The Vise and Business Transformation


vise or vice (American and British English spelling differences) is a mechanical screw apparatus used for holding or clamping a work piece to allow work to be performed on it with tools. Vises usually have one fixed jaw and another, parallel, jaw which is moved towards or away from the fixed jaw by the screw.

My father was a cabinet-maker for most of his life, even though his official occupation was Yolo County Superintendent of Schools.  He would often spend evenings and weekends in his shop building things for our house, or later in his life as gifts for others.  He was remarkably patient when it came to woodworking.  Not so patient when it came to trying to manage 5 kids (4 boys and a girl)!

One of the most used pieces of equipment in his workshop was the wood vise, which was wood visebuilt into his work bench and with which he clamped pieces of wood to be drilled, sawed or planed.

Not having the patience nor manual dexterity for woodworking (in complete contrast to my younger brother Jim who is a pure artist when it comes to woodworking and cabinet making), I fly visefound another vise that comes in very handy.  A Fly Tying Vise, used to hold a bare hook at any required angle so I can tie on various bits of feathers, hair and yarn to create an artificial fly for fishing.  It’s a great thrill to catch a wily trout or explosive steelhead on a fly made with my own hands.

As my teams and I work with CEO’s and senior executives during turnarounds and “next level” business growth opportunities, we often use an approach we call “The Vise”.

The “Vise” approach is based on two fundamental organisation principles:

  • Organizations are shadows of their leaders: which is to say that employees at all levels tend to watch the behaviour of the senior team and senior managers for clues on what are “accepted” ways of working and behaving. While this is mostly an unconscious process, it is still very powerful and new employees, who are eager to fit in, quickly begin to get acculturated.  It’s a top-down effect and a large part of what makes up the corporate culture.  For example, if two senior executives don’t get along and openly argue and badmouth each other, teamwork and cooperation between their two functions won’t be very strong, no matter how much teamwork training is done. By aligning the senior team around strategic business objectives and clear metrics, along with discipline, focus and governance, a new leadership shadow will emerge.
  • Business process improvements at the “coal face”: Most business executives don’t fully appreciate the fact that business processes tends to drive employee behaviour (which in turn drives results and is a major factor in determining the corporate culture). By working to streamline and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of such business processes as the supply chain from order to delivery, the customer satisfaction process from order to delivery, and various human resource, administration, hiring and performance review processes, employee behavior will change. New business processes require different behaviours to be effective.

These are the two major parts of the “Vise” that when applied with diligence and understanding as to the outcomes desired, are highly effective in bringing about cultural and business performance changes.  Profitability is improved.  Growth is focused and targeted.  Culture is shifted to match the required business environment. Leadership is better aligned and more focused.  Middle management is more disciplined at delivery and follow through.


Is your business being squeezed, or are you using the vise as an improvement tool?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to The Vise and Business Transformation

  1. Pingback: Business: The 9 Principles of War

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