Business Coach Growth and Profit Tips

Three Issues Likely Disrupting Your Growth and Profits

Having worked with several Fortune 500 organizations and many fast-growing mid-market companies, I am alarmed by how inefficient and ineffective many have become. Often, the leaders were unaware of their inefficiencies and ineffectiveness; they acted like the large institutional companies they swore they would never become.

Consider this, the CEOs and leadership team rarely recognize they have a problem. They may feel that something may not be right, but it is usually worse than they imagined. Despite facts to the contrary, CEOs will indicate pride in their leadership teams and the organizations. Influenced by external circumstances, leaders justify their approach to decisions, overcomplicated processes, and bloated organizations. Meanwhile:

  • Revenue growth rates are inconsistent or shrinking
  • Headcount is growing faster than revenue
  • Overhead as a % of revenue is increasing
  • Turnover is higher than the industry average
  • Net profit margins are shrinking.

I will never forget a discussion I had with a $5 Billion CEO. Growth rates were lackluster, and profits were dismal. They were considered a leader in their industry, yet performance did not support the hype. Others in their industry grew far faster and had much higher profit margins. When I talked with the CEO, I identified two moves that would double their profits, eliminate four layers of management, and eliminate several contracts that represented 10% of their revenue. These moves were worth $200 million in net profit, could likely double or triple the stock price, and would remove a lot of bureaucracy. The CEO decided against it and was replaced 18 months later after the company failed to break through lackluster performance.

Are You Efficient but Ineffective?

Today’s world is full of rapid, unpredictable changes and complex inter-dependencies. Traditional organizational models built on efficiency and optimizing predictable systems are no longer suited for these challenges. In “Team of Teams,” General Stanley McChrystal presents a new way of thinking and leading that allows organizations to adapt and innovate nimbly in a complex world.

Team of Teams is about the General’s process of restructuring the Joint Special Operations Command and making it more adaptable. The military was efficient at fighting traditional wars but not effective against Al-Qaeda in Iraq. General McChrystal began questioning whether a rigid structure inhibited their ability to respond quickly to threats and meet mission requirements and objectives.

Modern military management originated with Frederick Winslow Taylor’s work at the 1900 World’s Fair. He believed that there is a right way to do anything, and he built reductionist processes to streamline how production employees work. In these schemes, employees focus only on their role and don’t have to communicate with other employees or ask their managers about the bigger picture.

Taylor’s ideas revolutionized the way people work. His ideas were implemented in soldiers’ lives through rigorous routines, uniforms and equipment, and a lack of communication and involvement with decision-making processes. This excessive compartmentalization between intelligence operators and analysts in Iraq contributed to the failure to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

General McChrystal describes how he built his team of teams, inspired by the Navy SEAL training and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His core principles to create an efficient and effective team were awareness, empowerment, and a common purpose in an unpredictable environment, where hands-on command management styles are rewarded.

The general taught us that an efficient system is not necessarily effective. For example, if the output of a system doesn’t meet the needs of its users or it’s not using available resources effectively, it’s considered inefficient. To make an ineffective system more effective, you can sometimes reduce its efficiency by adding new features that improve performance and usability. To be more effective, we must create the right vision and empower people to make decisions at the front lines. We need to stop the need to run decision-making up the ladder to execute change, maximizing flexibility and agility.

A Bloated Workforce Equals Ineffective!

Many organizations use the wrong measures for determining how to manage human assets. Labor rates, turnover, and other commonly used measures only take you so far. In Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!: 4 Keys to Unlock Your Business Potential, Greg Crabtree and Beverly Harzog introduce the Labor Efficiency Ratio™ (LER). LER is used to determine how well your company manages its human assets.

