Your Philosophy Around Talent Makes A Difference

Your Philosophy Around Talent

Your Philosophy Around Talent Makes A Difference… Having a company full of “A Players” does not guarantee success, but it significantly raises your prospects.

As a Business Coach, I have worked with many organizations and see the differences between the companies that produce short-term success, long-term success, and those that flounder. There is a vast difference in how the long-term winners build their organizations and their results versus everyone else. The factors that cause these results are known, often discussed, and rarely emulated. Your philosophy around talent matters!

Identify any company you consider great, and you will find that the greatness was 20 years in the making. You have probably heard revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash is king. If you are producing high levels of success in all three measures, you should be proud. Not many companies can boast such performance. And still, you may not be built to last. What worked in the past may not work for the future. 

Most businesses will never be innovative, transformational, or trailblazers. However, all can have extraordinary growth in revenue and profits. An example most of us know is Southwest. They don’t have the most revenue (10th), largest fleet size (5th), or passengers flown (3rd). However, they broke the mold when measuring cumulative profit over 30 years. And, they copied and better executed another companies business model. 

As a business coach, I help companies build great companies and develop the best leadership practices to stay great. I help address organizational habits that cause growth ceilings. Or worse, your habits could lead to a decline or even failure. I see my job as a blind spot remover. One of the keys to your success is your leadership philosophy around talent.

First Who Then What

You can’t discuss enduring success without addressing the elephant in the room. Your business will only be as good as the people that operate in it. Jim Collins nailed it in “Good to Great, “first who then what!”

Many companies have a few great people, but few can boast the best talent throughout the organization. Most leaders will tell you that they are great at selecting people, but the data proves otherwise. Most companies don’t have the measures to know and only use their income statements as their measuring stick. The stark truth is that at least 30% of your employees are not performing and hiding in plain sight.

As I wrote in Your Business is a Leaky Bucket, even great leadership cannot overcome the limited abilities of “B” or “C” talent. Often, leaders can only go as far as those they lead. Think about it from a coaching perspective. You could have a world-class coach, but if you have a team of players with mediocre athletic ability, you’ll only get so far. The coach can draw up all the plays he wants, but the team has to execute them on the playing field. Players have to make split-second decisions and make the plays as the game unfolds. The players determine whether you win or lose. Business is no different.

Great leadership puts a person in a position to excel and succeed, but that person still has to do all the heavy lifting. It has been said that a great leader is like a gardener who plants seeds, makes sure that the soil has the right nutrients, and then nurtures the soil. The gardener cannot grow his crops, and he can only provide the right conditions for growth and plants the right seeds. 

Trust me when I say it is imperative to have A-rated talent to obtain optimal results. Then it takes leadership to keep them at that level. Now, don’t think of this as a process of rating people. Instead, it is about establishing the standards for every employee. Only after specifying measurable objectives can you hold your team accountable. Incomplete hiring and accountability practices, not putting people in the right seats where they can excel, failure to hold people accountable to key outcomes, and weakness in your culture represent poor leadership.

One of the biggest profit leaks in your company may be related to your philosophy regarding personnel. The highest cost in most companies is payroll; therefore, your biggest asset or investment is people. How seriously are you and your company taking this investment, and how disciplined are you in demanding that it produces an adequate standard of performance?

I have enjoyed coaching excellent teams and have experienced the pain of excessive numbers of wrong team members. It is no surprise that when the leadership team is weak, so is everyone else. An “A Player” will not survive a “B” leader or tolerate being surrounded by “B” coworkers. Birds of a feather flock together. We have looked at the success rate of our engagements, and Clients that put heavy investment in filling their organizations with “A Players” far outperformed the rest. Worse, companies with “B” leaders, particularly CEO, moved sideways at best. We would use the same process, same coaches, and double the effort to help the “B” team. We always fail to make sustainable progress with a “B” team.

What Are “A” Players?

 “A” players are employees who consistently meet productivity requirements (performance standards) and consistently live your company’s core values. Your productivity requirements should be set at a high bar and be readily achievable. Do not place the bar so high that it takes a unicorn to fill your position. Regardless of the role, strong performers can produce at two to three times the output of their peers. Many organizations, however, label the wrong people as their “A” players. You may be favoring people you can identify with more personally, that you have less conflict with, who have organizational tenure, who have the most institutional or industry knowledge, or that you consider loyal to you. They are not necessarily “A” players. If you are like many leaders, you may be giving more weight to only a few attributes or qualities you find important. Unfortunately, those may or may not be critical to the position’s real mission, purpose, or success.

I had a client who had an issue with his controller and was leaning toward dismissal. This was a sales culture, and the CEO favored outgoing and communicative people. He felt the controller did not fit his culture. The controller was reclusive and preferred to work in a quiet place to concentrate. Also, this controller was not afraid to tell the CEO when the company was wasting money, even if it was the CEO doing so. The controller was very focused on precision and getting things right. She often voiced concerns when other leaders exaggerated their points or made decisions with no supporting data.

The CEO failed to realize the issues he had with the controller were not related to her skills and talents. Instead, they were related to her behavioral style, which differed from the CEO. The controller’s behavioral style helped balance the leadership team and was essential to her being a suitable controller. Being the decisive and outgoing communicator that the CEO preferred was not a necessary quality for being a competent controller. The controller lived all of the core values of the business entirely. Moreover, everything produced by the department was helpful and accurate. Furthermore, she treated the company as if its assets were her own, protecting the owners.

So what causes someone to be categorized as a “B” or “C” player? A “B” player consistently lives all of your organization’s core values but is not meeting 100 percent of their position’s productivity requirements. A “B/C” player performs at the required levels but does not consistently demonstrate one or more core values. “C” players are failing to meet the performance and values standards. In all cases, anyone who is not classified as “A” should only be kept on your team if management believes they can become “A” players with proper training and coaching within an acceptable period. If not, the best thing you can do is replace them speedily.

Three Types of A-Players

Earlier in my career, I took over a new role and fired our top producing salesman. The owners thought I was nuts. We had about 20 salespeople and his book represented 20% of our revenue. What the owners were not seeing was how he affected everyone else. I spent approximately 5 hours a week dealing with issues presented because of this person, including a sexual harassment claim, which turned out to be a repeat offense. I stuck to my decision and fired him. In the end, our company, which had been declining in sales the three years previous to my being hired. After firing this toxic employee, revenue started growing immediately. Within 30 days of firing him, our largest client (representing 10% of revenue) called the President and said it was about time. They had been diverting business to our competition because they found him toxic. They immediately began ordering more from us.

There are three types of “A Players:”

A1 – They are great in their current position. We would hire ten more just like them. These people are not promotable, love what they do, and are passionate about their work.

A2 – Is someone you believe can be promoted 1 level. They have done very well in their current role and have the skills, desire, and ability to take on higher responsibilities. They can help produce more people just like them by sharing their knowledge and experience and representing your core values daily.

A3 – Is someone you believe can be promoted to two levels or more. They have traits, capabilities, and the desire to lead others.

One last comment about “A Players.” Too often, leaders create arbitrary performance standards. I have found this to be a large problem. The standards are set, and no one consistently hits them. When people miss them after giving 100%, they can be labeled as “not performing.” This leads to lower performance and eventually termination. I recommend you use much rigor in developing reasonably high-performance standards. Failure to do so costs you a lot more than you realize.

Eight Questions to Ask When Someone Does Not Perform at an “A” Level:

(1) Have you adequately communicated expectations?

(2) Has this person been an “A” player in the past? If so, what has changed?

(3) Does the person have the skills and knowledge necessary to perform his or her job at a high level?

(4) What training is required to get this person to peak performance?

(5) Has the organization created unnecessary barriers to this person becoming successful?

(6) Do you believe this person will achieve productivity within a reasonable amount of time?

(7) Does this person believe in your core values, and is he or she willing to live them?

(8) Which processes, if fixed, would lead to better success in the future?

Answering these questions will help you diagnose the issue(s). Sometimes team members are well past the rebound zone. That is, you simply cannot resurrect their performance. Other times, with a little redirection and emphasis on coaching, mentoring, or training, an underperforming person can bounce back. Either way, you have to determine the exact problem and then take great strides to address it.

Why is the “B” and “C” Performance Issue Not Being Addressed?

The primary reason employees are permitted to underperform is a lack of clarity in leadership. Leaders are often too busy doing their jobs to focus enough time and energy on what they want from their team. And when they have a good idea of precisely what they desire, often they do not adequately communicate it. Even then, performance is usually not being measured to allow a person to be held accountable.

Most sharp business owners do measure the performance of their businesses on at least a monthly basis. Still, they fail to relate that measurement to individual employee performance properly. By not requiring a specific level of performance, monitoring that performance, and holding employees accountable, you allow your employees to establish their performance requirements. Common sense tells me your employees will set lower work standards for themselves than you would.

You may be wondering how “B” and “C” performances can cost a company millions and go unnoticed and unaddressed. The primary reason: There is no financial statement line item to quantify the cost of the lost clients, lost productivity, mistakes, and lost opportunities attributable to these nonperforming players. This begs the question: Why would you ever even consider keeping a “B” or “C” player?

 When Do You Keep “B” or “C” Players?

Keep a “B” or “C” player when you confidently believe they will become an “A” player within a reasonable amount of time. If you cannot define how and when that will occur, stop fooling yourself and cut the cord. With that said, you may have to keep a person on board until hiring their replacement. At times, prematurely forcing a vacancy will be too disruptive. Be careful. I find that keeping the wrong person is costing you far more than you ever imagined.

Leaders have many excuses for not replacing their “B” or “C” players. All of the reasons boil down to either leadership laziness or just plain poor leadership. Let’s again clarify the definition of the “A” player. They are not extraordinary. They are people who meet the requirements of their positions and fit your culture. Anything less, and you are overpaying for a position.

Every company leader I have met who had a cash flow problem or was unsatisfied with their growth or profits also had a people problem. Growth problems attributable to bad strategy are the result of people problems. Companies that choose the right people (including advisors, consultants, and coaches) are less likely to have strategy problems. Think about it. The employees of any business are like the cogs that keep a machine running. Doesn’t it make sense that the machine won’t operate at optimum performance when you have broken, incorrect, or rusty pieces inside of it?

It is rare to find a company that already had the processes in place to allow them to demonstrate that at least 75 percent of its employees were “A” players. In fact, most had 40 percent or even less. Many initially believed they had 75 percent or more, but that was a wish and a prayer, as they were not tracking any performance indicators to prove their people were performing.

Research shows that replacing even one “B” or “C” player with an “A” player has a significant impact on a business. Some companies misunderstand what could happen if they commit to doing what it takes to achieve A-player performance in every position in their company. They create walls or personal obstacles, some of which sound like this:

 – There are not enough “A” players out there.

 – It will take much longer to hire people.

 – It is too complicated.

 – It takes too much workforce.

 – It can’t happen in our industry.

 – I have to fire everyone who is a “B” and” C” player.

 – “A” players must be paid more than “B” and “C” players.

