Business Insights

10 Questions: Ready to Scale Up?

shutterstock_290520932-checkup200x150You work hard, you’ve invested in growth and¬†yet you still feel like there’s opportunity to elevate your company’s performance. What‚Äôs missing? How can you amplify your game?

Below are 10 questions to help you assess your company’s¬†overall health and readiness¬†to scale up:

1. Do you have a clearly communicated CORE PURPOSE, shared by everyone in the company?

2. What are your CORE VALUES? How well do you reinforce them throughout employee hiring and development?

3. Can everyone on the team articulate how your business grows profitably, and how they influence the bottom line?

4. Does your whole team know your 1, 3 to 5 and 10 year targets Рand their individual priorities in achieving them?

5. Who is your CORE CUSTOMER and are you reaching them effectively with an offering they care about? Does your top-line revenue reflect this?

6. What 3 ‚Äď 5 attributes differentiate you from your competition? Do you know your X-Factor, giving you a 10 to 100x advantage in your market?

7. Do you have the right people in the right seats? Are they all A-Players? Is everything operating without drama?

8. Do all team members have priorities with KPIs that they track and share weekly, quarterly and annually? Do do they have current, accurate relevant financials to navigate by?

9. Do you have a MEETING RHYTHM that keeps your teams synchronized, focused, learning, aligned and motivated?

10. Do you have a ONE-PAGE-STRATEGIC-PLAN, and is your team aligned around it? Is it yielding the growth you want?

If you are struggling to answer any of these questions (or you don’t like your answers), we can help.

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Scaling Up Public Workshops

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– Gary Ralston

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Monday, September 19th, 2016 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Scaling Up Comments Off on 10 Questions: Ready to Scale Up?

Why is Scaling Up Your Organization so HARD?

Much like¬†our own body weight, organizations have a ‘set point’ they gravitate to, be that $5 million, 10 people, $50 million, 100¬†people, $250 million, and so on. And much like our own body weight, organizations can be quite stubborn about deviating from that set point. This is obvious at a gut level (*ahem*) to¬†anyone who has tried to change either their weight or their organization’s size, relying only on sheer grit and willpower.

If we¬†don’t change the underlying systems and structures, first, and in the right sequence, any change¬†we¬†achieve through willpower will be short-lived.

Fortunately, UNLIKE our bodies, we can dramatically change the fundamental, underlying systems and structures so that the organization can rise to a new, desired set point. Of course, one can do a lot of damage to an organization by changing the wrong systems, or changing things in the wrong sequence.

Learning to Scale Up an organization is not necessarily hard, but to be effective requires specific knowledge, skills, processes and discipline in four key domains: People, Strategy, Execution and Cash.

Check out this short (2 min 14 sec) video, then chat with Ann or Gary to learn more about how you can more easily and effectively Scale Up your organization.

Our next Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop will be held in Columbus, OH October 6, 2016. For more information or to register your leadership team, please visit .

– Gary Ralston
© 2016 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Thursday, September 1st, 2016 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Scaling Up Comments Off on Why is Scaling Up Your Organization so HARD?

ExO Drivers of Change: Elon Musk Talks Climate Change Solutions at COP21


source: Scripps Center of Oceanography

Leaders of Exponential Organizations (ExOs) must be masterful at harnessing (surfing?) exponential drivers of change. There may be none bigger than our reliance on carbon-producing fuels, as can be seen in this chart of atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the past thousand years.

Elon Musk, whose company, Tesla, is among the Top 100 ExOs, spoke to a group of college students at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, discussing climate change and his view of what policymakers participating in COP21 can do to help the world transition to a sustainable future.

His message is not new, yet I appreciate how Musk frames the issues in a clear and simple way, forwards a solution that acknowledges the needs of both business and society, and (hopefully) avoids polarizing debate. This video is worth watching and sharing.

As ExO leaders, of course make plans to adapt to this driver of change, but after watching this video, ask yourself:

  • What is my preferred future?
  • How could¬†my¬†organization’s Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) help¬†shape that future?
  • What is my¬†people strategy?¬†How do the MTP, and Values alive in my¬†company today,¬†align¬†and resonate with the A-Level talent, Community and Crowd I¬†must attract and retain to achieve that future?