I like LER because it gets more to the heart of the matter. LER expresses labor as a multiplier, not a fraction. In simple terms, it helps quantify how many dollars in gross profit is returned to you for every dollar you spend on labor. When you begin to learn how to look at LER, you may start calculating how to increase your multiplier instead of looking at labor as a cost of sales. When you look at labor as a cost of sales, you can observe each person in a role, see varying returns, and understand why that return varies. It helps you get comfortable paying one person twice as much as another in the same role—you can see that you receive a more substantial return from one person than the other. LER is also a crucial tool in forecasting and planning scenarios and makes profitability analysis much more straightforward than other methods. LER is the ultimate measure for helping management determine whether they are optimizing labor properly or not.

Commonly, we view high performers as outliers and remove them from our calculations to determine the right Labor Efficiency Ratio™ for a position. My challenge to leaders is to gain an in-depth understanding of why the outliers perform as they do. Usually, these people do not have exceptional talents, do not appear to work harder, and are not smarter than the rest of their team members, but they are doing something different. If you can identify that difference and disseminate it as a best practice, you will increase LER for a function or role.

There are three general categories of labor efficiency: direct labor, sales labor, and management labor. Many leaders make the mistake of trying to use one overall LER calculation, which can be very misleading. One of my clients was trying to use the one-size-fits-all method. After breaking down the calculation into the three categories, they learned that they were overinvested in the management-labor area, masking that they were understaffed in indirect labor to handle growth. Had they not realized this, they would have instituted a hiring freeze and missed a big last-quarter surge in sales. Additionally, we find in the many organizations whose sales teams are not performing that instead of addressing the issue, they start cutting labor costs in areas such as customer service and product quality, unintentionally causing severe problems for those functions.

Are You Playing to Win or Not to Lose?

Emotions were running high in the last quarter of 2008, with the banking debacle, stock market meltdown, the soaring foreclosure rate, job losses, poor earnings reports, and dismal projections. Finally, the government, which had long denied the obvious, admitted that we were experiencing an economic recession.

Nobody wanted to use the word “depression” about the economy, but that’s the word best describing the country’s mood. The result: Businesses and Consumers put on the brakes. Most everyone started operating in a “playing not to lose” mindset. They stopped trying to win and completely went on the defensive. However, an opportunity had just knocked for a small group of well-informed individuals. They took advantage of the inexpensive real estate market, stole market share, acquired quality talent, and bought stocks and other investment products at bargain-basement prices. In the process, they ended up making millions of dollars. It reminds me of that famous Kaizen principle – 

”Chaos, for those that are prepared, bring opportunity.”

Great leaders and strong businesses recognize opportunities and proceed accordingly. Their desire to win is so strong it overcomes their fear of losing. They do it through sheer will and the right balance of a positive attitude. I am hopeful your business does not find itself in the dire situation we experienced in 2008. Still, the absence of dire circumstances doesn’t mean attitude and desire shouldn’t remain like the small group of opportunistic individuals who took advantage of the situation. A “scared to lose” mentality can be costly for your career or business.

The mind does funny things when faced with adversity. Negative events result when people fail to look at their businesses and careers in an informed and critical manner. When you aim to preserve the status quo, it is not unusual to draw ill-advised conclusions. Below are five common bad decisions that are often enabled by a protectionist mindset:

  • Decide not to replace “B” and “C” players with “A” players, using cost as an excuse. This is a silly decision because “A” players can do the work of as many as three average players. “A” players are employees who consistently meet productivity requirements (performance standards) and consistently live your company’s core values. If you hire “A” players, your overall wage costs will be lower as a percentage of revenue because fewer people accomplish better results.
  • Stop advertising. This decision, in some circumstances, results in a threefold increase in the acquisition cost per client in the long run and dramatically reduces the leads that come to the sales force. In other words, you increase your costs and reduce your sales.
  • Fail to do the things that create a positive environment for your people and cut off training. Employees thrive on positive energy; when they lack it, they do not take on extra assignments, do not develop innovative ideas, and are not at the top of their game. In the end, your business suffers.
  • Management accepts external events as an excuse for not meeting targets and stops holding people accountable. Common logic leads us to conclude that most companies own less than 1 percent market share within their target market. Therefore, there is no reason not to grow and achieve targets.
  • Executives become very conservative and averse to any risk in their decisions. This usually means doing what they have always done. Following that logic, if you had a bad year last year, you know what you can expect this year. Also, you miss challenging your people to see the opportunities right in front of them

These practices can be very harmful. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even a month from now. But you will eventually feel their impacts and fall short of your potential.