The truth is that these are all myths and limiting beliefs, allowing leadership to continue to justify poor hiring practices and maintain the status quo.

The Container Store provides one of the best examples of building an organization with “A” players. I was fortunate to hear Kip Tindell, founder of The Container Store, share his formula for making a great organization. He built his company from a small start-up to one of the most respected businesses around. By enforcing an “A” player mantra, his company grew 20 percent a year to well over $1B in revenue. His formula has five crucial keys to success:

(1) Pay – They paid 50 percent to 100 percent above the industry average. Tindell knew one great person could do the work of two to three ordinary people. “A” players pay for their “extra” salary threefold, so overall labor costs are lower than the competition. His people are incredibly proud to be part of the company.

(2) Recruiting and Retention – To win, he knew he must only hire great people. “A” players only like to work with other “A” players. They do not want to be surrounded by mediocrity. They would choose to be in his company to be on a great team. They wanted more of the best and brightest out of school. This means his recruiting process had to be phenomenal to find and select the right people and never settle. This resulted in less than 10 percent turnover in an industry that typically experiences over 100 percent turnover.

(3) Training and Onboarding. Tindell provides eighty-four hours of formal training in the first year compared to the industry average, which is eight hours.

(4) Real transparency and communication. Your leaders and managers can thrive with clear communication and transparency. If they don’t feel sufficiently informed, they feel left out, and their performance will suffer.

(5) Culture is everything. Free the employees to choose the means to the ends, but tell them the foundational principles to use in making those decisions. All employees will give you 25 percent of their efforts, considered the bare minimum amount of productivity required to keep your job. To get the other 75 percent, they have to love their manager and culture.

In each of these steps, you’ll quickly come to a singular conclusion: Great leaders invest enormous time and energy into their team. They create a culture that invites in “A” players and demands an A-level performance.

 Actions to Take

What steps can you take to build a high-performance organization? Just like any machine that takes proper maintenance and attention to run smoothly. Lack of timely care to problems leads to more costly repairs. So likely, we can all agree it is much more efficient and cost-effective to ward off those repairs. People already spend enormous amounts of time interviewing candidates. They need to learn the right techniques and processes to determine whether the people they interview are the right choices for the positions. The real challenge is instilling an organization-wide commitment to high-performance standards, and practice makes perfect.

There is no one-size-fits-all sort of remedy. Different companies require different solutions. Remember that you’re dealing with real people and problems, so do not remove the compassion from the equation. Classifying someone as “C” or “B” in their current role does not mean they cannot become an “A” player in another position or possibly in their existing position, with just a little more training.

It has been said, “That which gets measured gets done!”When measurement tools are in place, leaders are shocked by how many employees fit the categories of “B” and “C” players. This performance gap costs companies millions in profit leaks. However, you can take several steps to resurrect and improve your organizational productivity.

 Six Steps to A-Player Status:

(1) For each position in your company, identify two to three key performance indicators that the person in the position has direct control over and would prove they are performing well in their job. Establish a high but realistic standard for each indicator.

(2) Communicate these indicators and the standards to the person in the position and measure actual performance versus the rules you’ve set.

(3) Establish a process for continually reinforcing your core values with all of your employees.

(4) Every quarter, review how consistently each member of your team lives your core values and meets the performance expectations of their role

(5) Put employees who are not living your core values or meeting performance expectations on definite performance plans to direct them toward achieving the desired performance.

(6) Take immediate action to help employees who are not meeting their requirements. Those who cannot meet your standards should be replaced.

 

Howard M. Shore, Founder and CEO of Activate Group Inc., is a bestselling author and serial entrepreneur specializing in liberating leadership teams from the barriers holding them back personally and professionally. During his 35+ year career, Howard has helped create over $1 Billion of value and authored two best-selling books, The Leader Launchpad and Your Business is a Leaky Bucket. Howard cut his teeth as the owner of several successful companies and executive for Fortune 500 companies like Ryder Systems, AutoNation, and KPMG. Howard has become a sought-after business mentor, executive coach, and keynote speaker. His clients work in family-owned, multi-national, public, and private companies ranging from $1 million to over $1 billion in annual revenue. With a 30-year track record of success, he guarantees any organization using his methods and systems will become more profitable, stable, and scalable.

Leaders Get Out of Your Own Way

Get Out of Your Own Way

The CEO of a manufacturing company recently approached a business coach because he was frustrated by his organization’s performance. He knew it was underperforming, failing to achieve his objectives, had never had positive cash flow since he took the helm, yet he could not put his finger on why all this was happening. He thought that implementing a good leadership operating system would make all his problems go away. Little did he know that poor leadership was the cause and everything else was effect… Leaders Get Out of Your Own Way!

Without boring you with too many details, the coach facilitated a three-day retreat with the executive team, and it was clear why this company was having trouble. While this company did need a leadership operating system that could help guide them to make better and faster decisions, create winning strategies, limit focus on a few key priorities, align everyone, and hold people accountable, this company faced a bigger problem. The main issue was the dysfunction amongst the leadership team itself. Worse, the CEO could not see that his behavior was the center of it. He loved to argue every point, even when it did not matter, hated to lose more than he loved to win, belittled his leaders at every turn, and had to put his stamp on everything.

After several working sessions with the coach, the team came clean and told the CEO how they felt. Rather than taking this as an opportunity to grow and shift, the CEO’s ego took hold. He told everyone in the room that he did not believe he needed to change, and if they could not stand the heat they should find another place to work! As his coach tried to work with him to see how his people had become “yes” people, the opposite of what he told them he wanted, he became even more adamant that maybe they were just the wrong people. We call someone like this un-coachable. While the coach could help implement the leadership operating system, the effectiveness of the system was severely compromised by the inadequacy of the CEO, leaving an enormous amount of profit and growth potential on the table.

Are you concerned about how to get more out of your team? Have you wondered why one team functions better than another? Have you noticed that your team members are not contributing much in your meetings, but you know they have valuable ideas? Or worse, are you now questioning their capacity to grow.

I share this story right from the start because much of our success as coaches depends on how coachable our clients are. The tools and processes are only as good as the people we work with. Most companies have a lot more growth and profit potential staring them right in the face. Having a great team is right around the corner, but they can’t see it. Less stress, more control over the business, less drama, and happy customers can be more simply attained. The secret can be found in their “Leaky Bucket.” I discuss this in detail in Your Business Is a Leaky Bucket: Learn How to Avoid Losing Millions in Revenue and Profit Annually

The Leaky Bucket concept is very important. The leaks covered in the book will not be found in your financial statements. Yes, they impact the results, but not in ways that are easily measured. I used the Leaky Bucket as a metaphor to help you visualize cash pouring out of a bucket through lots of various sized holes. You can also imagine water flowing over the top because the bucket has not grown fast enough.

I mention my book because this whitepaper, goes deeper into the issues related to profit leak number 1, “poor leadership.” When you make allowances for poor leadership, you are deciding that a substandard leader has more to offer than everyone else put together, which is a fool’s bet. Your ineffective leader causes everyone else to perform at lower levels. You lose access to a lot of great ideas, and people are less apt to willingly give extra effort.

In this whitepaper, I want to address three issues that I have found that have the biggest effect on our ability to maximize success with a client. All three factors can be addressed through training and coaching as long as the “student” is a willing participant.

  • Ego Traps – It is obvious to most people that having too big an ego is not an appealing trait, and nothing good comes from it. Therefore, it is amazing how many leaders are unconsciously walking around daily suffering from an ego problem and inflicting harm to their careers, their team, and their organization.
  • Strength in Dealing with People – A lot more attention needs to be given to soft skills in the college setting. Too many people are walking around the workplace with little idea on how to properly work in teams, how to communicate effectively with others, and just practice simple people etiquette.
  • Learning How to Say “No” – I am sure you will agree that people are too conditioned to say “yes.” Learning how and when to say “no” is crucial to the success of your organization.

Ego Traps

After 35 years in the workforce, I am convinced that the number one hindrance to peak performance is ego. While you would no doubt agree with me, and are probably saying to yourself “duh”, ego problems are the least dealt-with issue and are the most severe the higher up we go in organizations. This is significant because leaders have more of an impact on their organizations than their subordinates. When you have a senior leader with an overinflated ego, business life is a train wreck!

If you have not read it yet, The Ideal Team Player, by Patrick Lencioni, must be at the top of every leader’s must-read list. In this book, Patrick recounts a story about leaders that discover the three virtues that are necessary to avoid having assholes working for them. Sorry for the language, but that was the story line. While it seems obvious in hindsight, he was right to identify that you are not an ideal team player if you do not possess humility, hunger, or common sense about how to interpersonally deal with people. I am going to deal with the last item later in this whitepaper. In his book, they describe people who lack humility and interpersonal skills as “bulldozers.” Imagine what this does to employee engagement, turnover, productivity, and so on. There is no way your organization could operate near its peak performance. Worse, it would be hard for you to recruit top talent or talent in general. Who wants to work for a “bulldozer?”

Are You Even Aware That Your Ego is Causing a Problem?

You may find this difficult to believe but many people do not recognize when their egos are clouding their judgment, swaying decision making, causing favoritism, inciting organizational strife, stifling teamwork, and causing high turnover rates. They refuse to consider the ideas of others, and in many cases, do nothing because they are afraid to be wrong. Ego is a blinder and a form of self-sabotage. It stops them from processing information and seeing the world as it is. In some cases, they are more concerned about themselves and blinded by the beauty of their names in lights that they fail to realize that it is not all about them, that others contributed to the results, that others are not there to serve the leader’s greatness, and that their job as the leader is to bring out the best of others.

 “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”John Wooden

Do you easily compliment or praise teammates without hesitation? Do you easily admit mistakes? Do you easily take lower-level work for the good of the team? How easily do you defer credit to the team for accomplishments? Do you easily acknowledge and seek help for your weaknesses? Do you offer and accept apologies graciously? If your colleagues do not indicate that for each of these questions you “usually” act in that manner, you have an ego problem.

There are Two Types of Ego Issues

There are two primary ways in which Ego manifests itself. The first is when someone thinks too highly of themselves. This person spends a lot of their time making sure everyone knows how great they are, making sure they get their time on stage. You get to hear their incredible opinions, taking all the credit for success, posting their picture every two minutes on Facebook and Instagram to show you everywhere they are, who they’re with, and their latest recognition. We will refer to this as false pride. The second type, is fear or self-doubt, which is when you think less of yourself than you should and are consumed with your own shortcomings. In many cases, these people can be more damaging than the false pride folks as they can significantly erode their effectiveness or the effectiveness of their departments.

One of the hardest challenges for leaders is to remain grounded in the face of their success. When everyone defers to you, it must be tempting to start believing your own press releases. It must be easy to think: I am smarter, more charismatic, and more powerful than everyone else. As

leaders reach a point where they believe their opinion matters more than yours, they stop listening. And that means they stop learning.  Leaders dominated by false pride are often called controllers. Even when they don’t know what they are doing, they have a high need for power and control.