In this post:

  • The video (Musk begins at 3:29)
  • A summary of Musk’s¬†key message
  • A link to a full transcript¬†(Thanks to Green Car Reports for making this available)

Musk’s Key Message: Tax Carbon Appropriately

Here is a summary of Elon Musk’s¬†message, in his words, edited for clarity.

A Hidden Carbon Subsidy

53TSubsidies_for_fossil_fuels“The reason that transition is delayed or is happening slowly is because there is a hidden subsidy on … all carbon-producing activity of enormous size – $5.3 trillion a year, worldwide, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [source:]. … The net result is 35 gigatonnes of carbon per year released into the atmosphere.

This is analogous to not paying for garbage collection. It’s not as though we should say, in the case of garbage, have a garbage-free society. It’s very difficult to have a garbage-free society, but it’s just important that people pay for the garbage collection.

A Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax – a Non-Partiasn Issue

The solution, obviously, is to remove the subsidy. That means we need to have a carbon tax and to make it something which is neither a left nor a right issue. We should make it probably a revenue neutral carbon tax. …

Give Industry Time to React

…Moreover, in order to give industry time to react, this could be a phased-in approach so that maybe it takes five years before the carbon taxes are very high, so that means that only companies that don’t take action today will suffer in five years.

A Clear Signal from the Rulemakers

There needs to be a clear message from government in this regard because the fundamental problem is the rules today incent people to create carbon, and this is madness. Whatever you incent will happen. That’s why we’re seeing very little effect thus far.

5 to 10% of the Earth’s Land Mass Underwater = 2 billion people displaced

The net result is if we don’t take action, we could see anywhere from 5% to 10%, maybe more of the land mass absorbed by water, which maybe doesn’t sound like that much, but about a third of humanity lives right on the coastline or in low lying countries. We’d be talking about maybe 2 billion people being displaced and their homes being destroyed and their countries being gone. I think we should take action.”

– Elon Musk

– Gary Ralston
© 2015 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 Article Archive, Business Insights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Exponential Organizations, Main Page, Sustainability Comments Off on ExO Drivers of Change: Elon Musk Talks Climate Change Solutions at COP21

Did Weird “Al” write YOUR Mission Statement?


FAST FACTS: biggest-selling comedy recording artist in history – over 12 million albums. Estimated net worth – $16 million

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Is this new music video a comedy¬†or a tragic cautionary tale to corporate leaders, strategists and consultants?

Music parody master, Weird “Al” Yankovic, has loosed¬†his incisive wit on¬†corporate-buzz-speak, in a video from his just-released¬†album, Mandatory Fun.

Mission Statement, is composed in the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, playing against an RSA-like whiteboard animation (which apparently took 10 months to produce!). The production quality is brilliant, and I found myself smiling and wincing in equal parts.

WARNING: This video is NOT recommended for anyone who has written a mission statement in the past decade. Showing this to your CEO or board chair may shorten your career.

But seriously, Ann and I¬†are not¬†fans of mission and purpose statements, even though we’ve had a hand in creating more than one in our day.

Our friend, colleague and mentor, Robert Fritz, writes:

“Which would we rather work for, a company that had a purpose statement but didn‚Äôt have a purpose, or a company that had a purpose but didn‚Äôt have a purpose statement?

Of course we would all choose the real thing over the propaganda. But even an organization that has a true purpose can rob that purpose of its power by reducing it to a slogan.” *

So please, enjoy the video, and then commit yourselves to eradicating corporate-buzz-speak wherever you can – we promise to do the same!

‚Äď Gary Ralston
© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.

 A special thanks to Jerry Marselle at our client, SMBH, for turning us on to this gem!

* Fritz, Robert (2011-01-04). The Path of Least Resistance for Managers. Newfane Press. Kindle Edition.

More Weird “Al”:

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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 Article Archive, Business Advisors, Business Insights, Humor, Main Page Comments Off on Did Weird “Al” write YOUR Mission Statement?

