BBD CEO Tour: SYPartners

SY Partners helps companies facing major transformation. The session was aimed at helping the group push the thinking a little, and we very privileged that Chairman Keith Yamashita flew west to run the session.

SYPartners see themselves as consistently choosing to be great, for themselves and for their clients.

Keith questioned whether we risk what is required? Do we venture before it’s clear there is something to be gained?

As we know ‘start-ups’ often have little to lose, and everything to gain, by risking everything. The venture capital model drives either quick failure or outrageous success.

However as revenues and expenses and staff numbers grow we can get stuck on stock market driven annual planning and budgeting processes. It becomes increasingly difficult for larger organisations to unleash staff to simply do the right thing, to go with what feels right, to experiment and to move quickly. Allocating staff and money to new areas can get stagnated in bureaucracy and process, despite almost all leadership efforts trying to accelerate change.

Keith then asked what were you put on this planet to do, what will your organisation achieve unlike any other, what must you transform to get there?


SYPartners sees that greatness starts with individuals – being aware, alive and engaged and aspiring. (I would say well educated and inquiring also.) We should seek to create a positive environment that appeals to individuals’ sense of meaning and purpose, and motivate participation.  We need to feel good about ourselves first before we can healthily engage with others. The greatest gift to give each other be fully aware and fully alive.

How do you show up when you are at your best, what conditions are at play to help you be your best, and where and when do you get stuck? The seemingly simple questions with difficult answers continued. The answers will vary by person, but center on being in a situation where you have the ability to change things, have meaningful results to achieve and where you are stretched but not extended too far. For some it means being around other people, and becoming smarter by being in a group. For others it may be toiling away solo and getting into flow while pondering a difficult problem. We can seek to understand what we are good and not so good at, and focussing on both increasing our strengths and buttressing our weakness, perhaps with the help of others. We can game this also by changing the environment to promote the conditions necessary to be at our best. This can be as simple as moving location, or changing the office environment by ripping out the walls.


Keith sees that building trust in the system starts with building trust-based 1-1 relationships. He sees little literature about duos, a lot more about leadership (1 to many) and apparently has started to fill the gap. This is a great look at Keith in action, and has some lovely commentery on duos at about 13 minutes.

A good duo starts with one person extending trust to the other, an act of giving before it is warranted. We can be smart about this when looking at companies – searching for the duos within the business.

Duo abound in business (think founding duos) and life. The individuals don’t have to necessarily get along, but trust and respect for each other is the key. We should be aware of the top few duos in our own lives (our speed-dial list, a somewhat dated term), and work to nurture them. One exercise is to consider the duos that you have categorised by the strength of the relationship.


This duos work resonated with many of us, it’s a wonderful concept that great teams build from a series of great duos. Teams are where most work happens. Bringing the trust of the duos into a team brings the goodwill of those relationships, and makes the team easier to get going.

SYPartners see that there are nine actions that make a great team.

-Knowing the team strengths and playing to them
-Rallying people around a shared purpose and living by it every day
-See the forces working for and against your team and capitalise on them
-Choose bold moves to make and align your resources with them
-Identify the outcomes you’re after and measure your progress
-Get creative in reframing obstacles and resiliently adapt to change
-Evaluate the duos on your team and work to build trust
-Cultivate belief and motivate people to authentically act on it
-Make smart decisions and evaluate their impact over time

This is from a forthcoming toolkit called teamworks, which is a lovely site even pre-launch.


Organisations, the next step up, are driven by a series of teams that innovate. The organisation should be certain about their unique corporate character and be vigilant in showing up in the spirit of that character in everything they do.

Greater society, Shared Agenda

If you are best in the world at what you do then you earn the right to help drive the national agenda.

SYPartners have helped companies build a shared agenda, which is understanding what you are fighting for, then aligning & rallying, everyone around that goal. The agendas work only when they are authentic, born of a real underlying need. Great agendas are bold, activated and also drive smart business. They should be measurable and widely shared. Poor agendas which fail are too obviously artificial and self-serving, mere marketing or positioning. Setting the agenda is the easy part – the harder part is to keep it going, backing it up with consistent and high levels of effort.

Three examples of shared agenda.

IBM with their Smarter Planet campaign – which was a ‘new agenda for IBM to offer the world.’ The IBM leaders saw the emerging opportunities from the rapid acceleration of collection and analysing of vast amounts of data. They saw that they needed to be a lot smarter about dealing with the data stream. IBM, with SYPartners it seems, convened their top 300 leaders to validate the ideas and get input on what IBM should do. They came up with three premises – that the world is becoming more instrumented (the internet of things), that is was becoming more interconnected and that it was becoming more intelligent. They summed this up with the tagline “A smarter planet.”

The kick off to the campaign happened during the GFC, with IBM seeing that they wanted to be a reasonable and optimistic voice in the middle of a crisis, stepping up to their full responsibility. Keith compared the GFC impact on Greece, Ireland, Italy and others with New Zealand’s successful negotiation of the storm, and has a hypothesis that NZ is in the midst of choosing to be the next form of great.

IBM rallied a wide range of people, starting with clients, and playing to higher aspirations around a shared agenda. They even changed the way they sell, focussing client conversations first on the larger picture of what matters. They reframed the way they communicated with Wall St, which also helped them see the ‘power of the portfolio’ and the wider addressable market, in turn increasing their stock price. They also reframed the focus of the IBM research group, and engaged staff, stakeholders and even general public with the smarter planet campaign.

Ikea’s Strand East urban development project in London, which we heard about at the CEO summit, is an effort by Ikea to model how intelligent design of an urban area can deliver sustainability and a sense of community.

Kaiser Permanente, an insurer and HMO (health care provider) in the US, has a much harder problem to attack – US Healthcare.  They intend to shift their conversation from treatment to wellness – it’s been seven years so far, ad they are only now able to start pushing this out into the company. The intent is to reorient their product portfolio and how they serve their members. Early programs are electronic ways to engage with doctors, sponsoring a farmers market movement and local exercise programs with client companies.

Published by Lance Wiggs