Monday, April 16, 2018

What's the Role of the Board of Directors in a business transformation?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

What is the Role of the Board in a business transformation?

I've worked with Boards for some time now. "What's our role?" is their most common question.

Board Policy documents use the word 'governance' – but what’s that mean?"

It's a big deal – role confusion between the Board and senior management can weaken focus & alignment.

Once Purpose becomes fuzzy, we're in a heap of trouble.

At the same time, a strong Board can make all the difference in a business transformation.

In my experience, good governance entails answering questions like:
  • Has the Leadership team defined Purpose (True North)?
  • Does Purpose align with the needs of the community & other stakeholders?
  • Has the Leadership team developed a planning & execution system to deliver Purpose?
  • Are there clear metrics with which we can assess progress & Leadership performance?
  • Is the organization on track to achieve Purpose?
  • Does the organization have a sound financial plan to support its activities?

Governance, the Board’s job, differs, therefore, from management which entails things like:
  • Defining Purpose
  • Aligning Purpose with the needs of stakeholders
  • Developing a planning & execution system, and a plan to deliver Purpose
  • Developing clear metrics and tracking progress towards Purpose
  • Developing a sound financial plan to support its activities
  • Developing a management system that sustains good results

Management must build a good management system and manage within it.

The Board must ensure that they are managing effectively. Go See walks with Board members, and one-on-one coaching are a good way of helping them grow into their essential role

Best regards,


Monday, April 2, 2018

"Too Much School Destroys the Mind..."

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Like many of my colleagues I went to a professional school (Engineering), then a business school.

I dutifully did all my assignments, got good marks and climbed up the ladder.

Nobody told me about the glasses I'd been given. Nobody told me that they would distort my image of the world.

Nobody told me it would take a decade or more to learn to see clearly again. And I was lucky...

People got to professional schools and business schools with the best of intentions.

They want a better job, more responsibility and higher pay -- all worthy & admirable goals.

But my professors never told me they were teaching dysfunctional mindsets.

(Getting the Right Things Done and The Remedy express my thoughts on mental models.)

Probably, they didn't even realize it themselves.

They too, were just trying to make their way in their careers, seeking the path of least resistance.

Perhaps the most dysfunctional was the idea that improvement depended on ‘smart’ people like me devising cunning plans – and everybody else doing as they were told.

(I’m reminded of a line from the old Blackadder series: "I’m going to devise a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel!”)

In any event, ideas have legs. Dysfunctional mental models mutate, and debilitate their host.

The result?

Smart, well-educate, capable people who have forgotten the fundamentals.

As my dad used to say (about me), "Too much school destroys the mind..."



Monday, March 19, 2018

Four Hundred Thousand Views – Thanks, Folks

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

What if nobody reads the damned thing?
Pascal Dennis

A few weeks ago the Lean Pathways Blog team & I observed a milestone, a footprint in time: 400,000 views

We’re humbled and grateful. Thank you all for reading our humble & imperfect offerings. When we started in 2010, I didn’t know if you’d be interested.

But I felt it was important to do, in some small way, what kind Japanese senseis did for me when I was a young, thick engineer.

There is a right way of managing, of leading, of being. There are core standards of behavior, just as there are core technical standards in the great professions.

Leadership is informed and governed the Great Virtues, just as Chemical Engineering, the profession I was trained in, is informed and governed by the laws of chemistry, physics, mass transfer, heat transfer and the like.

Our blog seeks to highlight these core principles of leadership and management, which are the foundation of achievement, growth & fun.

These principles will become even more important as the Digital revolution accelerates. I coach more and more IT executives and they are hungry for a solid foundation.

You can’t reach for the stars unless you’re rooted in the earth. The great technologies of our day – Internet of Things, Drones, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Blockchain, Robotics, 3-D printing and the like – will change the world. If we root them in the core principles of leadership, the change will be for the better.

So we’ll continue to blog, kibitz & reflect on Lean, Agile, Digital and the eternal verities.

Tip of the hat to the splendid LPI Blog team – Dianne Caton, our graphic artist, and Steve Macleod, our IT leader.

Thanks, Di and Steve, for all your fine work & support.

And thanks to you all for your interest, fine questions and feedback.

Here’s to eight more safe, happy and engaging years,


Monday, March 5, 2018

Lean, Agile and the Martial Arts

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Fall down seven times, get up eight times
Aikido proverb

I first stumbled onto the martial arts when I fifteen years old. I was shooting baskets at the YMCA with my pal, Pete Stathakos, when we a series of loud slams followed by raucous applause emanating from the large wrestling room.

We hurried over and what we encountered there has informed my life ever since. The newly launched Toronto Aikikai club was giving a demonstration for an enthusiastic audience.

What did I see that day that made such a lasting impression?

Power, movement, discipline, intense focus, and an obvious consideration and respect between the participants. Everybody on the mat seemed powerful, tireless and respectful.

I joined the club, of course, and for the next fifteen years would attend 3 or 4 times a week. I learned the Seven Virtues of bushido: Yuki = courage; Jin = charity; Gi = justice; Rei = courtesy; Makoto = honesty; Chugi = fidelity; Meiyo = honor.

These lined up well with the Cardinal Virtues I learned at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Sunday School. Aikido helped me through Engineering school and Business school and with the ups & downs of life.

Then I heard Toyota was opening a major factory in the Waterloo region about 90 minutes from my home. My application was accepted and after a series of preliminary interviews, I met the President, Mr. Watanabe.

After a few perfunctory questions about my training and experience, he said, “Tell me about aikido.”

Mr. Watanabe closed his eyes as I described my senseis, training and dojo. “You are a serious student, Pascal-san – good! Toyota is also like a dojo…” Turns out he had studied both judo and aikido. I got the job and my apprenticeship began in earnest.

Mr. Watanabe was right. Toyota felt very much like a martial arts dojo. In fact, before stepping onto the shop floor, I felt like bowing, as a sign of respect to my team members, and to the art of management.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because it’s all the same. Lean, and its close cousin, Agile, are a ‘do’, in other words, a ‘path’, very similar to aikido, judo, karate-do and other martial arts.

A set of techniques becomes a path when they connect to your deeper being and purpose. A path provides constancy of purpose. The great senseis, whether in the martial arts or in management tend to be extraordinarily long-lived.

Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, Joe Juran, Eiji Toyoda were all active well into their 90’s!

The single most important quality in life, leadership and the martial arts is tenacity, which the ancients called Fortitude. Great senseis, and great organizations have it in spades. Decades later, I’m still practicing Aikido and hope to continue till they lower me down (or shoot what’s left of me out of a cannon =)

Last thing. Despite all my failings, I’ve just been promoted to Ni-Dan. My deep thanks & respect to Nakamura-sensei and Barnes-sensei of Aikido Hokuryukai


Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

Best regards,