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How do you make sure “Dreams & Details” doesn’t keep you dreaming?

Do you want to make sure “Dreams & Details” doesn’t keep you dreaming? Earn the Right to Attack!

"Dreams & Details" is now available in English – a leadership book by Jim Snabe and Mikael Trolle sharing their view on value-creating leadership in a digital and exponential business world. A remarkable and highly inspiring book, easy to access because it creates a highly topical leadership context, spiced with cases and their own experiences from the world of businesses and sports. A wonderful "kick in the pants" to those who have not yet dared to disrupt themselves - on time. And valuable inspiration for those who dare, but have not yet found the leadership formula, which can make things happen.
Dreams and detail UK forside


The authors’ aim is not only to provide advice, but also to facilitate a thought leadership debate among professional networks. For me, the book ignited many reflections and encouraged me to share them – which I based on a chat with Jim Snabe will sum up as "Earn the Right to Attack"!

“Dreams & Details” in a nutshell

The point of departure is Snabe’s gradually well-known disruption metaphor with the seasonal shift in Formula 1, where rules of the game change dramatically, and optimization of last season's race car won’t make the way to the podium in the new season. “Dreams & Details” is about involvement and value creating leadership in an unpredictable future, where plans and result goals do not last longer than "the ink is dry". Thus, it's all about creating a catchy vision, focusing only on the most important details and unleashing your employees’ potential within a well-defined manoeuvre room. Externally, the premise is an exponential development of opportunities and threats. Internally, that the bottom line isn’t inspirational for all. Thus, it takes a bigger dream and purpose to make the world go around.

In the model, "dreams" are about strategic direction, ambition and inspiration, and "details" about roles, abilities and collaboration. The "bridge" between the dreams and the details is about mindset and structure, i.e. the way things are done "with us". The dreams are not a plan for "how", but a vision of "what", and it should be relevant, ambitious, growth-focused and magnetic. Nor the details are a plan, but a pinpointing of the most important success criteria about "how". Not even the bridge is a plan, but rules of the game and chalk of the field on which the human performance is to be delivered. Basically, it’s goodbye to classical business plans and result goals, and hello to dreams and human performance goals. But how do you as a leader make sure that it doesn’t stay with the dreams? How do you tackle the challenges that many inevitably will encounter, when dreams and details are to come true?

Technology or customers first?

Snabe and Trolle have a good grip on the current business context. The ability to perform a seasonal shift is undoubtedly one of the future's most important competitive parameters in the transition from industrial to digital business models. In the new world with exponential computing power and communication range, economies of scale based on segmentation and standard products will gradually be outperformed by tailor-made products to anyone at marginal costs close to zero. The authors express it quite well with the shift from economies of scale to economies of scope.

However, here I have experienced obstacles, as things are often complicated unnecessarily, because we typically think technology before customers. Every day, we are showered with the digital world's buzzwords and abbreviations about the “new black”, which however fades and is replaced by novelties even before we have pulled our minds together. Many leaders get paralyzed and caught in a spider web of technology - a squeeze that is enforced by fear of leaving the comfort zone. Here, my own approach has been simplification without ignoring the devil in the detail. My point is, that it is not only about technology, and certainly not in the first place. You can benefit from taking the complexity and discomfort out of the discussion by simply focusing on three very basic things in the first place, i.e. how you can make life better, easier and cheaper for your customer - basically provide more for less? Put yourself in the customer's seat instead of the CTO’s seat. Ultimately, you can apply co-creation to involve the customers, which can maximize creativity and commitment on both sides of the table. Then ask your CTO to find the enabling technology - it's for sure out there somewhere.

Is it wise to say goodbye to business plans and result goals?

“Dreams & Details” makes up with management of plans in smooth waters, as well as new plans for a future that cannot be predicted. Several others have over the years placed their bets with VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity - and the leadership response in the form of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility. Hardly anyone can disagree with the benefits of being at the forefront and thinking "what if," nor that creativity and agile adaptations require all employees and their competences to be brought into play.