I challenge you to determine how you allow negative people and your environment to prevent you from maximizing your potential. If everyone was playing to win within your value system every minute of every day, what would or could they be doing differently? What are the top one or two things you could be doing right now to make a difference for your company? Are you spending most of your time focusing on that? If not, can you say you are playing to win? Michael Jordan said, “I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.”  The same could be true for you and your business. You have to play to win. Its value is almost immeasurable. Creating a strong business plan and strategy, and finding the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness will help you maximize Growth and Profits. Maintaining an opportunistic attitude and even remaining open to assessing and taking a risk will help you win and maximize your potential.

Next Steps

Be self-aware and provide yourself with honest answers. Are you efficient but ineffective? Are you playing to win or not lose? Are you using the wrong measures for determining how to manage human assets? More importantly, are you asking the right questions to help your organization reach its full potential?

Most companies have a lot more growth and profit potential staring them right in the face. I have found that most executives are great at solving problems but are bad about asking the right questions. And, when they ask the right questions, they are not good at answering them honestly. This is where outside facilitation can help. They focus you on the right questions by providing the tools and processes to help you make better, more informed decisions, leading to more Growth and Profits. 

If you want help unlocking your potential, don’t hesitate to contact us at activategroupinc.com or 305-722-7216.

Howard M. Shore, Founder and CEO of Activate Group Inc., is a bestselling author and serial entrepreneur. A business coach specializing in liberating leadership teams from the barriers holding them back personally and professionally. 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.

Climbing the Right Mountain

Climb Right Mountain

Like many leaders I can be described as driven, relentless, aggressive, determined, focused, and other common traits of “type A” personalities.  Have you ever considered how these traits may be causing you to be less productive? As an executive coach, I have found many well-intention “Type A” people are actually causing themselves and their organizations to be less productive.  Often, we self-deceive ourselves into believing that we are productive most of the time and downplay the impact when we are not.  The justification is our success track record. We see this success a result of making quick decisions, moving fast, pursuing excellence, and using our drive to move things forward. While these traits are valuable, when overextended it works against us.

Could you unconsciously cause yourself and others to climb the wrong mountains? You are doing it far more often than you realize. Many leaders enjoy and love to solve problems.  When they see them, they want to solve them.  The more problems solved the more accomplished one may feel.  However, what if the problems you solved are the wrong ones? Or worse, they are really speed bumps taking you away from the climbing the right mountains.

I COULD HAVE STOPPED AND DID NOT BECAUSE OF A RELENTLESS PURSUIT TO RIGHT A WRONG.

I was inspired to write this article after a recent experience where I ruined a Saturday. This all happened because I felt compelled to fix a wrong. On the surface, it seemed like the right thing to do. However, my relentless pursuit to right a wrong led to an odyssey that I could have stopped at any time and did not.

I had purchased some headphones (an Apple product) from Verizon. They were shipped to me because a lack of inventory.  When they arrived one of the headphones had a button that was stuck. While they worked well-enough, it bothered me that one of the earpieces was damaged. I could not use the button to accept calls, pause and start music, and so on.  I felt entitled to have a product that worked properly and was perturbed that $200+ headphones did not work as they should.

Long story short, I spent 5 hours in-store and on the phone trying to get Apple to repair or replace the headphones.  After all of this effort, they agreed to repair them. In the end, they were returned to me still broken and with out the earpieces that accompanied them.  Yes, the situation was now worse. I submit!