As an Executive Coach, I’ve encountered many controllers who really believe their people cannot possibly decide without them. They act as bottlenecks to their organizations because everything has to flow through them. They honestly believe they are right every time; every change they make to a document was crucial to its success; they are the best at selecting new employees; and they are expert at every function in the company. This is, of course, buffoonery, but they cannot see it. They can see everyone else’s mistakes but their own. The organization ends its days cleaning up their leader’s messes, doing double and triple the work, and keeping their ideas to themselves because there is no way around it.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fear-driven managers, often characterized as do-nothing bosses. They are described as never around, always avoiding conflict, and not very helpful. They often leave their team members alone, even when these individuals are insecure and need help.

Do-nothing bosses don’t believe in themselves or trust their own judgment. They value others’ thoughts more than their own, especially thoughts from those to whom they report. Thus, they rarely speak out and support their own team members.

Solutions to the Ego Barrier

The great thing about the “ego” trap is that it is a coachable issue. Now keep in mind, one is only coachable if they desire being coached and want to change. If not, you can stop reading because the person you’re dealing with is not going to change.

In The Ideal Team Player, Lencioni suggests we make the three virtues mandatory in our organizations. If someone is not willing to be coached and does not address their humility problem, I would remove them from the organization. In the long run, such people will cost you far more than they can possibly be worth. They cause everyone else to be less effective, and no one person is worth more than the many. If you happen to be a subordinate of this person, and there is no chance they will be replaced (because they are the owner or CEO), then my recommendation is to leave. You will never receive the appreciation you deserve. They will always cause unnecessary drama for you and other teammates, and there will be more pleasurable places to work. Life is too short, and you deserve better!

Now if you want to address the ego barrier here are some practical suggestions for developing your humility:

  • If you suffer fear or self-doubt, it is important identify the cause of your insecurity. I would work backwards in time to discover when it started and how it manifested. Whatever the cause, it is often helpful to share your issue(s) with teammates and manager and ask them for help to overcome it/them. While this seems counterintuitive, it is often liberating when you share with others. You will often receive a lot of empathy and support, and it makes it easier for others to coach you through it when they realize you are aware of your issues and want help.
  • Practice giving credit to others. Giving credit to others helps break your habit of taking credit for everything. A great exercise every leader should practice is to find a least one genuine compliment you can give to at least one employee daily. Keep track and see how many times you give praise versus criticism daily. It is instructive. Leaders that lack humility really struggle with this one at first. I can remember one client with more than 60 employees that refused to do this exercise after their culture survey came back indicating that employees felt they rarely if ever received praise from any managers in the company. In this person’s mind, it was the equivalent of giving everyone a trophy for showing up to work. The CEO felt that it was not appropriate to compliment someone for doing their job. You will not be surprised to know that this organization receives very low employee engagement scores every year and has a serious problem recruiting new employees.
  • Be vulnerable. People cannot relate to superheroes. Recognize and acknowledge your weaker points. On a piece of paper, identify the skills you are weak at. Identify the behaviors that get in your way. Next, I want you to draw 4 squares on a piece of paper. In Square 1, list the activities in the company that you love to do and are great at. In Square 2, list the activities you do that you are great at but don’t like to do. In Square 3, make a list of the activities that you are involved in that you are not good at but like to do. In Square 4, list the activities you are involved in that you are not good at and don’t like to do. If you do not have a fair number of items in 2, 3 and 4, you were not brutally honest. Now sit down with your team and share with the team what you have learned. Show your humility and immediately delegate everything in boxes 3 and 4 to others because there are people who can do those items 5 to 10 times faster and better than you. Stop meddling. Ask your teammates if they agree with you in terms of your strengths in boxes 1 and 2, and be willing to hear them out. Anything that you should have put in boxes 3 and 4, delegate to others. Then figure out what from Square 2 you can give to someone else.
  • Seek mentorship. Find three people you trust to serve as mentors. Choose mentors you can trust to tell you the truth even when it hurts. Make a commitment to listen to their opinions with an open mind.

Strength in Dealing with People

The second most crucial issue I see holding back organizations is how leaders treat their people. In Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player, the essential virtue of “smart”, which he describes as a person’s common sense about people and their ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware in individual and group situations. I agree with Patrick that this is an essential component in teamwork and being a leader. However, there is another dimension I want to address, namely the leader’s biases toward how they view subordinates and colleagues in general.

Let’s first address the leader’s common sense about people. Much has been written about emotional intelligence, but not enough has been done to apply it. Let’s face how most leaders have been selected in your organization and others. The people that are the hardest workers, with the most industry knowledge, highest technical acumen, people you may feel comfortable with and have been with the company the longest are usually given the most attention. Soft skill qualities are usually identified as important but, let’s face it, are usually considered secondary.

After all, how often have you seen people in companies that are horrible communicators, cause tons of drama, directly cause the most turnover, and survive year after year because they deliver results or are coveted for the reasons I described above. They are considered irreplaceable because of their customer relationships, contacts, institutional knowledge, etc. In the end, they are horrible with people and are severely holding your company back because you have decided that this one person is more valuable than the many they are infecting.

Worse, once you have tolerated one person treating other people badly, you are telling others that being a jackass is okay. You are indicating to all your employees that treating people with dignity, respect, and character does not affect results. You are indicating that we should not care about the feelings of others. Just focus on results because that is all we care about. If you deliver results, you are untouchable.

The Key Is Assertive Communication

You probably wondering where I was heading with the above. I am sure if I audited your company, I would find at least one leader that has poor emotional intelligence, and you are tolerating it. As an executive and business coach, I witness this issue daily in every organization. What I find frustrating is that leaders allow the dysfunction to continue. I have found that improving your decision making, leadership team chemistry, and organizational effectiveness

can be achieved simply by helping that leader understand how to use the right communication style. An assertive communication style rarely has the issues I described above.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”John Wooden

The degree of assertiveness you use in dealing with people provokes fairly predictable reactions by others, which in turn help determine how effective you are as a leader. Assertive communication is characterized by honesty. It enforces rules, requires results, and is a direct approach that shows concern for yourself and others. It communicates the message that “you are both okay.”

This communication style could be construed as treating all the individuals involved as equal, each deserving of respect, and no more entitled than another to have things done their way. You feel connected to others when you are speaking to them, and you are trying to help them take control of their lives. You address issues and problems as they arise and create environments where others can grow and mature.

The reason assertive communication is so effective is that it combines the positive dimensions of both aggressive and passive communicators. The assertive communicator is goal-oriented and direct, and at the same time is a good listener, considerate, and thoughtful. Thus, the assertive leader bridges the most positive aspects of the two other styles of behavior while at the same time avoiding the negative aspects of those two styles. The assertive style is both a good human relations style and a good team-building style for any organization. The assertive leader is viewed as someone who is strong, energetic, and is both able and willing to fight for resources needed by the department. Further, the assertive leader does not appear to play favorites, since he or she does not bend rules or fail to enforce rules in an effort to be liked by others. This leadership style is most admired by team members and employees.

Leadership Biases

As I mentioned above, there are some biases that I believe leaders have that severely hamper their interactions with people. While there are many I could discuss, there are two biases that cause some significant lost opportunities in organizations.

God Complex

I have met too many leaders, particularly founders, who believe everyone in their company exists to serve them. While it is true they started the business, and at one point you could say they were the business, at some point the organization must grow up and operate as a business, not a bunch of serfs working for their master. Everyone in a successful business, including the founder, exists to provide products and services to customers.

Each person in the organization has a role in the process of providing products and services. As a team, we help each other to do a better job than our competition so that we can operate more profitably, and thus enable everyone to earn their fair compensation and the business to expand and create more jobs. The leader’s job is to make the subordinate’s job easier so that all are in a better position to serve our customers well. Not the other way around!

I have witnessed servant leaders on average get two to three times the productivity of those that have the god complex. Their employees give extra effort, work efficiently, and spend extra time looking after the customer. Ironically, they spend more time looking after their leaders than subordinates of leaders with a god complex. I believe the reason is that the latter secretly resent their boss and do the minimums to stay out of trouble.

Leaders with this complex cause everyone else to be inefficient. Employees spend their days readjusting their schedules from best serving customer to best serving the leader, resulting in severe organizational inefficiency. Such leaders misuse resources and do not even recognize it because they are so selfish.

Others Will Not Figure Things Out Without Me

In a world where most jobs require people to use their brains, and each situation is a little different, most roles are filled with knowledgeable workers. Ironically, many leaders do not treat them as such. In Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman identified the difference between leaders who access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them (Multipliers) and those whose view of intelligence is based on elitism and scarcity (Diminishers). The Diminishers believe that intelligent people are a rare breed and that they are one of those few smart people. They then conclude that other people will never figure things out without them.

Here is the rub! We are all Multipliers and Diminishers. The questions are how often are we multipliers and with whom? Leaders that have huge ego problems are most often Diminishers. I know of one CEO that terrorizes the leadership team and other employees daily with emails micromanaging their every activity. This CEO’s team loses tremendous daily productivity in order to respond to those emails, provide reports to show what is being asked for, and attend update meetings so the boss can show them what to do.

Diminishers have other traits that cause them to get far less productivity than their people are capable of. The “tyrant” creates a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability. We have all been around that leader who loves to debate everything, hates to lose, and loves to win. It takes too much energy to get our own points across, so we just don’t even try.

Another Diminisher is the “know-it-all” that gives directives that showcase how much they know. Then there is the “decision-maker” who makes centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization.

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.”John Wooden

The Multiplier has a completely different way of handling people. Where Diminishers cause people to underperform, Multipliers can get the very best out of people and some believe exceed expectations. They are considered “liberators” as they create an intense environment that requires people to tap into their best thinking and work. They are considered “challengers” as they define an opportunity that causes people to stretch rather than the directive that limits the outcome. The Multiplier wants to make sound decisions, so they encourage vigorous debate on important decisions, usually staying quiet during the debate. After all, they know their own opinion. They really value the opinions of their team. They are “investors” as they invest in people to take ownership of results and are invested in their success!

Learning How to Say No!

In my book, Your Business is A Leaky Bucket, profit leak number 12 is dedicated to “being allergic to saying “no”. Rarely do I meet someone that tells me that they have mastered the use of time! If you are one of those people, you primarily work only those things that will contribute the biggest impact to your organization and role, and you are good at deferring, delegating, or discarding the rest. As a leader, you are communicating well, and you are emphasizing messages you really want your team to hear. Most importantly, you are clear on the right type of opportunities you expect your team to aggressively pursue and those you want them to defer, delegate, or discard. To a very large degree, your success depends on it.

Do You Use Your Time or Does Your Time Use You?

You cannot manage time itself, but you can manage how you choose to use your time. We are under more time pressure than ever, and those little gadgets like cell phones may make our lives much harder than easier.

Time is the great equalizer. Everyone gets the same amount of time: 24 hours in each day. You cannot buy more time, and no one can give you more of it. Thus, the most important question you can ask daily is: “How can I and my team use time more wisely?”

