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The game is all about vision, opportunity, agility, inspired action, and celebration—not project management, budget reviews, reporting relationships, compensation, and accountability to a plan. The network and the hierarchy must be inseparable, with a constant flow of information and activity between them—an approach that works in part because the volunteers in the network all work within the hierarchy.
The most agile, innovative companies add a second operating system, built on a fluid, networklike structure, to continually formulate and implement strategy. Governed by these principles, the strategy network can be incredibly flexible and adaptable; the accelerators can drive problem solving, collaboration, and creativity; and the people doing this work—the volunteer army—will be focused, committed, and passionate.
The network is like a solar system, with a guiding coalition as the sun, strategic initiatives as planets, and subinitiatives as moons or even satellites. This structure is dynamic: Initiatives and subinitiatives coalesce and disband as needed. Although a typical hierarchy tends not to change from year to year, the network can morph with ease.
In the absence of bureaucratic layers, command-and-control prohibitions, and Six Sigma processes, this type of network permits a level of individualism, creativity, and innovation that not even the least bureaucratic hierarchy can provide. Populated with employees from all across the organization and up and down its ranks, the network liberates information from silos and hierarchical layers and enables it to flow with far greater freedom and accelerated speed. The hierarchy differs from almost every other hierarchy today in one very important way: All the junk ordinarily pasted on it for tackling big strategic initiatives—work streams, tiger teams, strategy departments—has been shifted over to the network.
The strategy network meshes with the hierarchy as an equal. It is not a super task force that reports to some level in the hierarchy. It is seamlessly connected to and coordinated with the hierarchy in a number of ways, chiefly through the people who populate both systems. The network cannot be viewed as a rogue operation. It must be treated as a legitimate part of the organization, or the hierarchy will crush it.
Urgency starts at the top of the hierarchy, and it is important that executives keep acknowledging and reinforcing it so that people will wake up every morning determined to find some action they can take in their day to move toward that opportunity. Sufficient urgency around a strategically rational and emotionally exciting opportunity is the bedrock upon which all else is built.
In my original work 15 years ago, I found that ridding an organization of complacency was important. It can galvanize a volunteer army and keep the dual operating system in good working order. It moves managers to focus on opportunities and allow the network to grow for the benefit of the organization. Without an abiding sense of urgency, no chance of creating a grander business will survive. For clients, my team has begun by having the executive committee take a first pass at articulating the strategic opportunity.
This makes sense because its members are in a position to see the big picture and because their role in nurturing the dual structure is vital—particularly in the early days, when it is most vulnerable to the forces of resistance. When his division started to lose market share, he commissioned an outside study, which recommended both a new strategy and an implementation process that Davidson judged to be too rigid and complex for the kind of rapid change needed.
So he persuaded his division head and the CEO to support a more dynamic approach to change. Davidson knew much of what he wanted: a less costly sales operation, a broader range of distributors, the ability to move into the marketplace faster, and more focus on high-growth Asian markets. Davidson put the eight accelerators to work for his company. The urgency team spent three months devising dozens of ideas for forging a broad understanding of, passion for, and commitment to the opportunity. It organized meetings, created support materials, and built an intranet portal filled with information, videos, blogs, and stories about the ways in which individuals on the sales team were already changing.
Next the urgency team, working with the executive committee, invited employees to apply for a role in the guiding coalition. The application form asked why they wanted to be on the GC, how they planned to manage the additional workload, and more. About people applied, and 36 were selected, mostly—but not entirely—from middle management and below.
They functioned without a formal leader, though a facilitator organized meetings and phone calls. Despite initial awkwardness about the range of formal status across the GC, a new organizational logic arose: For any given activity, the people with the relevant information, connections, motivation, and skills took the lead. With input from top management, the outside study, and colleagues throughout the organization, the GC developed a vision and a strategy.
We will be a proud, passionate group, still gaining momentum to make us the most admired sales organization and the best place to work in the industry. The guiding coalition then took a first pass at identifying specific initiatives. Its members agreed on five, including attracting and hiring outstanding people with Asian experience, and making the product-introduction process faster and more efficient.
The vision and list of initiatives went first to the executive committee, which was generally enthusiastic but worried that the GC might be taking on too much too fast. The GC extended the timetable on one of its initiatives and went to work. The more team members talked to colleagues, the more excited people became. And it really makes sense! Six months in, the GC had five major initiatives in place, each of which had from one to six subinitiatives. The initiative to hire excellent people in Asia, for example, sprouted a subinitiative to bring new people up to speed more quickly.
The focus was on eliminating barriers to accelerated movement in the right direction. The people involved talked, e-mailed, and met as needed to get the work done. Senior managers helped to ensure that lower-level employees got the information they needed to make smart decisions. The guiding coalition came up with a big, visible win six months into the process: It built a new, simplified IT tool at a remarkably low cost in a short period of time.
