While it seems obvious, over the years I’ve learned that we talk and do two very different things when we aren’t clear on what we want to achieve. I set two types of goals. One is an aspirational goal that is based on future goals and milestones and the second is more focused on my present-day goals. What can I do today (my short-term goals) You should do both short and long-term goals. Secondly, it’s important to learn that words, and how we use them, have power. I’ve learned that when I set my goals, long-term aspirational ones, I focus on the words that I use. I use positive, vision-focused, actionable words.
As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reed Deshler of AlignOrg.
As a renowned leader in strategic organization design, Reed works with executive teams and human resource teams to define winning strategies, align their organizations and business models for success, and mobilize employees & stakeholders in the desired direction. He has guided Fortune 100 companies, middle-market companies, and nonprofits through successful transformations and supported them in solving complex organizational challenges. Reed is co-author of the book, Mastering the Cube: Overcoming Stumbling Blocks and Building an Organization that Works — a guidebook that Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School calls, “A great step-by-step manual on defining and changing the design of your company.” Reed also regularly presents at industry conferences.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I can. Many years ago, when I was in college, I lived in Japan for a couple of years. While I was there, I ended up doing what would be known today as large-scale change. It was a large-scale change initiative as part of my volunteer work there. I really loved it. It was fun. It was engaging. I liked working with leaders and training and I liked figuring out how to shape an organization and the way we operate in order to get different results. Speaking candidly, at that time I didn’t really realize that there is a whole field dedicated to large-scale change and organizational transformation. But when I finished my time living and working in Japan and came back to the university — as I got started in my studies — I chose what I wanted to major in. That’s when I started focusing my career on doing and being able to work in a capacity for large-scale change. Now, I specialize in the field of organization design and transformation.
Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been on the brink of failure. However, I’ve had many hard knocks. I have a pretty vivid imagination and I think I can imagine how bad something would be if I was really on the cusp, and — fortunately things haven’t ever been that bad. But I think for me, one of the most difficult times in my career was when I left corporate America and began consulting and doing the work that I do now. Because there is a certain perceived security in working for a large company. There’s a job, there’s a paycheck, there are benefits and those kinds of things. When I left that, I left it with a little bit of a safety net, but not much of one. I started to do consulting with energy, passion, and the idea that I could make a difference but without really having a tried and true track record or a strong client base, or even a very robust network. So, for a few years, I was doing some pretty hard work, knocking doors and meeting people and trying to get projects. And as I did that, my confidence grew. My network grew. Over time, I started to be seen and recognized as an expert and a specialist in organizational design and transformation. As that sort of came into being, then it became less of a worry where my next meal would come from. But it was a pretty big drop off to walk away from Corporate America without a steady check and without really knowing if I would make
it. So, for a couple of years, it was just a lot of hard work and persistence and hope that I would be able to make it happen. Fortunately, I did.
What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
One of the skills that I appreciate in others and I think I’ve tried to develop myself is that of self-mastery. What I tried to do for myself during that time was to just work hard. I can’t always control the outcomes of life. I can’t control what other people are going to do or what they’re going to decide, but I can control how hard I work, and I can control what I focus my time and energy on. So, during some of those hard times, I’m sure there would have been other people that
would have given up or they would have perhaps gotten lazy and just said, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I do. It’s completely up to chance whether or not success is going to come.”
Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
In my mind, I figured I’m going to, at least, work hard and focus on what I know I can do. I believe it is the key to achieving massive success, however you define it. If it doesn’t work out the way that I expect it to then only one of two things can happen: Over time, I’ll either learn to focus on better things or I’ll get results that are significant and meaningful. Fortunately, through that hard work, things came.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I think one thing that, when you are going through a period of adversity, is good is to make sure that you are setting some measurable and strong goals. While it seems obvious, over the years I’ve learned that we talk and do two very different things when we aren’t clear on what we want to achieve. I set two types of goals. One is an aspirational goal that is based on future goals and milestones and the second is more focused on my present-day goals. What can I do today (my short-term goals) You should do both short and long-term goals.
Secondly, it’s important to learn that words, and how we use them, have power. I’ve learned that when I set my goals, long-term aspirational ones, I focus on the words that I use. I use positive, vision-focused, actionable words.
Lastly, make sure that you surround yourself with good people. I can’t stress this enough. There are two ways to think about good people:
1) They’re good, smart, technically strong people. They add to your capability as a professional.
2) You can trust them and trust that they are people that you can count on being honest with you. You don’t need a bunch of “yes people” around you all the time.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say, my mentor, who has taught me a great deal of what I know. He’s been influential in not only what I do but how I do what I do as well. When I started consulting, he and I did a project together. In this project, he was the lead. He asked me to join him. Unbeknownst to me, he had a segment of training in that engagement that he needed me to do. I
was just at the client that day to observe. Right after the break was about to end, he came up to me and said, “Reed, I want you to lead this next section.” I didn’t even have time to say “no.” I ended up in front of the room and I started to lead the training. It was a disaster. I did
terribly. The worst thing that I’ve ever done in my career. I was completely embarrassed. He assured me that everything was okay, but from that point on I immersed myself in studying, learning, and practicing and came back to him and asked how he would have done it differently. It was a tough but necessary learning curve.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Well, I’m excited to begin working with two groups of people right now in large companies. One of them being the RV executives and leaders in those companies, and the other group is the people that may be working for human resources or more in supportive capacities. I think there is an inseparable connection between what an executive wants to get done in their business and how someone in human resources can help support them in accomplishing that. They work together as a powerful tandem or duo. So, what I’m excited about is teaching leaders and executives about the concept of alignment leadership. How to think about their organization in a way that they can design it to get the results they want. We often say that organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they’re getting. I believe that if I can get more and more executives to look at how their organizations are set up and architected, I believe they can get better results.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think one of the things I try to help organizations and people I work with learn is the importance of making tradeoffs. Whether we apply that in business or whether we apply it in our personal lives if we make intentional and smart tradeoff decisions about what we are going to do and what we’re not going to do and how we spend our time, I think more of us in this world would spend our time doing activities spend time with people in ways that would change our happiness and ultimately, the results we get in many endeavors that we undertake. Unfortunately, I probably spend too much time working on a phone. I’m sure a lot of other people do too. I think if we, myself included, could learn how to make better tradeoffs and discipline ourselves, we would find ourselves using our time and resources and energy in the most effective ways possible.
Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Become an expert in something. It can be easy to look around and grasp at anything. At first, I started to feel myself wanting to be a ‘Jack of all trades’. Instead, I said what I loved and what I think I have the potential to be great at is organization design and transformation for large organizations. I kept to that and I kept working on it, learning, developing my tools and the methods that I use. As I did that, I got more proficient at it and it allowed me to then establish the credibility that was needed to come out of it. People pay for experts because they have a laser focus. It’s one of the surest ways to become a success besides hard work and personal development.
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