One of the essential keys to maximizing success as an individual or an organization is to effectively determine where your time should go now and into the future. Where you used time in the past only serves as a guide, a learning mechanism for your decisions as to where time should be used in the future. One person in your group losing focus on congruent goals can impact everyone’s time and even create a huge barrier to success.

Too often people search in the wrong places when trying to understand why they are not achieving their goals. They think there is something wrong with the time management program they’re using, so they buy a new one. The real problem is not what program or process they currently use. Rather, it is what habits of thoughts and attitudes they use to decide how they will use their time.

To do that, you must pick and choose which opportunities and tasks to undertake. Time and priority management is a skill few people master, but every person needs. One of the greatest mistakes many leaders make is to say “yes” too often. In many cases, time management is more about what you decide not to do, rather than what you do. Does your leadership team fail to say “no” often enough? Or does it choose to chase fires rather than identify and address the real issues staring them in the face? While there is no exact percentage, you should be passing on at least 25 percent of the opportunities and responsibilities that come your way. Otherwise, you will find yourself spending far too much time on tasks you never should have agreed to take on in the first place.

Belief systems lead to actions that cause results, which then impact your time management. If you or your people behave in counterproductive ways, try to identify what the belief systems are that cause that behavior. For example, let’s say you decide you should exercise three days a week to improve your health. Your primary belief system, however, is that exercise is boring and painful. What do you think the chances are you’ll implement that “decision” to exercise three days a week?

Commonly, I hear CEOs complain that they spend little or no time on their strategic priorities. Instead, they spend their days putting out fires and dealing with their employee issues. They are usually insistent this is just part of business as usual. However, a closer examination teaches us that some people like to put out fires. They enjoy the immediate gratification of handling the daily emergencies, want to be the ones with all the answers, and have trouble saying “no” to others. These habits directly impact their ability to manage their time effectively.

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”John Wooden

Our society is notorious for seeking immediate gratification. The benefit of better health is a long-term goal. In the short term, however, a person is apt to avoid the pain of sore muscles and the loss of self-esteem that goes along with confirming one’s own bad physical shape by not going to the gym. In other words, they feel better about not going to the gym than they do about going. This is immediate gratification, even though the decision is a bad one for long-term goals.

To change behavior, you must identify the immediate gratification you get from your bad behavior and the thought patterns that cause you to continue to practice it. Once identified, you must find something more motivating to replace them. For example, many people would exercise if their doctor told them, “If you do not start to regularly exercise tomorrow, you’ll have only six months to live. If you do exercise regularly, you will live another twenty-five years.” That is quite a carrot to dangle.

An additional aspect of using time is that most people do not have a good sense of where their time goes. At least once every six months, executives should track their time to see where they really spend it. Once you have a solid understanding of how you spend your time, you can redirect time you control and use it more productively by delegating activities to others.

Are You Chasing Revenue Everywhere?

A key area where leaders have the hardest time saying “no” is when it comes to revenue.  This is critical. Not only is this a critical strategic conversation, it is also an issue that can destroy a significant amount of your organizational resources; both time and money. Not all revenue is good revenue. In addition, the more market segments target, geographies you try to conquer, product and services you offer, and distribution channels required, the more resources required. It is important to be prudent in how you go about building your revenue. It is very important to know when and how to say “no”!

Your strategy will help you consider the best type of revenue to target. The predictability and consistency of your revenue growth rate are important measures of the health of your business. A key to driving your growth is targeting the right market segment, not aiming to be all things to all segments. You might love pie, but you’d likely not be feeling too well if you ate the entire pie at one sitting. The same is true regarding the health of your business. You must pick the right slice and exercise moderation. Targeting every source of revenue can leave you spread thin, the proverbial jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Profit leaks result from not focusing your efforts on the most valuable and sensible avenues for revenue.

What does this have to do with saying “no?” Positioning your company in a growth industry, market segment, or sector is crucial to the continued success of your company. To have future growth, regardless of how you are doing in this quarter or year, there must be a target market that your products/services are focused on and that is regularly growing. When businesses mistakenly chase revenue anywhere it leads them, they wind up with less of it. Great companies quickly learn that by segmenting the marketplace, they can perfect their business model around owning their segment or slice of the pie.

Without Saying “No”, Everything Is Equally Important

You set your employees up for failure by saying yes to everything. When everything is important, nothing is truly important! Perfection does not exist. Simple math dictates that the more things you randomly throw on someone’s plate, the less time they have to spend on each thing. Overloads cause leaks in company buckets.

A domino effect occurs when leaders cannot say “no” to anything. Let’s take the people ramifications. The more complicated your service model, the more talented your service staff has to be. They have to be smarter than the average employee in the marketplace while also maintaining specialized skills to handle your customers. That said, when you overload them with responsibilities, you’ll find they cannot reach all your original projected goals.

“Being average means, you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.”John Wooden

The number one job of a leader is to make their employees’ jobs easier! I recently had breakfast with a CEO I am coaching, and he had mentioned that the COO seemed overloaded. He had wondered if he had hired the wrong person. As we talked, it became clear that they had never established clear priorities together. In other words, everything was important! When I started asking him questions about what he believed the top priorities where for this person in the current quarter, he paused. It was obvious that he was unsure. A great example of setting a good clear priority was an advertising agency that had too much complexity in its client intake process. It took two weeks and six different people to onboard a new client! After proper focus and attention, that was reduced to one hour and one person. That could not have happened had they not focused on a clear priority and de-emphasized other things to get that done.

You Can Reduce Complexity by Saying “No.”

A great example of a company that benefited from saying “no” is Southwest Airlines. They say “no” often. If you want reserved seating, you do not fly Southwest, because their boarding process does not allow for it. Southwest Airlines, unlike most of the competition, does not charge for bags. All of their planes are 737s. This simplifies their fleet, reduces the time it takes to train mechanics, and drastically improves inventory management. In addition, they do not provide onboard amenities. Also, you will notice they fly to just 101 destinations. They choose airports with lower gate fees. Additionally, you can only book flights on their website. The culmination of these “no” decisions is that they have remained one of the most profitable airlines in the industry. As of this writing, they are second only to Delta Airlines in market capitalization with approximately half the number of employees.

Saying “No” Will Simplify Your Life

Typically, leaders push back on the concept of saying “no”. To that end, make it a priority NOT to schedule any meetings or calls in the first three hours of each day. Use that time to work on one key task to move the rocks (your main priorities) out of your way. If you finish in less time, use the leftover time to go after the gravel, sand, and water tasks in that order, the lesser priorities that also fill your daily bucket. This ensures you are working on at least five key motivators each week. You have been trained since you entered the workforce to please your customers and your bosses. They make you feel as if you always have to go the extra mile and exceed expectations! The problem with this mentality is that by trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. You set yourself and others up for failure. You might think it takes courage to say “no”. In reality, it takes brains to say “no”. And the better practice is to prioritize your time commitments and always put thoughtful productivity at the forefront of your mind.

In Conclusion

Strong leadership is essential to maximizing the success of your organization. Failing to address a poor leader in your organization is the equivalence of leaking money out of your bucket. I encourage you to coach each leader in your organization to check their egos at the door. We all falter. When you notice colleagues faltering, reach out in a positive manner to help them see it so that you can all grow as leaders. Don’t assume that just because someone has poor people skills that it must stay that way. Recognize that they have never been taught or required to be any different. Take responsibility to help them see a new way of interacting with the team. Work hard as a leadership team to say “no” more often. Help everyone see what is most important and get better at letting the rest wait. In the end you will find an organization that will grow more profitability with a lot less drama.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm, please visit his website at www.activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216.

Use Metrics to Propel Business

business metrics

Several years back, I was the Business Coach for a mid-sized company in the healthcare industry.  When I first started working with the leadership team, the company grew rapidly and was on the path to insolvency. In nine short months, we were not only able to accelerate their growth but turn them into a highly profitable company with plenty of cash in the bank. The company did so well that it sold for a high multiple only 18 months after our initial meeting.  The secret to the turnaround was found in how we used metrics to propel the business. The turnaround happened so quickly and easily that one of the senior leaders insisted that I had played with numbers.  He could not comprehend how we so quickly turned the company around. I want to share with you how you can use the same steps to ignite the growth and profitability of your company.

In Your Business is a Leaky Bucket, I identified how small improvements could lead to huge improvements in the bottom line. I identified 15 ways (I refer to as leaks) to improve your financial results in the book. I provided an example whereby improving revenue, cost of sales, and overhead each by 1%, a client could improve profit by 42%.  That client made three seemingly small moves that increased their bottom line from 3% to 20% of revenue in one year. Proving that small moves good lead to big results.

HOW WELL DO YOU UNDERSTAND YOUR FINANCIAL STATEMENTS?

One of the keys to achieving higher results is understanding your financial statements better. Most accountants produce financial statements and fail to help you determine how to propel your business forward. This is a big weakness among the leadership team. And you don’t have to be a Certified Public Accountant to learn how to understand them in a highly impactful way for your organization.

One fact that does not get talked about often is that those financial statements, while important, are missing some of the most critical information for you to build a better business. Your financial statements are not wrong. They are just limited because they only capture financial transactions. They don’t capture the metrics needed to help understand the cost of the organizational missteps. In most organizations, the costs of these missteps usually can triple your net profit.

Generally accepted accounting principles don’t help you measure the business leaks happening in plain sight. For example, there is no financial statement line item measuring the costs of keeping poor performers, deals that you lost because of inept salespeople, margin lost because of poor pricing, and so on. It would be best if you used the metrics to propel your business.

BUSINESS METRICS DEFINED

Before I take you through the thought process that will help propel your business, I want to clarify some terminology. There are several terms used in business that represent different types of metrics. Metrics include goals, targets, critical numbers, and key performance indicators. Business metrics allow you to determine how well each employee and the company perform. Metrics help measure whether you are on track to achieve annual and quarterly priorities. There are many metrics (profit/loss, balance sheet, departmental, people, process). It takes discipline and skill to find the smaller number of metrics that make the most significant difference to your organization.”

While we recognize all metrics as important, the “critical number” designation means this metric is the main priority for the company. We must not have more than two. We need two for balance—if we are too focused on performance indicators, we may damage our relationships, and vice-versa. This metric(s) should help you focus on the biggest obstacle(s) to achieving your goals.

What is a key performance indicator (“KPI”)?  KPIs are either leading or lagging metrics identifying activity, inactivity, and effects of accumulated decisions.

  • Lagging indicators are metrics that portray the performance of the past.  Examples of lagging indicators include revenue, gross margin, net profit, cash in the bank, and turnover.
  • Leading indicators are those metrics that help us forecast and predict future results. Leading indicators are those measures that focus on today’s actions that impact the lagging indicators.  For example, all businesses have revenue goals.  The starting point to generate revenue is interacting with a potential customer. Leading indicators for revenue include the number of qualified leads, number of appointments, dollars in the pipeline, etc.

Many metrics can be leading or lagging indicators.  For example, I had a Business Coaching Client that recently missed their revenue goals for the last two months.  When evaluating why the goals were missed, they concluded that they failed to use their marketing budget fully or misallocated what was spent. While the marketing costs were a lagging indicator on their financial statements, how and how much was spent on marketing led to insufficient leads and fewer sales. 