IT had been a time-consuming trouble spot. First an initiative team interviewed users to understand why the existing system was failing; then it reached out to the volunteer army for expertise. One e-mail request for help, sent to people, elicited 35 responses within four days. Salespeople and their managers loved the end product. The company never let up.
outer-edge-design.com/components/camera/3237-track-messenger-on.php I have lost count of how many initiatives it has completed over the past three years and how many barriers have been removed. Many mistakes occurred along the way, but the system continues to improve, and version 2. The biggest accomplishments so far have been institutionalized in the hierarchical organization and integrated in daily operations.
To a large extent this happens naturally if the new approach produces better results; but sometimes changes are so big that nurturing is needed. Three years after Davidson began to create a dual operating system, his field organization, and increasingly the entire division, are handling important issues in a new way. No one on the executive committee is overwhelmed by being appointed to help guide two or three strategic initiatives at once.
Despite all the change, complaints about change fatigue in the core business are few. The results are dramatic. These are still early days.
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If the dual operating system is to achieve its true potential, it must spread to the entire enterprise. I think it will.
The core of a strategy network is the guiding coalition GC , which is made up of volunteers from throughout the organization. In my work with clients, people fill out applications to be on the GC. It must be made up of people whom the leadership trusts, and must include at least a few outstanding leaders and managers. This ensures that the GC can gather and process information as no hierarchy ever could.
All members of the GC are equal; no internal hierarchy slows down the transfer of information. The coalition can see inside and outside the enterprise, knows the details and the big picture, and uses all this information to make good enterprisewide decisions about which strategic initiatives to launch and how best to do so.
The social dynamics of the GC may be uncomfortable at first, but once a team learns how to operate well, most members seem to love being part of it. The vision will serve as a strategic true north for the dual operating system.
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A well-formulated vision is focused on taking advantage of a big make-or-break opportunity. If no such opportunity exists, because you operate in a rare pocket of competitive stability, you may not need this system quite yet. The right vision is feasible and easy to communicate. It is emotionally appealing as well as strategically smart. And it gives the GC a picture of success and enough information and direction to make consequential decisions on the fly, without having to seek permission at every turn.
The vision statement described what the sales group, which was dealing with market losses, could look like in a year if it accelerated toward a big opportunity. A vividly formulated, high-stakes vision and strategy, promulgated by a GC in ways that are both memorable and authentic, will prompt people to discuss them without the cynicism that often greets messages cascading down the hierarchy. Done right, with creativity, such communications can go viral, attracting employees who buy in to the ambition of the message and begin to share a commitment to it.
This point tends to prompt skepticism from people who have seen attempts to motivate a workforce fail. But if the right messages are sent from a passionate GC to colleagues who feel a sense of urgency, the volunteer army will start to gather. Perhaps a sales rep has gotten customer complaints about bureaucratic hang-ups. I volunteer. They set up a call to begin learning why this is happening, figuring out how to remove the barrier, and designing a solution—a better CRM system, perhaps.
The team probably includes someone from IT who has technical expertise and can help identify where the money for the new system might come from. The team works with additional volunteers who have relevant information—from whatever quarter may be germane—to act quickly and efficiently. The time between the first call and this point might be two weeks—a model of accelerated action. The network team settles on a practical solution that properly supports the sales team. Then its members take their thinking to the CIO, who gives feedback and may offer the budget and the resources.
The volunteer army is not a bunch of grunts carrying out orders from the brass. Its members are change leaders who bring energy, commitment, and enthusiasm. Design and implementation occur in the network and are instituted within the hierarchy. And if the network is truly operating hand-in-glove with the hierarchy, the people in the hierarchy are champing at the bit to get the new CRM system.
Skeptics will erect obstacles unless they see proof that the dual operating system is creating real results. And people have only so much patience, so proof must come quickly. To ensure success, the best short-term wins should be obvious, unambiguous, and clearly related to the vision. Celebrating those wins will buoy the volunteer army and prompt more employees to buy in. Success breeds success.
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If wins are not forthcoming, that in itself is useful feedback: Something is wrong. A committed GC, with many eyes and ears to take in the reality of the situation and with no status or territory to protect, can quickly tweak either the decisions it has made or the methods used for implementing those decisions. Organizations must continue to carry through on strategic initiatives and create new ones, to adapt to shifting business environments, and thus to enhance their competitive positions.
When an organization takes its foot off the gas, cultural and political resistance arise. Here, again, is why urgency is so central to the strategy part of the dual operating system. It keeps people going. The volunteers will start focusing on their work in the hierarchy, and the hierarchy will dominate once more. No strategic initiative, big or small, is complete until it has been incorporated into day-to-day activities. A new direction or method must sink into the very culture of the enterprise—and it will do so if the initiative produces visible results and sends your organization into a strategically better future.
They have organizational knowledge, relationships, credibility, and influence. They understand the need for change—they are often the first to see threats or opportunities—and have the zeal to implement it.