Leadership Lessons from the Craft Beer World!

‘Brewing Up a Business‘ by Sam Calagione, the owner of DogFish Head Brewery, was recommended by one of my sons, so I downloaded the audiobook. He¬†brews his own¬†beer as a hobby, and I thought – at best – I was getting into a book about craft beer¬†counter-culture¬†and start ups.

Brewing up a BusinessWhat I found was a fun, fast listen chock-full of lessons on the leadership required to build and run a successful business:

  • about dedication and belief in what you are creating,
  • of commitment to your people,
  • of how the personality of an individual can shape a culture of¬†innovation.

The company was built on creating innovative (and sometimes bizarre) products – which with craft beer means a combination of distinctive taste and ingredients, an evocative name, and a great story. (Liquid Breadfruit Ale, anyone?).

They maintain a constant awareness (and openness to) ideas that may be the germ of a new offering Рand in some cases, rescue offerings in trouble.  Sales for the then-failing DFH Beer Shampoo Bar only turned around after they discovered that professional dog groomers loved it, and so repositioned it as a pet care product!

I think the thing that most struck me was their connection to and understanding of their customers. We all talk about knowing our customer, but how does that translate to action throughout a company? Calagione sets a great example, and I could see and feel his commitment to this principle, woven through every story he tells.

If you are looking for a down-to-earth¬†and delightfully “off-centered” point of view on leadership, you are in for a great¬†read (or listen!)!


– Ann Ralston

© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Leadership, Main Page Comments Off on Leadership Lessons from the Craft Beer World!

TED Talks: Michael Porter – Why business can be good at solving social problems

Why do we turn to nonprofits, NGOs and governments to solve society’s biggest problems? Michael E. Porter¬†wrote the book on modern competitive strategy for business. Now he is thinking deeply about the intersection between society and corporate interests. While he admits he’s biased, as a business school professor, he has started four not-for-profits, himself. He¬†wants you to hear his case for letting business try to solve massive problems like climate change and access to water.

Why? Because when business solves a problem, it makes a profit — which lets that solution grow.

Can’t view the video? Want to access the interactive transcript? ¬†Click here.

Getting the discussion rolling…

There is much to like in this presentation, and it does a very good job of bridging the terrain that divides social and corporate ventures.

That said, as we reviewed this video, (and in the tradition of Muppet Show hecklers, Statler and Waldorf), Ann and I had a few thoughts:

Would business take on reform of global monetary and financial systems?

Does Porter’s premise that business will resource the solving of¬†society’s biggest problems, out of a profit motive / enlightened self-interest, ¬†scale to all of¬†society’s biggest problems? For instance, why and how would businesses around the world resource a fundamental restructuring of the current global monetary and investment systems?

Many think these systems are fundamentally broken, and at the very least, the systems are reinforcing the wealth divide. So how would that work? Business, by virtue of being able to generate wealth would voluntarily fund a global overhaul of the broken mechanisms of wealth creation and distribution, in cooperation with the worlds’ governments? The same mechanisms that capitalize business growth and fund governments, through taxation? The same governments who rarely agree about matters relating to the global commons – atmosphere, oceans, global warming, nuclear proliferation, etc.?

(I’m picturing the world described in Neal Stephenson’s intense and dark science fiction novel, Snow Crash, in which governments had¬†ceded most of their power to private corporations, organizations, and entrepreneurs operating as nation-states. brrr!)

Will public companies be allowed to move to a longer view of profitability?

On the bright side, Porter gives examples of businesses that are taking a longer view of profitability:

‚ÄúThe deeper work, the new work, the new thinking on the interface between business and social problems is actually showing that there’s a fundamental, deep synergy, particularly if you’re not thinking in the very short run. In the very short run, you can sometimes fool yourself into thinking that there’s fundamentally opposing goals, but in the long run, ultimately, we’re learning in field after field that this is simply not true.‚ÄĚ

Glad to hear it, because the last couple of public multinational corporations we worked with had a VERY difficult time making socially-conscious, longer-term investments. The pressure to meet quarterly projections coming from Wall Street, alone, was devastating, forcing them to give up their long-term aspirations or be punished in the short-term as their stock prices fell. It is ironic that the multinational companies that could do the most good may be least able within the existing system.