Business goals describe what a company expects to accomplish over a specific period. Goals might pertain to the company as a whole, departments, employees, customers, or any other business area. Goals are metrics and key performance indicators. Targets are the long-range metrics we aim to achieve. Targets are a little more difficult to forecast than 90-day and 1-year goals and metrics.

Goals and targets are the terminology used in business planning and priority setting. While you could use these terms interchangeably, I consider goals well-developed metrics that we feel confident in achieving. You should not call something a goal unless you are committed to achieving it.  Not reaching a goal is a failure in performance.  On the other hand, targets are typically lofty goals with much lower certainty, and we have not determined how to achieve them.  Targets are helpful because they stretch us to develop new strategies and tactics to improve our business model.  Falling short on targets is not necessarily a failure.

There are three primary ways we use metrics to propel a business:

  • Goal Setting
  • Perspective
  • Momentum

IS YOUR GOALSETTING PROCESS BROKEN?

My first objective with many business coaching clients is to shift them from arbitrary to well-thought-out goals.  An arbitrary goal has little basis. Just because you grew 30 percent last year does not mean you will continue to grow at that rate. 

Learning how to develop goals does not require a Ph.D. in quantum physics.  It requires the leadership team to identify key metrics, the assumptions that need to be considered and establish metrics expectations. 

A key sign that you will likely miss your goal, or achieve it for the wrong reason, is when there is little debate.  I often find the goals could be set much higher, but the leadership team is too focused on how they have been doing things rather than how things could be done. The secret is in debating the assumptions and asking questions like what must happen and be true to achieve the goal.

Let’s use my client that failed to achieve their goals for two months. To develop their revenue goal, they need to make assumptions about the following metrics:

  • # sales people
  • Dollars spent in marketing
  • # leads generated
  • # of leads converted to appointments
  • $ of appointment converted to clients
  • Average $ earned on each client

Each of the metrics has a range of potential outcomes. For example, how many of the salespeople will meet their quota?  How many will leave or be fired?  How many do we have to hire and by when?  Can we hire that many people at one time? And so on?  How can we influence each of these assumptions? Where do we like confidence? How can we mitigate risk?

I agree that this seems like a lot of hard work, but it is necessary. All of the issues will be faced during the year.  You will have a higher success rate if you plan to improve the right steps in the process rather than wing it and hope that you will make the right moves.  Hope is not a strategy. Through discussing these assumptions, you will find the key success factors that need to be addressed in your business plan.  You will have established the foundation to propel your business by prioritizing and addressing success factors.

IT IS NOT THE BUSINESS METRIC…IT IS WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT

Consider evaluating the effectiveness of you are using metrics to propel your business.  I often find that leaders are using metrics but from the wrong perspective. If you are one of our business coaching clients, you evaluate metrics when creating your budgets and forecasts. The metrics used to create them are based on what you have learned from daily, weekly, and monthly reviews of leading and lagging metrics.  It is not only possible but probable that you are going through these rituals and missing the majority of the value of the process.  When done properly, you drive continuous improvement, debunk flawed assumptions, and increase momentum in your business. This all happens through continuous improvement, not a once-a-year budgeting process. By debating and discussing your metrics, you can make more of the right moves to improve your results faster.

It starts with budgets and forecasts.  A common mistake is not to include the entire leadership in their development.  Your financial function can lead the process and construct the financial model, but the functional leaders own the inputs.  We want a leader to own and know their numbers.  When taken seriously, developing functional contributions to your forecasts causes the leader to consider improving their metrics in the coming periods.  And, you want the leaders developing their targets considering and company-wide view.  You need to bust siloed thinking. Doing this helps leaders understand how they and their functions contribute to the overall numbers. When done well, the forecasting process leads to continuous improvement.

You must use a widget-based approach to budgeting and forecasting.  A widget is a primary input that drives your business model. The widgets are leading indicators to success, such as # of Leads, # of Clients, # Jobs, and so on. Why widgets? The lagging results, such as sales, are important, but you cannot manage sales. A key to optimal success is driving the inputs that cause sales. A widget-based forecasting approach allows the leadership team, not just the CFO, to own the forecast. Using widgets as inputs, you can improve forecasting accuracy and easier forecast cash.

Depending on the nature of your business, many widgets should be developed and tracked weekly.  You might be thinking, what is in it for you? We have found that prioritization and focus get much stronger. One of our software-as-a-service business coaching clients focused all their energy on building better software.  While this was important, looking at metrics from a holistic standpoint, the leadership team recognized that their marketing and sales functions were performing poorly.  This was perplexing because they had built one of the best platforms in their industry segment. Using the key marketing and sales metrics, we focused on why the metrics were below expectations.  This led to a deep discussion that you can learn more about by reading my blog post Trying to Sell and Apple to Someone Looking for Chocolate.  That discussion led to substantial changes to their go-to-market strategy, and I am proud to say that momentum changed almost immediately.

IS YOUR BUSINESS GAINING MOMENTUM?

One of my all-time favorite books is Good to Great by Jim Collins.  In that book, Jim discusses the Flywheel effect. The following is an excerpt that can be found on his website.

No matter how dramatic the result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. There is no single defining action, grand program, killer innovation, solitary lucky break, and miracle moment in building a great company. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond.

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel—a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns … four … five … six … the flywheel builds up speed … seven … eight … you keep pushing … nine … ten … it builds momentum … eleven … twelve … moving faster with each turn … twenty … thirty … fifty … a hundred.

Then, at some point—breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its heavyweight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each flywheel turn builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort—a thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.

Now suppose someone came along and asked, “What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?” You wouldn’t be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No! All of them were added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction. Some pushes may have been bigger than others, but any single heave—no matter how large—reflects a small fraction of the entire cumulative effect upon the flywheel. Here’s what’s important. We’ve allowed the way transitions look from the outside to drive our perception of what they must feel like to those going through them on the inside. From the outside, they look like dramatic, almost revolutionary breakthroughs. But from the inside, they feel completely different, more like an organic development process.

As a business coach, I have witnessed companies that can show you excellence in their processes but have little to no momentum.  I recommend you develop your flywheel and measure momentum.  Using metrics in conjunction will help the leadership better understand creating momentum. There is a direct correlation between developing and analyzing metrics and the flywheel effect.  When constructing your metrics and priorities, you need to consider how this will help momentum in your flywheel faster.

CONCLUSION

When leveraged properly, metrics lead to propelling your business forward. Metric development and review is a critical skill that all leaders must master. It takes practice, practice, and more practice like any other essential skill. You can only get better at forecasting and using metrics with commitment, discipline, and continuous improvement. And the Finance department is not solely accountable for forecasting. Instead, it is a process that requires input from everyone. All leaders need to help develop the metric targets related to their departments. It is also helpful to run the standards by the employees that must deliver on them. The feedback is where the gold lies.

The review and discussion process as results are occurring is crucial to having a predictable business gaining momentum. By critically reviewing actual versus planned results, you help everyone see where the critical leaks are in the budget. Not only do you need to identify the leaks, but you must also address them.  You must identify the few big leaks that are slowing momentum. Once identified, discover the problem that is causing the metric.  Be relentless in truly addressing the issue by ensuring that you have company initiatives that will remove the bottleneck.

With practice, I believe every leadership team can produce highly predictable results. Each time you evolve a new forecast, you will learn new ways to improve performance and strengthen accountability in your organization.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm, please visit his website at www.activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216.

7 Keys to Working Smarter and Being Highly Successful

After observing thousands of leaders in companies from startups to over $20B in revenue and helping create over $1 Billion in business value, I noticed one superpower in highly successful people. They worked smarter, not harder, and derive much higher results in less time than almost everyone else. These very successful leaders tended to value highly the Management Strategies and Learnings obtained through Business and Executive coaching channels.

For clarity, I deem someone to be successful if they can accomplish three times more than their peers,  have more joy and happiness, and do all of this in less time.  Now, I have to draw a line as many of us are highly ambitious, driven, and are classic workaholics. Most workaholics do not commit to reducing the hours they work and find work exhilarating. Regardless of your view, it would help if you wanted to achieve three times the results and earnings in less time. What you do with the extra time is your business.  But everyone should want to work smarter and not harder.

I am often exposed to CEOs in the same industry and have always been amazed at how varied leader’s approaches are.  To me, the right approach is the one that produces three times the results with a similar effort.  Let’s take the restoration industry.  I have met many CEOs who started their business 20 years before and are stuck at $5M in revenue or less. Also, I have met others that were in the industry for just a few years and had revenue over $5M.   I do not only find revenue disparity. I also find profit and time gaps.  While the average company earns a net profit of 5% of revenue, we have helped companies generate over 20%.  Would you rather be a $10M company that produces $500K of net profit or a $5 Million company that produces $1M in net profit?  That was a trick because you should want to be the $10 Million company generating $2 Million profit, expecting the growth and the profits.

The most successful CEOs build far larger companies, have higher growth rates, have more free time, and have 3x the net profit margin. And, yes, there are other measures of success. I want you to consider that working more hours than everyone else, regardless of what you earn, is a fool’s choice! All I want to do is challenge us to work smarter continually.

Which leads us to the big question: “How can we make it easier to achieve our success goals faster?”  How can a person make far more, achieve their intended impact, and work a lot less? Not only is this possible, but others are already doing it. After watching these leaders, I noticed they were not necessarily smarter, more creative, lack ethics, or privileged.  I have met many highly successful people, some ultra-wealthy, and found that they were formerly homeless, living in trailer parks, had no college degrees, and so on. I am sure all of us are capable of high levels of success.

Achieving success is simpler than you think but not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it.  The strange part is that we are familiar with the concepts but not living them. Here are the principles you must follow to work smarter and not harder:

(1) Manage Your Thoughts

(2) Have a  Strategy

(3) Be Strategic

(4) Work a Plan

(5) Be Disciplined

(6) Resilience Rituals

(7) Build Wealth

Manage Your Thoughts

There are three dimensions to managing our thoughts: awareness, intention, and perseverance. Our mind is a potent tool. How you think will change your outcomes for better or worse. Thus you need to be aware of what you are thinking. For example, if you make up your mind that someone cannot do their job, your words and actions will differ from those based on the premise they are capable of. Your thoughts need to be congruent with your intentions. If you intend on accomplishing something and focus your thoughts on contrary purposes, you will fail. Imagine you plan to have a good day but your spend most of your day angry about something. 

Once our thoughts and intentions are in unity, we need to have perseverance. When was the last time you set out for something new and challenging, and it worked out exactly as planned? Most often, we find we run into unforeseen difficulties and roadblocks.  If you allow your mind to waiver from the finish line, you may not get there in a practical manner.

Have a Strategy

Too often, I find driven people are in constant motion. They confuse activity with productivity. When they see a problem to solve, they are off to the races.  Often leaders are solving the wrong problems or not taking the best route to solve their problems.  By doing so, you may feel better in the short term, but it could have long-term negative consequences.

