate. Remarkable results are not possible without a clear picture of what remarkable looks like.

The largest obstacle for most people and organizations wanting to provide remarkable performances is the failure to develop a clear understanding of what they are trying to accomplish. Creating and articulating a clear goal and complete understanding of the outcome desired is the single most important component when it comes to leading or providing a remarkable performance. If you cannot articulate what a remarkable outcome looks like, from the customer's point of view, then you cannot possibly achieve it with any certainty. You may stumble on a remarkable outcome from time to time, but repeating remarkable will be almost impossible if you cannot articulate clearly what you plan to accomplish.

Sometimes the customer doesn't have a clear idea of what he or she wants. Or sometimes what the customer wants is only one piece of the greater process toward a truly remarkable outcome. That's where our skills come into play, as we have to find out how the ideal should or could function and what it will look like, even if we don't yet know the tactical solution to build it. We have to define "What is it that we want it to accomplish?" instead of "Which tool should we use to get this done today?"

When Thomas J. Watson, Jr., took over leadership of IBM in 1956 from his father, Thomas Watson, Sr., he immediately changed the management structure to position the company for growth. In 1962, to formalize the way he was already leading the company, he introduced what soon became known as the IBM Basic Beliefs. Those basic beliefs were respect for the individual, customer service, and excellence. It was Watson's view that this is how all IBMers would operate when selling and working with customers, prospects, and colleagues. Every IBMer was trained to always put the customers first and consider how we might best serve the customers in helping them achieve their objectives. The word serve was new to most people in the sales organization. One of the great truths that was being taught was that you can differentiate yourself and your organization by always having a point of view that helps your customers define possible outcomes. IBM still takes a lot of pride in helping customers achieve remarkable outcomes.

When I am asked to consult or provide a workshop for a client, my very first question of my sponsor is, "Please tell me what your end result for this session looks like. What do you want the people in attendance to be able to do, think, or say when we are through with the event?" If I know what I am aiming at, I can then begin to develop a map of how to get there. Note that I don't ask the customer, "How do you think I should accomplish it?" or, "What do you think I should do first?" That's "short-order cook" thinking, not chef thinking. Rather, I ask the big-picture, end-result questions so that I can apply my unique strengths and skills to creating success. This might be this client's first workshop, and he or she could have a very narrow view of what a successful outcome looks like. I, on the other hand, have done many workshops and have a much wider view of what successful, even remarkable, outcomes might be. If I think back to the times when I have been less than remarkable in my performance, or to when the teams I was leading were struggling with being remarkable, I can trace my poor performance to not having a clear vision of the final outcome. We just started doing things hoping they would lead to successful results.

If you cannot articulate the goal (preferably in writing) so that everyone is in agreement on what is to be accomplished, then you set yourself up for an average performance—and not one worthy of anyone taking notice.

Foundation Building Block #2: Know the Why—the Values—of Your Goal

The second main building block found in our foundation for remarkable performances is to know the why—the values—of your goal. That is, know why you personally are trying to accomplish the goal. This is like adding stone or gravel to the mortar (the "what") so that it becomes strong.

Equally as important as knowing what you wish to accomplish is knowing why you are taking an action! People who deliver remarkable performances always have a clear understanding of why they are doing what they are doing. Explorer Ed Stafford's "why" involved being the first to do something (to walk the length of the Amazon River) that had not been done—a trait you find in many remarkable performances; but he also wanted to raise awareness of the climate issues that face the rain forests in South America. His why wasn't just about having bragging rights for being the first; his why also included helping a worthy cause.

Excerpted from REPEAT THE REMARKABLE by PERRY M. HOLLEY. Copyright © 2014 Perry Holley. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
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Meet the Author

PERRY HOLLEY is a program director with IBM Leadership Development. He serves and leads global teams, their managers, and top executives in developing and repeating remarkable performances.

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