Hello Leader,

To be strategic and innovative in the coming year you must work and think at three levels. But first, I disagree with Forest Gump: Life is not like a box of chocolates; it is like a three-story house.

Imagine that on each floor of your metaphoric three-story house you do a different kind of work. Most people confine themselves to the ground floor. Some people climb to the second floor. And then, very rarely, some people make it to the third floor.

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Aviv Shahar

Your Three-Story House

To understand what takes place in your three stories of work, let's look at each of these spaces.

The ground floor is where you work in the business. It's a busy place. You spend most of your hours working in the business.

On the second floor you do a different kind of work. This is where you work on the business. Notice the distinction between working in to working on the business. You work in the business to serve your clients. You work on the business to improve the business operation.

When you climb to the third floor, there's a different kind of work to do. The third floor is where you work on you. Since you are your most important tool, your energy, beliefs and capabilities determine what you are then able to produce when you work on the business on the second floor and in the business on the ground floor.

To be strategic and innovative and to grow your business to its fullest potential you must work at all three levels. And you need to coach your teams to work at these three levels.

Case In Point
Pete is a smart executive. He leads a successful global team and was asked by the COO to develop a critical set of strategies and interventions to drive the company's growth.

As Pete puts it, he needed to create new outcomes while maneuvering a complex and political environment of a matrix organization, grounded in a legacy and protocols that hindered the task he was given.

Where do you begin?

How do you navigate complex environments to create breakthrough results?

These were the questions Pete grappled with when he asked for my help. Helping a client work on strategic innovation often requires us to reframe how we are looking at the problem.

Our first conversation explored what opportunities were available for Pete to create momentous progress. Momentum has its own dynamic power. My Air Force experience reemerges as we discuss with Pete the idea that velocity creates lift. In terms of the metaphoric three-story house, this is a conversation that takes place on the second floor. On the second floor we redesigned the roadmap of his organizational strategy to build and drive breakthrough innovation.

When we met again, Pete was immersed in the challenges of the business. He struggled with what's outside his control, the pressures and the need to be reactive as he works in the business (ground floor).

Gradually, as we unpacked the issues, we went back up to the second floor to gain perspective and plan the next phase of our strategy.

What happened next is not obvious. As we explored the initiatives Pete needed to implement, we were confronted with concerns and worries that held Pete back from moving forward. Concerns and "why" conversations are some of the triggers that cause or even force us to move the conversation up to the third floor.

As Pete articulated beliefs and concerns that guide his actions--that's third-floor conversation and work--he quickly formed up a new framework that freed him to take action. The convoluted became untangled. The impossible transformed into the doable. Stagnation broke up into movement. And movement gathers momentum. That's leadership.

Your Three Stories
In our work, we help executives think in new ways about their challenges, transform their organization and accelerate innovation and business results. We look at the first floor--the work they do in the business, but our collaboration produces even greater value as we climb together to second- and third-story conversations.

Here is the way Pete puts it: "By clarifying my thinking I am able to radically accelerate my work. On the first floor I tend to be reactive. This can get exhaustingly frustrating. As we go to the second floor I find greater clarity and focus and it helps me build my influence with peers, clients and the senior leadership of the company. By working on my work not just in my work I dramatically improve our results. But it is more than that...true acceleration happens when I am able to reframe the problems and release what holds me and our team back. This is work we do on our third floor."

Pete is not the only executive to describe this. In our collaboration we take a systems approach and holistically address the three stories of work.

The first, or ground floor, is where Pete works in his job.
The second floor is where he works on his job.
The third is where Pete works on himself and his "inner operating system."

The conflicts and challenges in each of these three levels are different. The power to catalyze vital movement and transformational results can be found in moving through these levels and attending to the needs and opportunities in each.

Many executives are too busy and preoccupied with working the ground floor. In the course of our collaboration with Pete, he commented that the greater yield is in working in parallel and being able to go up and down the three stories when necessary.

"By developing awareness to my strengths and leadership voice, and understanding how my process style is different and complementary to the people I work with, I am more effective and strategic in how I apply myself to the business. I am better able to reframe issues, and customize my communication. This is eye opening. What was mostly in the background has moved into the foreground. The impact on how I do my work and on our team is dramatic."

To help you develop the three stories of your house of work consider the following:

Ground Floor Imperatives Key Questions
Working in the business
  • Deliver value to clients
  • Grow the business
  • Who are your clients?
  • What are their unmet needs?
  • What will delight them?
  • Who else can you bring value to?
Second Floor Imperatives Key Questions
Working on the business Improve strategic effectiveness and operational efficiency
  • What is the future picture of your business?
  • What must be true for your desired future to play out?
  • What new capabilities and processes do you need to develop?
  • How will you mobilize implementation of the breakthroughs you create?
Top Floor Imperatives Key Questions
Working on you
  • Develop you
  • Live into Purpose
  • What inspires you?
  • What concerns must you address?
  • What new capabilities will you develop?
  • How do you lead your teams to build purpose-inspired action?

Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. Discover and develop your three stories of work. Design focused time to address these three levels of work. Build your desired three-story house and create new possibilities for you and your team.

© Aviv Shahar