I recently witnessed a senior leader get angry with a subordinate because he felt they were taking advantage of the company.  He immediately launched into attack mode and let the employee know how he felt.  While the concern was merited and the employee course-corrected, there were longer-term consequences.  You see, the leader was so busy being right that he lost one of the highest-performing people in the industry. That employee decided to quit his boss.

In the end, the leader was not strategic.  Had he been, he would have waited until he wasn’t angry and would have developed a strategy to course-correct the employee in a manner that was okay for both parties involved. Instead, he may need two people to do the work the one accomplished, and his reputation may cause other competent people not to want to work for him.

While I used a personal situation, the same goes for taking on projects, lofty goals, and conquering the competition. One thing we have all learned is that there are many ways to accomplish an objective. Being strategic requires you to consider achieving the ideal outcomes, choosing what “not” to do, using the least amount of resources, and within the desired time frame. It is usually best to consider expanding your options before choosing a path.

Work A Plan

We are working on a plan ties to being strategic.  However, the critical difference is that the strategy is the vision of where you want to go, and the action plan charts your course from beginning to end—many of us are big picture people. We can see what is possible and have a “can-do” attitude.  The problem with visionaries is they believe everything is simple and underestimate what it takes to achieve the outcome.  Taking the ball down the field is usually someone else’s problem.  To achieve grand visions, I recommend the following project management techniques:

(1) Be specific – The objective has to be clearly stated so that anyone could step in and know what needs to be done.

(2) Make it Measurable – Identify the measurable milestones and deadlines that indicate you are on track.

(3) Action Steps – Identify the action steps necessary to achieve each milestone.

(4) Monitor Progress – There must be processes and systems in place to monitor progress.

(5) Course Correct – When progress is insufficient, it is essential to revisit your plan to get back on track.

Be Disciplined

Whether you are working on getting healthy, achieving your sales goals, accomplishing a major project, it takes disciplined action.  Too often, we like the idea of the outcome but are not disciplined enough to achieve it. Think about dieting. If I eat healthily and eat the right amount of calories for three days a week but overeat unhealthy foods the other 4, it will take a lot longer (if ever) to lose the weight. Where if you ate properly every day, that takes discipline.

My brother Matt is the President of Steven Douglas, one of the fastest-growing recruiting and staffing agencies in the US.  Matt has been a top producer every year since he entered the industry almost 20 years ago.  Most people in his industry only dream of producing his revenue production.  Matt shared with me that he has hundreds of employees, and none of them produce as much as he does. Given that he is President, he spends far less time than full-time salespeople. This caused me to ask his secret. Matt has a list of 300 key contacts he calls every sixty days.  He does this by setting aside one hour daily for outbound calls.  This single disciplined activity has helped him achieve more in 5 hours a week than others can produce in 60 hours.  Successful people are willing to commit to such discipline. I have shared this technique with at least 100 people over the years, and none has had the discipline to implement it.

Resilience Rituals

The airlines taught us a very important less when they told us that we must put our oxygen masks on first before helping others. I have found that highly successful people have a regimen of activities that they use to recharge themselves.  Here are my resilience rituals:

 – 1/2 hour of daily exercise

 – 15 Minute breaks between meetings

 – 15-30 of Meditation

 – 15 Minutes of Quiet reflection

 – Spending time with friends and family

 – Take 4-6 weeks off on vacation throughout the year.

 – Monitor and control my work hours

 – Weekly Massage

It would be best to have the same level of committed discipline to your resilience rituals as your business routines.  For example, if you work out 4 hours in one day, it will not have the same effect as 1/2 hour per day.

Build Wealth

Too many of us are so busy working that we don’t spend the right amount determining how to build wealth. Every very wealthy person I met has at least three streams of significant income.  It is essential that you identify, develop, and give enough attention to your various income streams.  Most people will tell you that the most significant part of wealth came from income streams outside of their day job.  The day gave them the financial start in investing in other activities. Still, many of those activities require learning about and developing strategies and plans to develop each stream. 

In Conclusion

While you can be highly successful without practicing the above activities, it does not invalidate them.  However, by managing your thoughts, being strategic, working a plan, being disciplined, practicing resilience rituals, and building wealth consistently, you will find your path to success with less friction.  Now I challenge you to determine how to use these principles to work smarter and not harder, so you have more time to do the things that are most important to you.

 


Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm, please visit his website at Activate Group Inc or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216.

Trying to Sell an Apple to Someone Looking for Chocolate?

Recently, I facilitated a meeting for one of the most innovative companies I work with. The leadership team is one of the smartest I have ever worked with, and there is a clear vision about solving gaps in their market. Moreover, they arguably have the best SAAS platform to serve their target segment. Yet, they have struggled to grow.

Have you ever wondered why some companies seem to grow with ease while others don’t? I have pondered this question because I have seen far too many organizations struggle to grow. For the SAAS Company, the secret showed up in a strategy session I recently facilitated. The conversation centered around one key question, “Why is this SAAS company finding it so difficult to acquire new customers? The answer was not what you would expect.

Are You Answering the Right Question?

Often, leaders are trying to solve their growth issues by centering on the wrong questions and problems. Typically if you asked the question, “How do we increase sales faster,” you would hear answers like:
• We need more revenue.
• We need more leads.
• We need higher quality leads?
• We need better salespeople.
• Our sales manager is not doing her job.
• We need better marketing.
• We need more marketing.
• We need more salespeople.
• Our customers don’t understand why we are different.
• We have failed to articulate our value proposition well.
• Our salespeople need a better process.
• Our salespeople need better training.

Have You Identified the True Problem?

While the above may be components of solving your growth issues, it is likely not your problem. I often see companies spend significant money and time addressing all the above. After years of frustration, they find themselves right back where they started from. They find other companies in their industry growing far faster, and some started much later and far larger. Your company has likely developed great products and services, cares about your employees and customers, works very hard, and has many loyal customers. In addition, your company might have implemented best-practice execution processes like EOS and Scaling Up, and yet the growth outcomes are not getting much better. What gives?

The right approach is to change your question. In my client example, we changed the question from “how do we increase revenue” to “why is it so difficult to acquire new clients ?” I asked the leadership to answer the question with a question. We brainstormed for 10 minutes until we complied with enough inquiries related to the initial question. Here are some of the questions they came up with?
• How do we remove sales friction?
• What would we need to do to increase market share dramatically?
• Why can’t we sell product “A” to our target market?
• Why is there so much friction in acquiring new customers?
• Would it be easier to sell a product that is on par with our competition?
• What do we need to shift in sales and marketing?
• Who is our real target customer?
• What is the evolutionary path for customers?

After developing 25 questions, I asked the team to narrow down the list to one critical question that would address almost all of the questions. The answer was, “why can’t we sell product “A” to the masses?”

By using the new question as a focal point, we were able to discover their real problem. The market was desiring a product they were not offering. Worse, they had the perfect product, and it was bundled into their more sophisticated product. In the long run, their product was more complete and would better serve their target market. The problem, most companies were not ready to consider their full suite, and they were trying to force it on them.

While there is a lot more to this story, I was hoping you could recognize that these extremely smart leaders were essentially trying to sell an apple to people looking to buy chocolate. When the prospect did not see the chocolate, they moved on to the competitors. We realized that we had to metaphorically get the customer into the supermarket and sell them chocolate before they were willing to consider the apple. Chocolate was their primary need. Once they loved our chocolate, we could take them down more isles and sell them more of what they needed.

Stop Trying to Convert the Heathens?

Are you guilty of ignoring the market? This is a common mistake. My client was a great example. They had the perfect product but were so enamored with their complete solution causing them to ignore the market expectations. While they are correct, their product can and will solve bigger, more complex problems, there were too few leaders that were aware and ready to solve them. They were getting ahead of themselves. And, like a good priest or rabbi, they were delivering sermons to inspire and convert the heathens. The problem was that the disciples were not listening. When this occurs, the sermon is white noise. Their best approach was to get the easy win, earn the customer’s trust, and use that as a platform to cross-sell later.

Conclusion – Ask Yourself… and Take Action!

If you are like many leaders, you know that your company can and should be growing much faster. Have you found the right question to answer? Do you know the primary problem? Are you spending enough time facing the brutal facts?


Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about Howard Shore or the firm, please contact Activate Group or call (305) 722-7216.

Three Keys to Maximum Business Performance

3 Keys to Maximum Business Performance

While people have been impacted by globalization, technology, and other circumstances, achieving business success has not changed. Over time, you will need to discuss changing conditions and have a robust operating system maneuvering these issues. But I have concluded that while most entrepreneurs pride themselves on their speed in getting things done, I see them running in circles. More creative entrepreneurs may make lots of rapid right turns instead of circles. Still, they find themselves in the same place and with the same problems as the people running in circles, never achieving acceleration.

 

The Difference Between Speed, Velocity, and Acceleration!

Acceleration in performance should be the goal of all leaders. Most people use the words speed, velocity, and acceleration interchangeably. However, these are three different outcomes. Speed defines how much distance has been covered in a particular timeframe. Velocity is the rate of change of distance in a particular direction concerning time. And acceleration is the rate of increase in velocity. Great companies achieve far greater velocity than “good” companies.

 

Every Business Has the Same Fifteen Leaks

As I wrote in my first best-selling book, Your Business is A Leaky Bucket, there are fifteen ways every business is leaking growth and profits. The bigger the business, the bigger the leaks. No business is immune. The odd part is that you likely already know you have the leaks. And, all fifteen leaks had a centering cause…leadership. They result from poor leadership. These leaks individually and collectively slow velocity, and large leaks can cause demise in your business. My book helps you identify and quantify the leaks. More importantly, I prescribed how to address each leak. Average companies achieve speed, good companies achieve velocity, and great companies achieve acceleration. The latter spend specific leadership time narrowing the fifteen leaks.

Leaders I work with are stunned when they realize how easily they can improve a business. But are often surprised by the dollar value in the improvements. However, easy does not equal simple. It takes discipline to work on the business rather than in it. It takes perseverance to stick to your plans and focus on a limited number of objectives while saying “no” to others. It takes rigor to drive excellence.

 


The Three Primary Reason Business Leaks Occur

There are three primary reasons why those leaks continue to recur throughout the life of your business:

1. Mediocrity—You know your organization and people are capable of more, but you allow average to become the standard for your business. Sometimes, this happens because you attempted but failed to raise the bar in the past. There is also a tendency to compare your business to industry norms and become comfortable if it’s doing better than the industry average—even if that industry average is a massive bottleneck in your business. Accepting the lower standard may be common in your industry, so you accept it, too. For example, high turnover has become the accepted norm in certain positions in some industries. But excessive turnover is a significant drag on a company’s ability to grow and scale. Ask yourself, how often have you taken too long to replace someone you know is not capable of doing his or her job? These are examples of accepting mediocrity!