What do you think?

Ann and I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts on Porter’s video. If you feel moved to contribute to our community’s discussion, we welcome your input on the commentary thread, below.

Thanks for watching!


– Ann and Gary Ralston

© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 Article Archive, Business Insights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Main Page, Social Enterprise, Sustainability, Values Comments Off on TED Talks: Michael Porter – Why business can be good at solving social problems

Shake Up Your Biases and Preconceptions with a MOOC!

MOOCs are opening more than higher education to the world – they can open the world to you

This fall I participated in my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – see sidebar). The course, Behavioural Economics in Action 101x, is offered by the prestigious Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, for free. I’m accessing this course through EdX, a¬†non-profit online initiative of 30 of the world’s top universities,¬†created by founding partners Harvard and MIT.¬†Their mission is expand access to the best of higher education for students around the world – and this in part means reducing or eliminating the barrier of cost.

If my class is any indication, EdX has proven its global reach. I was blown away – each pin on the world map below represents one of my over 2100 fellow learners!


Now it’s great that EdX is bringing this course to the world. Absolutely. But early into the course it dawned on me that through this MOOC, EdX had brought the world to me! While I found the course content interesting, I was much more intrigued by the varied points of view from different cultures.

A bit about the course content

What was your BIGGEST class at university?MOOCs are bigger…

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course Рa relatively new development in the world of online learning that is generating significant buzz, and no small amount of angst about their possible impact on the business model for higher education.

Top universities are offering top-notch interactive courses to large numbers of students at once, taught by excellent faculty, many for free, and some for-credit, at a fraction of the cost of a conventional university course.

In case you are wondering how many students per class is¬†large…¬†according to Wikipedia,¬†‘Udacity’s CS101, with an enrollment of over¬†300,000 students, was¬†the largest MOOC to date.’

Behavioral economics explores, from a psychological point of view, why people sometimes make irrational decisions, and why and how their behavior does not follow the predictions of economic models. Further, these behavioral insights can be used to influence decisions in many ways, from the obvious – drive up consumer spending by offering “bargains” – to the more subtle – lose weight by doing nothing more than taking a picture of everything you consume. Such techniques or strategies, designed to subtly influence decisions toward a given outcome, are commonly referred to as¬†“Nudges”, and there has been much interest in applying such behavioral insights to larger policy and societal issues.

Many of our class discussions (held in web-based discussion forums) focused on social issues, with the intention to explore how to influence or “nudge” behaviors that increase health and overall well-being of people and societies.

Some of our early topics…

  • disrupting the transmission of AIDS in Uganda,
  • quelling noise pollution from overuse of car horns in large cities in India, and
  • shifting a nation’s personal debt and spending / saving patterns.

And the conversations were fascinating! The richness and diversity of views and the insights from different countries, socio-economic backgrounds and fields of study opened a much wider world to me, creating a deeper and more engaging learning experience. There is nothing like discussing a subject with someone from a foreign culture and way of thinking to show up your own assumptions and biases!

If you’ve been missing out on the amazing variety of free, quality education available through MOOCs, and a world of fellow learners, here are a few tips (okay, nudges!) to get you started:

See you in the MOOC-iverse!

– Ann Ralston

© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Thursday, December 19th, 2013 Article Archive, Business Insights, Business Models, Corporate Social Responsibility, Main Page, Personal Mastery, Sustainability Comments Off on Shake Up Your Biases and Preconceptions with a MOOC!

We Believe… (part 2)

In Part 1, after watching a TEDTalk video featuring Simon Sinek, Ann and I decided to re-write the way we tell the story of Ralston Consulting Inc. following the approach in the presentation.

Sinek observes that everyone in an organization knows What they do, some know How they do it, and yet fewer know Why they do what they do. His insight is that great companies, and great leaders reverse the order of the message: Why, then How, and then What. Sinek maintains: “People don‚Äôt buy what you do; people buy why you do it.