Snabe and Trolle pull the fronts quite sharply by challenging traditional performance management focusing on planning and controlling company results. They suggest replacing it with focus on human potential and human performance, assuming the company results will then arrive by themselves - an approach since the scientific and global Cranet survey of result measuring and bottom line results do not show correlation between the two. Although Snabe and Trolle emphasize that they do not advocate laissez faire management, I think that an accomplished "goodbye" to result focus can be a risky route forward. I would also argue, that many “performers” do find motivation in their result achievements. For example, in "Strictly Come Dancing" there is clearly focus on the human performance, and there is ample room for choreography. However, grades are also given, and text votes are counted in the crunch leaving both winners and losers. Apparently, all dance couples seem strongly motivated to fight, develop their personal performance and improve results. I also notice that Snabe and Trolle's goodbye to result goals relies on McGrath of Columbia University, pointing out that result goals may lock companies in a world view that most likely changes. But, are human performance goals a definitive response to this when the demand on human performance constantly needs to be adjusted to the dynamic competition? Or are the classic financial result goals in fact the constant common denominator over time?

I fully agree that “performance management” in many cases is unilaterally focused on results over human performance - but "properly" implemented, it is about using KPIs to evaluate, correct and develop human performance, rather than for control and consequences. I have always distinguished between efforts and results, which I have also used for rewards and incentives - salary for efforts and bonus for results. It may also be worth considering balancing between financial and non-financial goals, the latter typically being able to represent the efforts needed to create your financial results, which few companies can ignore. It may also be a good idea to mix KPIs between leading and lagging indicators - where leading indicators are typically non-financial "milestones" that can tell if you are moving towards future financial performance goals. Thus, I think it would be wise that you do not read “Dreams & Details” as black and white, but find the right balance between the "chicken and the egg" based on your belief in your organization's ability and your risk willingness. After all, this also seems to be the book's "bottom line" when it comes to managing goals.

Collaboration on exploiting the employees' full potential creates value for everyone

The mindset of the bridge translates the dreams into actions, and the structure gives room for unfolding human performance. This opens the opportunity to utilize the employees' full potential to create a fourfold win for customers, employees, the company and society. The right bridge between the dreams and the details increases the speed of change and leverage performance. However, in the exponential context, it is usually about major transformations that can cause insecurity or even resistance to change among employees. Snabe and Trolle point to the fact that most employees can and will develop, if they can see the purpose and their own role in the whole - it therefore requires true collaboration. Here, “Dreams & Details” and the bridge between them can create a full picture for everyone, and thus give people meaning at work.

Through the ages I have myself been very aware of the little puzzling word "why"? I see “why” as the first and most important word in leadership, because it is key to understanding tasks and making sense. It creates openness, readiness and will to "move" and improve personal performance. It enables dialogue and interaction to create more quality and greater anchoring of all the other important questions about "what", "who", "where", "when", "how" and "how much"? However, the order with "why" as the first, and sufficient time for "why" dialogue, is crucial to success. Do not jump the "why", as it may take you much longer or you may achieve less.

“Dreams & Details" needs to fit an “elevator pitch”

If the ambitious and magnetic dreams shall come true, communication must be clear, trustworthy and easy to retell by all -  high and low.  It needs to fit the very famous “elevator pitch” to make it all the way and minimize the message's "half-life". Personally, I agree with Snabe and Trolle's recommendation of combining a burning platform with a burning heart, or burning desire, as they call it. The burning platform can typically only be used to create sense of urgency, while the burning heart can extinguish the fire. As CEO of TDC Mobile (the Danish telecom incumbent), I used a leadership model that levels well with “Dreams & Details” - in a situation where we were to both defend the existing (mobile voice/text) and create the new (mobile data/broadband). All was summed up in a single name, which became daily talk, namely D3 = Direction / Demands / Domains. All three D's of course with "meat on the bone", for the company, the divisions, the departments, the teams and the individual employee. But "D3" became enough in itself because we all knew what we were talking about.

The art of balancing between management and leadership

Personally, I have never unleashed the requirements for human performance to provide financial results - or medals, to stay in the world of sports. In TDC Mobile I kept hanging on to financial results – which Computer World Magazine by the way also gave my team encouraging medals for. Anyway, we focused on five details of how to get there: 1) creating very satisfied customers, 2) creating a new mobile data business by being the best partner for other players in the future mobile content eco system, 3) offering the best self-service solutions, 4) achieving the best and most valuable market shares and 5) being the best to ensure coherence between employee tasks and competence development. All of them being SMART result goals -  the short of it was that it was both clear and inspiring to the many, if not all, and it was used for dialogues to improve both human performance and the company’s financial performance.