2. Mastery—It takes discipline and perseverance to continually improve and address the issues that cause slower growth, lower profitability, and cause leaders to be tied to their work. Let’s be honest; when you started your career, were you thinking, “I am going to be a master craftsman at culture, team cohesiveness, strategy, people, execution, and cash systems?” Each of those areas requires skills and knowledge, continuous learning, and continuously increasing your level of mastery. However, as your business grows, so do the challenges in these areas. The typical leader would prefer to focus on industry knowledge, serving customers, and making better products and services rather than think about, discuss, and address those other, less tangible issues. In reality, culture, team cohesiveness, strategy, people, execution, and cash are the business operating systems that you use to run your business.

3. Invisibility—Financial statements do not capture the substantial costs of the weaknesses in your business operating system. Generally accepted accounting principles are only designed to capture actual transactions, assets, and liabilities. There is not a place in accounting principles to capture the cost of mediocrity and lack of mastery. Like most leaders, you do not go out of your way to quantify these costs. Here are some examples of mediocrity that should be monitored and will not be found in your financial statements:

– The cost of keeping underperformers

– The cost of lost sales because of mistakes in the sales process

– The cost of customers who left because of their disappointment with your quality and bad processes

– The cost of a bad strategy leading to higher customer turnover or slower customer growth

 

There are no financial statement line items for these costs, yet they exist in every business. Such losses are much more significant than you want to face, so you don’t! You are complacent with being good enough, especially if you are growing rapidly and profitably.

To succeed in business, leaders must have a business operating system and toolkit that help them work on the business in a way that allows their team members to make clear decisions and act regardless of the noise. Success is the result of your commitment to that system and how well you use the tools that support it. For the past 100 years and into the next 100, you will find that business challenges are the consequence of how effectively leaders handle these six operating systems:

(1) Culture
(2) Team Cohesiveness
(3) People
(4) Strategy
(5) Execution
(6) Cash

 


Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about Howard Shore or the firm, please visit our business coaching page or call (305) 722-7216.

What’s Coming That I Do Not See?

Recently a client sent me an email with a curious question: “What is coming that I do not see?” All leaders have asked this question one time or another. However, most fail to address the real reason they had the concern. Max (not his real name) was concerned because his financial results (while very positive) were a surprise. He was wondering if there was a better way to avoid positive and negative financial shocks. The key to avoidance is a better understanding of your financial results and the metrics that lead up to them.

There are 5 Reasons to Become Better at Understanding Your Key Metrics

 

1- Lack of understanding key metrics leads to poor decisions.

2- Fear causes your organization to slow down.

3- Lack of financial vision causes your organization to squander key financial resources.

4- Forecasting focuses leaders on the core issues and leads to business acceleration.

5- Lack of mastery of metrics leads to poor accountability.

Predictable Cash Flow is Achievable

The challenge Max and many other leaders face is to overcome their lack of expertise, commitment, and discipline when it comes to gaining a complete understanding of their financial statements and the underlying metrics that drive them. Unlike factors such as a COVID-type event, most financial outcomes can be predicted with a reasonable degree of accuracy. In fact, it’s likely that most of you who are reading this are not comfortable with metrics and finance in general. That discomfort should not prevent you from requiring the same high standards and rigor you demand in the other areas of your business. The good news is that every business leader can address this problem. Committing to better forecasting will make your business stronger, and you don’t have to empty your bank account to do so.

Lack of Understanding Key Metrics Leads to Poor Decisions

After working with hundreds of companies, I have noticed one difference between top industry performers and the rest. In top-performing companies, everyone knows their numbers. I recently witnessed this in action with Company X (not their real name). Company X has great products and services yet failed to make a profit. We were working with several companies in the same industry. All those other companies had accurate and timely financial statements and the right metrics to evaluate how to improve their financial results. Company X never had accurate or timely financial statements for their management meetings. Worse, management had lost trust in the numbers they did have.

Because they lacked reliable and timely information, they made decisions based on hunches. They made all the logical moves to improve a business in their industry. Unfortunately, they were not seeing or addressing the right issues and challenges. Convinced their whole problem was selling, general, and administrative expenses (commonly known as fixed overhead), the leadership team focused on cutting these expenses. While minimizing overhead is a good business practice, it did not get to the root of the problem. In some cases, cutting the expenses caused the company to be less profitable. They were cutting through the bone.

Company X’s main problems had nothing to do with fixed overhead. In actuality, their fixed costs were lower than that of competitors of similar size. After pushing for better information and competitive benchmarking, they realized their gross margin (revenue minus direct variable costs) was awful. Their gross margin was operating 50% below the better players in the market. It meant that the leaders running their operating departments were failing to perform, and these leaders were hiding in plain sight. In the end, it was determined that they had a pricing problem and direct labor costs required to deliver their services could and should be much lower. Before having this knowledge, they failed to focus on addressing those two issues.

These challenges are predictable and solvable.

Fear Causes Your Organization to Slow Down.

It seems obvious that fear can cause your organization to slow down, but what are you doing about it? Imagine you are in a long dark cavern with many possible turns, no flashlight, and no directions. How fast will you move through that cavern to get to the other side? Most people would slow down and be more cautious. Those who want to try to move quickly are likely to trip, hit their heads, get lost, and possibly injure themselves in the process. Some people may reverse course because they find it too dangerous to move forward or don’t want to go through the trouble.

Now imagine facing the same cavern, except now you have a high-powered flashlight, night vision goggles, and a map showing you the quickest way to the other side. Most of you run your businesses more like the first scenario than the second. And it costs you significantly.

Using the right metrics allows everyone in the organization to contribute to your success. Learning and using your company’s metrics will enable you to show each employee the way to peak performance. The more people that have this flashlight, the better and more predictable your financial results become.

This challenge is predictable and solvable!

Lack of Financial Vision Causes Your Organization to Squander Key Financial Resources.

Getting ahead of oneself is something I wish I could tell you I have never done. I am guilty of bringing on too many people too quickly. Also, I am guilty of investing too heavily in a new endeavor without testing it. We have all done it. I can tell you in almost every single circumstance I should have known better. I was making decisions that defied reality.

A great example is a business services company. They had national growth aspirations, great products and service, a strong reputation in their local market, and the CEO was highly driven. The company was highly profitable, but its growth had stalled in its local market. Rather than addressing the fact that their existing sales team was failing to perform, they doubled the number of sales team members and tripled the number of markets. The result was predictable. Almost all the new salespeople failed. The company got little traction in the new markets, and the old salespeople continued to perform poorly.

You might be thinking, this is an easy problem to solve: Hire the right sales manager, fire the team, and build a new one. That is what most companies would do. However, this company’s data was telling them a story that they did not want to recognize. They had the highest customer churn in years; the owner, who had been a star salesperson in the industry for over 30 years, was no longer producing; and getting meetings with new prospects seemed to take an act of God. After challenging their performance, we learned that their pricing was no longer competitive for the value delivered. Additionally, the market had shifted, and the leaders failed to recognize and address the current market’s needs. Before adding salespeople and a new sales manager, this company needed to address its strategy issues.

By not addressing the real issue, you may be following the plot of the movie 300. The story revolves around King Leonidas, who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. Despite having 300 of the most formable soldiers globally, there was no way for them to win the battle. I see this same plot playing out in many companies.

This is another problem that is predictable and solvable!

Forecasting Focuses Leaders on the Core issues and Leads to Business Acceleration

Let’s get back to Max. Max leads a company that has lots of good data. They needed more discipline and focus on understanding their metrics, what issues they should be addressing, and how to recognize the leading indicators causing the surprises in their financial results.

After reviewing actual results and comparing them to the forecast, we learned many things. They had identified and used the right metrics but needed to get better and to set realistically high assumptions. In Max’s case, they beat their sales goal but how they originally derived the sales goal had no bearing on reality:

1- They had 40% fewer leads than expected. This happened because they had not done enough analysis to understand how many leads would come from each marketing channel in each market. Had they looked at the past performance, they would have known there was no basis for their targets. And, they had no new action plans that would drive different results.

2- The company exceeded its sales goal by 25%. There was no correlation between the assumptions used to develop the costs. They got the following wrong:

  1. They forecasted having all positions filled in their sales department despite knowing that they were beginning the month with nine open sales positions.
  2. They had several new salespeople who normally do not derive any sales for at least 45 days (their sales cycle).
  3. Their target appointments, appointment conversion rate, and sales closing ratios did not resemble anything close to reality.

Max can now work with the department leaders to improve future forecasts reflecting what they learned. Based on new assumptions, they are going to destroy their sales goals for the year.

This was predictable.

Lack of Mastery of Metrics Leads to Poor Accountability

To establish a proper accountability system, you need a clear understanding of your metrics, the same metrics required to build your forecast. Invariably, forecasts and budgets are wrong because they are built the wrong way. In most cases, leaders look at last year’s numbers and decide at a high level what they want the new numbers to be. However, the devil is in the details, and not the details most budget creators think about.

Leaders need to spend significant time understanding the leading metrics (e.g., number of units sold, number of people required to sell that number of units, number of new customers, number of returning customers, etc.). It would be best if you looked back to understand the trends and underlying causes of those trends and project forward what will happen to these leading metrics in the future based on your business plans. A good example is Max’s company. The number of performing salespeople is a crucial component to the company’s success. Fewer performers will ensure lower results. Thus, key considerations are what percentage of salespeople meet quotas and whether those quotas are reasonably high enough to justify the employee’s tenure.

You might be wondering how understanding metrics ties to accountability. Max’s sales manager believes she performed well because she beat the budget. However, the budget was a farce in that none of the company’s performance standards were met in her department. Despite exceeding the revenue budget, the number should have been higher. This conclusion arose by looking at a complete set of metrics rather than the final revenue number. A primary driver was the number of open sales positions.  The lack of people caused them to fall well short of potential.

Moreover, once we started evaluating the critical success metrics (e.g., number of meetings, meeting conversions, etc.), it was clear that there was a lack of integrity in how they were derived.  Not even management was confident about what they should expect. You can’t hold a person accountable without valid expectations.

The results could have been predictable, and this problem is solvable.

Now What?

Practice, practice, and more practice. You can only get better at forecasting with commitment, discipline, and continuous improvement. And the Finance department is not solely accountable for forecasting. Instead, it is a process that requires input from everyone. All leaders need to help develop the metric targets related to their departments. It is also helpful to run the standards by the employees that must deliver on them. The feedback is where the gold lies.

With practice, I believe every leadership team can produce highly predictable results. Each time you go through the evolution of a new forecast, you will learn new ways to improve performance and strengthen accountability in your organization.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm, please visit his website at www.activategroupinc.com/contact or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216.

5 Keys to Business Success

As many of you have learned from my seminar “Turning Strategy into Action,” the difference between business success and failure can be broken down into a few factors. While some owners are lucky to have the right product at the right time, most find that if they do not do these 5 things they will either fail or, worse yet, discover that they would have earned a better living by getting a job.

Only 16% of All Businesses Make Money over Their Lifetime!

While we do not like to discuss negatives, there some realities we need to present. According to the Small Business Association, 1/3 of all businesses will close their doors after 2 years, and 60% will do so after 5 years. If you do not find this concerning because you have passed the 5-year threshold, you might find it interesting to note, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, only 39% of all businesses are profitable, 30% break-even, and the rest lose money over their LIFETIME.