We decided to test it out with you. Here’s a draft of our new message:


We believe the world urgently needs leaders of heart, of conscience and of long vision, who today undertake enterprise that also benefits our children’s children. It is these leaders we are interested in walking with.

We do so as partners in thought and action, co-inventing sustainable and generative ways forward where convention doesn’t cut it, the past has failed the future, and the alternatives are unclear.

We offer leading-edge tools and ideas for strategic foresight and business innovation, for lean startup and sustainable growth, for creating communities of change, and for developing our next generations of leadership.

Walk with us and tell us what you envision. Let’s create a better way forward…

What do you think and feel about it? We’d love to hear from you, and we want it all. We need the straight goods if we are to make it better.

If you’re moved to share your thoughts, either post a comment here, or email us.

Thanks very much!

Ann and Gary

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 Article Archive, Business Insights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Main Page, Marketing, Sustainability Comments Off on We Believe… (part 2)

We believe… (part 1)

A TEDx video featuring Simon Sinek, author of the book: Start with Why, came to my attention as we were scanning for engaging pre-session material for a client project. From

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …

In essence, he observed that while most will tell you first WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and then WHY, great leaders reverse the order. He asserts this works because our brains evolved that way. While I’m not all the way on board with that part of his theory, Simon is a great storyteller ‚Äď upbeat, interesting and thought-provoking. Really, really thought-provoking.

After taking the video in, Ann and I set out to re-draft the story of our company, starting with Why, and were surprised at the result. We hope you enjoy the video, and then invite you to part two, where we share our latest draft message and ask you for candid feedback!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Marketing Comments Off on We believe… (part 1)

Strategy Offering Turbo-Charged with Advanced Scenario Planning

Nicole-Anne BoyerAt a recent strategy update retreat with one of our clients, we introduced scenario planning as a front-end to their strategy process. The improvement was dramatic! One of the partners even queried us if we had been actively using scenario planning at the time we’d done their original strategy session. (We assured him that we hadn’t, that it was a new offering, and we had NOT been holding out on him!) He thought it added tremendous value and insight, and maintained that it should be part of their strategy process from here on out.

Much credit for the tremendous improvement between the two sessions goes to our associate, Nicole-Anne Boyer, founder of Adaptive Edge LLC. Since 2009, Ann, Charles and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Nicole. From the start of our association, our strategic planning offering has been turbo-charged with the addition of robust scenario planning, strategic foresight and futures thinking. While I had thought I knew something of scenario planning before, I have been learning at a furious pace to come up-to-speed on the state of the art in scenario planning.

Scenario planning has been around for a very long time, but took significant strides forward, notably in the planning department at Royal Dutch Shell, and at the Global Business Network. It is now used widely in planning processes in business.

‚ÄúAccording to Bain & Company‚Äôs annual survey of management tools, fewer than 40% of companies used scenario planning in 1999. But by 2006 its usage had risen to 70%.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď The Economist, September 1st, 2008

I have been learning that there are as many forms and methods of scenario planning as there are practitioners, but there has been a clear evolution in the purpose and motive for scenario planning.

  • Inform Planning: Use the output of a scenario planning exercise to inform a conventional ‚Äúout-think the future‚ÄĚ strategy session.
  • Adapt to Future: Scenario planning becomes part of 1) a way of thought for leadership, and 2) an early warning system to help a company to adapt to future changes. One of the funders of modern scenario planning framed it so:

‚ÄúThe test of a good scenario is not whether it portrays the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn and adapt.”
‚Äď Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View

  • Shape the Future: The scenario planning process might be taken beyond the walls of the organization and involve the wider system we are trying to influence. The scenario planning process is then a catalyst in a broader, generative effort to shape our desired future. Put another way:

‚ÄúThe best way to predict the future is to invent it.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď Alan Kay, Scientist and Apple Fellow

In our work at Ralston Consulting Inc., we have always focused on helping our clients develop the orientation and capacity for generative change to create their desired future. Our collaboration with Nicole has given our mission a tremendous boost!

Thursday, October 21st, 2010 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Scenario Planning Comments Off on Strategy Offering Turbo-Charged with Advanced Scenario Planning

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