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What’s Your Burning Platform?

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Nov 14, 2022

Define Your Burning PlatformEvery business is looking for an edge.

Many businesses focus on productivity, efficiency, KPIs, OKRs, strategy, or partnerships.

Yet the single biggest multiplier is simpler, just not so easily achieved.

Create a “burning platform” to radically change your cultural behavior. Offer a WHY that inspires your team.

Leaders must provide clarity around what the company does and why it does it, whom it does it for, and the ways their employees can collectively reach their goals, right down to the level of everyone’s job. The progression is captured in this simple process model.

All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results believes every business must create a “burning platform” to radically change its cultural behavior.

Create a “Burning Platform”


What do we mean by a “burning platform”?

A man working on an oil rig in the North Sea is awakened suddenly by an explosion. Amid the chaos, he makes his way to the edge of the platform. As a plume of fire billows behind him, he realizes he needs to plunge into the icy sea—some five stories below.

The water is littered with smoldering debris and oil, not to mention being icy cold and a thousand feet deep. The man survives the long drop and the swim in the raging sea. He is eventually hauled aboard a rescue boat. Asked why he jumped into uncertainty, he replies, “Better probable death than certain death.”

Only the literal “burning platform” could cause such a radical change in his behavior.

Your team may not be running for its life, but with market dynamics and competition much fiercer, you undoubtedly face issues threatening your organization’s survival.

Make BIG Happen: Engage the Heart & Head

John Kotter, author of Our Iceberg is Melting, regarded as the foremost speaker on the topics of Leadership and Change shares the biggest mistake he sees in Strategy First, Urgency Second.

Your ability to identify and define the key “burning” issue you face and separate it from the routine challenges of the day is the first step in galvanizing your employees to believe in you and in your vision and strategy.

No matter the size of your team or the challenges you face, the leader’s job is to help their people understand why it’s not acceptable to remain where you are, why you must move toward a better future, and why it’s safe to do so, much safer than not doing so.

Digital is reason just over HALF companies on Fortune 500 disappeared since 2000Great leaders share this dramatically, showing employees the benefits of competitors’ products, sharing how customers feel about their poor customer service, or providing a list of companies that got complacent and no longer exist.

Looked at this way, your “burning platform”, is your One Thing. Because it alone inspires your people to achieve dramatic performance improvement.

Create Your “Burning Platform”

If for any reason your business is in this stage of complacency, ask these questions to discover your burning platform:  

  • Why is it imperative that your people buy into your strategy?Why Your Burining Platform (Define your threats on the horizon, outline why you’re on a burning platform.)
  • What do you do, and why do you do it? (What is your mission?)
  • Whom do you do it for? (Who are your customers?)
  • How will you get where you want to go? (What are your values and goals?)


Identifying and repeating a clear mission, a set of values, with an authentic managerial commitment to them, produces powerful results.

Lincoln Electric, a welding supply company founded in 1895, spurred Harvard Business School to write 7 case studies. One of the first businesses to pioneer creating a mission, values, and goals by turning them into something employees would really care about on an individual level. THE ACTUAL IS LIMITED. THE POSSIBLE IS IMMENSE Lincoln ElectricJohn Lincoln hung a 30-foot sign, “THE ACTUAL IS LIMITED. THE POSSIBLE IS IMMENSE” where workers would daily pass below it. It worked because the workers found John Lincoln and other leaders not only believed in that spirit of innovation but also lived it.

At Lincoln Electric, a manager’s first responsibility is to make the mission clear: produce more of a progressively better product at a lower price for a larger group of customers. “Make more, improve quality, cut costs, sell more.”

Each employee’s earnings and promotions would be in direct correlation to his individual contribution toward this big goal.

To encourage teamwork, a year-end bonus, which at least equaled the individual’s annual pay, was paid based on dependability, quality, output, ideas, and cooperation. To incentivize individual productivity, wages in the factory were based on piecework.

The benefits were clear. In 1974, when the median income for U.S. manufacturing employees was less than $9,200, this compensation plan resulted in some industrious Lincoln Electric hourly workers earning more than $45,000 (about $200,000 in today’s dollars).

Today, high-performing leaders have a similar almost maniacal level of focus on their mission. But their greatest urgency is not on managing operational details but on establishing employee priorities.

Where the eyes go the car goesIt’s something race car drivers know by heart: Where the eyes go, the car goes. Similarly, managers of high-performance teams never take their eyes off the goal, and they make sure their employees are keeping their eyes on it too.

All In interviewed high-performance leaders. Each displayed a dogged commitment to their mission and core set of values, and each provided a clear direction for their group.

The key however was when individual contributors in high-performance cultures were asked about their leaders. Answers included, “He forces us to think of the big picture,” or “She reminds us that real people use our products, and they have to be perfect every time.”

The question is, do you provide that kind of clarity in your leadership style, or do you assume such grand direction should come from corporate?

There is an art to how high-performing leaders articulate their mission that gives employees a vital understanding of their place within the organization’s larger cause.

To create an environment where everyone is inspired to give their best, contact Positioning Systems today to schedule a free exploratory meeting.

Growth demands Strategic Discipline.

Business Concept. Professional Development Sign on Blue Background.Next week I’ll be out most of the week working with one of my customers to update their 3HAG, strategy and create their 2023 Annual and first-quarter plan. Next blog, guest writer, Katie Brenneman, will share insights on how to invest your leadership skills to improve your team's level of job satisfaction.

Building an enduring great organization requires disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action, superior results, producing a distinctive impact on the world.

Discipline sustains momentum, over a long period of time, laying the foundations for lasting endurance.

4Dx Cadence of AccountabilityA winning habit starts with 3 Strategic DisciplinesPriorityMetrics, and Meeting Rhythms.   Forecasting, accountability, individual, and team performance improve dramatically.

Meeting Rhythms achieve a disciplined focus on performance metrics to drive growth.

Let Positioning Systems help your business achieve these outcomes on the Four most Important Decisions your business faces:












Positioning Systems helps mid-sized ($5M - $250M+) businesses Scale-UP. We align your business to focus on Your One Thing! Contact to Scale Up your business! Take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

NEXT BLOG – Invest in Your Leadership Skills, Improve Employee SatisfactionSuccessful confident businessmen standing in line. Progress in career


Topics: Radical Change, Core Behaviors, All In: Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results, Burning Platform, Engage Head and Heart

Challenges of Scaling Up a Business 







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Certified Gazelles Coach

Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

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