5 Keys to Being in the 16% Pool

The good news is that turning a profit and staying in business is much simpler than these statistics would indicate. In our experience, most of these businesses failed or did not make money because they mistakenly thought that knowledge of their trade or business was the key to success, and hard work was what it took. While these are essential elements without which you will surely fail, they are not the keys to success. Lack of funding would be number 7 or 8 on my list of reasons by businesses fail.

If you want your business to succeed the following are the top 5 keys to success:

  1. Have, Communicate and Drive Your Vision/Purpose
  2. Strategy
  3. Financial Planning and Review at Least Monthly
  4. Establish and Communicate All Company Goals
  5. Commit to Goals

9 Signs that Your Business is Under-performing?

If you answer “no” or do not answer with a strong yes to any of the following questions, your organization is probably under-performing in the areas of sales growth, customer service, employee satisfaction, innovation, and profitability:

  • Does your management team look forward to participating in your annual planning processes?
  • Does your organization regularly achieve all or most of the financial and non-financial goals set forth in your plans?
  • Does everyone in your organization know specifically what the goals are in your plans and how they will contribute to achieving them?
  • Do the actions in your organization regularly resemble the plans?
  • Do you get regular input from all levels of your organization and use that information to develop your plans?
  • Do you know what trends are going on in your industry, who your competitors are, what your competitors are doing, and what your opportunities and threats are?
  • Do you get regularly input from your customers (not just complaints) and use that information to develop your plans?
  • Do you have specific market segments you are focusing on?
  • Do you know what capabilities, management systems, people, and other resources you must have in place now, for the future, and by when?

Proper Planning Is Critical for Companies of All Sizes

Many small organizations mistakenly think that answering the above questions applies only to large companies and that they can wait to become bigger to take this very important step. They are among the 50% that fail in the first 5 years.

On the other hand, many companies go through the annual rituals of strategic planning, business planning, and budgeting, and completely miss the value of these very important business processes. They spend valuable time, money, and resources to develop written plans that bear little or no resemblance to what actually goes on in the business afterwards. Instead, business goes on as usual, and the plan goes in a desk drawer or on a bookshelf. At the end of the year, financial success or failure is met through other means.

Planning is the journey that you take your management team through to balance near-term performance with that of the long term. Your goal is to maximize your long-term returns on investment in your business while meeting short-term financial needs. In our experience, we see many leaders focusing their planning process on creating numbers (budgeting) that will yield the profits they want to see at the end of the year. Amazingly they will go through phenomenal amounts of detail to get precisely to the wrong numbers. They are the wrong numbers because the reality is they have no idea how they will achieve these numbers, which is the point of planning in the first place. In these companies, it is not uncommon to hear one of two things at the end of the year 1) they achieve profits in some unexpected way, such as the pricing was extraordinarily good (not sustainable), or 2) they missed their numbers and offer lots of excuses that have nothing to do with poor leadership.

Let us help YOU take your business to the next level. Take the next step and contact us to learn more about how Business Coaching can help you and check out the testimonials page to see how we have helped other executives like you.

Consistently Grow Revenue at Record Levels – Article 2 of 2

The first step in consistently growing revenue is strategy.  You know you have a good strategy when your revenue growth is over 20% and/or at the top of your industry group.  However, growth is not easy to sustain.  There are roughly 23 million firms in the US, of which only 4 percent get above $1 million in revenue. Of those firms, only about 1 out of 10, or 0.4 percent of all companies, ever make it to $10 million in revenue and only 17,000 companies surpass $50 million. Finishing out, the top of the list, the top 2,500 firms in the US are larger than $500 million, and there are 500 firms in the world larger than $11 billion.*

Article 1 focused on the importance of strategy and having the right personnel on your team to help forecast the future.  While this is essential to building a high-growth organization, I have seen many an organization develop great strategy and forecast well and still not get it done.

Last weekend, my client and friend, Raul Segredo, CEO of Avionica, became the star of this article. Raul runs a very successful and fast-growing aviation company. He took me flying in a six-seat airplane. In our mission for the day – going to lunch – he took me through his routine, one that I believe exemplifies the way to consistently grow a business at record levels: having everything you need to see on one page, looking at leading indicators, and great communications systems.

Pilots regularly do exactly what the CEO needs to do. When we got to the plane, Raul had a routine that I will call leading indicators for a safe flight.  He inspected the entire plane to make sure that everything was the way it should be (equipment check, fuel check, etc).  He did not take off until he knew that he was not putting himself, his plane, and his passenger in danger.  He knew where we were going and had the flight charted on how to get there.  He had the proper training and knowledge to adapt to conditions if unexpected events occurred. . While we were in flight, he had everything he needed to see on one panel to stay on course and fly a successful mission. Lastly, had anything gone wrong, there was a communication system in place to address issues.

Goal Alignment

Goal alignment is a key to consistent growth. The best way to do this is to reduce your strategic and business plan goals to a “one-page” format.  Not only is this achievable, it is imperative.  The concern of many leaders is that there are a lot of moving pieces in their business and their tendency is to want to control all of those pieces.  This causes a lack of focus and too many unfinished things.  Rather than trying to feed the entrepreneurs’ desire, the one-page format forces them to focus only on what is most important to them “now.”  Using this methodology, everyone has the same control panel but with differing measurements, depending on their roles and responsibilities.  Some of the columns are the same for all, such as core values, vision, company targets, and brand promise.  However, there are columns on the control panel that are specific to the individual/department such as: accountability, actions, and measurements. On this control panel there should be no more than 3 key priorities and core measurements of focus.  In the end, all align with the CEO’s control panel.  By utilizing this method, you provide for complete alignment throughout the entire organization

Leading Indicators

As an affiliated coach with Gazelles, Inc. we are called upon to help the organization implement the growth tools talked about in “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish.  As part of its strategic planning processes, an organization must identify core stakeholders and processes that drive growth.  Once identified, it is imperative to have the 2 or 3 leading indicators that will let you know in advance (e.g. revenue and profit) that you are well on track to do well.  By focusing on these leading indicators you will better execute on your strategy and thus better sustain your growth.

A great example was a technology development firm that was growing over 100% per year.  After 4 years of consistent growth at incredible levels and being on the top of most highly recognized magazines’ (e.g. Fortune and INC) lists, they were seeing a decline in performance and turnover in employees who were considered stars.  Originally the CEO thought that the company was outgrowing his people. Ultimately, he realized that he was burning everyone out.  As a result, the company developed a new leading indicator of “Employee Hours.”  They looked at all of the projects and made it a company requirement that all projects were staffed and planned to fit within a “60-Hour Work Week.”  This became a critical leading indicator to their success and sustained growth. This goal actually revolutionized the way the company thought, improved quality, reduced cycle time, employee retention, customer satisfaction, and actually increased growth.

Another great leading indicator that is highly recommended for every business is Net Promoter Score (“NPS”).  In “The Ultimate Question,” author Fred Reichheld introduces the NPS as the way in which leading firms transform their customers into promoters.  The survey focused around one simple question, “Would you recommend us to a friend?”  The analysis shows that on average, if a company increases NPS by a dozen points versus competitors, it can expect revenue growth to double.  This is a radical change from the customer satisfaction score, which is totally ineffective in predicting success for a company.  .

Communication

You would think by the title of Patrick Lecioni’s book, “Death by Meeting,” it would be about companies having too many meetings. Actually, the point of the book is that companies have too many bad meetings. Your organization must have a system of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings that focus communications around what is critical to driving your businesses, preventing bottlenecks before they happen, and promoting teamwork. Design meeting agendas to discuss those topics that will drive your business, using the information you already prescribed in your “one-page” plans.

Summary

Growing consistently at record levels starts with strategy.  Once you have developed a good strategy, you may not grow as much as you should because of poor execution of strategy.  The key is to learn from my friend Raul to be a good pilot.  Have a good flight plan that you can fit on one page, use leading indicators to identify issues early, and have a great communications system so you are able address problems rapidly and maximize growth and profits.

Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com. We bring proven tools that lead to new ways of thinking that lead to better results.

* Excerpt from Mastering the Rockerfeller Habits by Verne Harnish.

Goal Epidemic

Are you setting goals for yourself and/or your organization with conviction? Even worse, are you part of the audience at large that does not make a habit of setting goals? If I were to audit all the goals you set for yourself and your organization for the last 5 years, what percentage did you achieve? If you have success rate of less than 90%, you need to read this article.

Goals need to be mandatory targets rather than the desires or dreams they appear to be today. Too often I see leaders and their people establish goals without real commitment to attainment. They put goals in their business plans and don’t give them another thought until next year – when they set their goals again. This creates a culture of “I’ll try.” When you ask someone to do something, and they tell you, “I’ll try,” that usually means “forget about it” in a nice way.

When goals are mandatory you have a different mindset. The response “I’ll try” switches to “I must.” At that point amazing things can happen. We are resourceful creatures when we want to be. We find time that did not exist  (or in other words, we stop wasting time). We reprioritize our tasks to focus on those things we deem more important. We find smarter ways to do things. In the end, we find ways to get things done one thought could not be done.

One of the reasons it is so hard to make the shift toward “failure is not an option” is that there are too many goals. In addition, not enough thought has actually been given as to which goal(s) matter most. For example, it is common for an organization to have a revenue growth goal and to have a lot of little sub-goals to achieve it. A better approach is to ask the question, “What is the one thing, if addressed, will have the biggest impact on accelerating revenue growth?” It is not an easy question, yet once answered it can be the focus of an entire organization. And one must be careful to not lose sight of the goal because it is not uncommon to identify the “one thing” only to have management throw little meaningless pet projects at their people, inadvertently preventing the most important project from getting done.

Once you have clarity around your most important goals you must establish data/metrics and meeting rhythms to drive the results. Data and metrics provide clarity and foresight to know that your goals are on track and that everyone involved is doing their part. Daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings, when well done, help to drive the desired outcomes. Effective team meetings provide communications clarity. They embrace the power of focused collective intelligence and leverage the power of peer pressure. The results are the ability to maximize opportunities and relieve bottlenecks quickly and effectively.

In the end, if you are not achieving over 90% percent of the goals you set, you should invest some time in understanding how you approach goals. The following may help you determine why you are not achieving more of your goals:

  • When you set goals are they mandatory?
  • When you define your goals are they specific enough?
  • Is your goal measurable?
  • When you set a goal do you write it down?
  • Do you communicate goals to everyone who has a role in achieving them?
  • Do you let everyone know how they contribute to the goal?
  • Do you identify and address all obstacles to your goal?
  • Do you have detailed action plans on how you will achieve your goal?
  • Do you review weekly and monthly basis to see that those plans are being followed and hold people accountable for achieving them?
  • Is there any consequence for not achieving the action plans?
  • Are your goals achievable and realistic?
  • Do you have a specific target date for your goal?
  • Are your goals in alignment with each other?

Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.