Operationally, I managed to articulate a good balance between management & leadership - management dealing with the "whats", i.e. cold facts, numbers and plans, and leadership dealing with the "hows", i.e. visions, people and emotions. This meant that we could accelerate change and human performance, thus creating faster and better results - in other words, we took advantage of the full potential of all employees. An approach that reminds much of Snabe and Trolle’s thoughts inspired by Steve Jobs about micro management and micro leadership. However, my own experience is that most managers need an operational and structured approach to work both as manager and leader, and here “Dreams & Details” can certainly be a good support.

The collaboration between the existing and the new

The book provides a striking example of exponential and linear management models’ impact on companies’ market cap. Amazon's online retail model rocketing from 0 over 10 years becoming more valuable than Walmart's offline model, moreover with a flat market value. Obviously, there is a difference in managerial mindset behind the two, but it also illustrates the difference between being a start-up and a well-established player, i.e. having everything to win or something to lose, thus having difficulties leaving the old world and comfort zone.

Snabe and Trolle does emphasize the need to take care of the existing business and the need for different types of leadership. But, here I think the book is a little less clear-cut on what is needed, and whether “Dreams & Details” can embrace both – not least in the light of the fact that taking care of the existing business can be hard enough in itself. It is emphasized that the old and new business should be measured separately, although human performance targets’ substitution of result targets remains for both. In existing companies, the new season must not take over all the limelight of the old one. Everyone is equally important to creating the new season, as employees of the old season are funding the new season and they will eventually become part of the new season team when scaling. Personally, I have experienced how important it is that there are no A and B teams that can demotivate and inhibit performance and results in the core business – and even create uncontrolled churn of key team mates.

Can result goals be allowed to retire or take a leave?

Once you have chewed you through the book, and probably convinced by the potential of “Dreams & Details”, I guess you will also ask yourself; "Well, why did I not do this before?" And "how can I be allowed to let go of control"? All employees have managers, and all managers have a boss, also the CEO, who will be accountable to the board - even the chairman has a "boss", namely the company's stakeholders - including shareholders. For most private companies, financial results are the ultimate bottom line based on the investor return model. Therefore, it may be a challenge to unleash control and let the result goals retire, let alone to seek leave to deliver financial results. This is a top-level challenge, which I think the book does not come all the way around – on the other hand it does encourage a dialogue on the matter among leadership professionals, which is quite pertinent with more active boards extending their scope from corporate governance and compliance to innovation and business development.

At the reception for the launch of the Danish version in Copenhagen, I had a chat with Jim Snabe to pressure test how we can create manoeuvre room for management to create manoeuvre room for employees? As a former co-CEO of the software giant SAP and chairman of A.P. Møller-Mærsk, he should be quite acquainted with this challenge, and he was quite clear; One must always deliver on financial expectations, but he sticks to leading by human performance goals – and that is exactly why you should get started while you can still afford to put some results aside to develop the new business. If you do get started on time, it's not a risky overnight transformation, but you can take it in smaller bites while continuing to deliver the expected financial results in the core business. This doesn’t only go for big or listed companies - even a start-up must work hard to convince investors to provide capital for the seed and early stage. In addition, the “Dreams & Details” approach should also be a regular part of everyday life and the community in the board work, where the board and management together outline the dreams, the details and the bridge as basis for the organization's further work with the human performance.

If “Dreams & Details” shall not only keep you dreaming, it is my conclusion that a fundamental mindset about "Earning the Right to Attack" is required from management and employees. Thus, we must prove our worth in the old business, or convince investors in start-ups, to afford to create the new one. My own experience is that if we are out late, we will be caught by the negative cost spiral and then it's too late to create the new and win the next world championship. Now, to round off in the world of sports, my team at TDC Mobile agreed to play a bit boring "Italian football" to be allowed to play "Brazilian" as well.

Sum of summaries, “Dreams & Details” provides clever advice and stimulate valuable debate on thought leadership. I wish you a good read and good luck making your own business dreams come true.


Mads Middelboe 

Executive Advisor & CEO

Leadmore ®





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