The real issue was me! Once I had momentum to fix my perceived situation, there was no stopping me.  After all, I take pride in making things happen. If I was not so focused and determined I should have aborted? Yes, I received damaged goods.  But they worked fine…just not perfect.  And, in my defense, if you told me in advance, I could get them fixed but it would take 5 hours of my time, I would never have left well enough alone. $200 is not a big deal for me and I could have easily tossed them without a sweat. After all, I have tons of headphones sitting in a drawer because I disliked them for one reason or another. The real issue was me. In the end my time was more valuable then righting this wrong.

IT IS FAIR TO ASSUME THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON WASTES AT LEAST 20% OF THEIR TIME EVERY WEEK CLIMBING THE WRONG MOUNTAINS OR TAKING THE WRONG PATHS.

You are probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with you as a leader and how does this affect your organization.  The fact is, all day long we have people doing the equivalent. They spend time on $200 headphones when there are much better uses of their time.  Worse, when they start down the path of solving a very important issue and don’t pull back when it is obvious they are headed down the wrong path. It is fair to assume that the average person wastes at least 20% of their time every week climbing the wrong mountains or taking the wrong paths. We need a process to see when we need to consider aborting.  Most “Type A” people miss these moments and take others with them.

USE THE SYMPTOMS TO FIND THE MOUNTAIN!

In Your Business is A Leaky Bucket, I opened with a story about a client who was nine months away from the end of an earn-out period from the sale of their company. They had a lot of money at stake and were not sure how they were going to maximize their return.

They brought me in to help figure-out how to close the gap.  After meeting with their executive team, there were a few factors that were apparent:

 – The existing team seemed overworked.

 – It appeared that had to fill too many open positions and did not believe they could fill them in time to take advantage of the earn-out period.

 – They were afraid if they pushed people any harder more people will quit required them to fill more positions.

 – Most importantly, their sales team was spending far too much time working on administrative issues rather than selling.

So which issue do you address: recruiting, retention, workload, or sales team productivity? Most leaders would say we have to address all of them.  They would push everyone to work on the symptoms.  The symptoms would have been the wrong focus.

We found the mountain, that when solved, would make the other mountains go away.  The mountain was “waste.” They had 175 employees, most of which were the right people in the right seats.  When I asked, “was it possible that, on average, everyone wasted 10 percent of their time doing things that did not help them add customers, serve existing customers, or improve the profitability of the organization?”  I got a hearty laugh from everyone in the room.  Everyone believed they spent over 20% of their time in unproductive meetings, developing unnecessary reports, creating redundant procedures, and so on.  In the end, it was agreed that a 10% organization-wide waste goal was conservative. To put this into perspective that represent approximately forty-five thousand hours of work.  The equivalent of 21 people.

Without going into a lot of detail we climbed the forty-five-thousand-hour mountain. They engaged every employee in the company to help identify the waste. They challenged everyone to double the amount of time salespeople spent selling without adding any employees.

It was a big success! The employees submitted far more than 45,000 hours worth of suggestions, many of which were addressed in 60 days.  The result:

 – Record growth rate – sales people far more productive

 – Record net profit margins – Driven by higher growth and eliminating the need for headcount.

 – Record employee engagement scores – Aligning and enrolling all employees to eliminate workload lead to employee engagement scores that have never been replicated.

 – Everyone was working similar hours and felt less burnout.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK… ARE YOU AND YOUR ORGANIZATION CLIMBING THE RIGHT MOUNTAIN?

Can you be guilty of chasing too many issues rather than fixing the one big one?  One way to know is to look at the list of company priorities.  If there are more than 3 it is likely that you are not focusing and failing to properly prioritize.  Look at the usual symptoms: 

 – Difficulty filling positions

 – Higher turnover

 – Failure to grow faster than the market

 – Net profit margins are not in the top 10% for your industry peer group.

 – Time is controlling you

 

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. 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.

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.

Seven Techniques to Winning The War on Talent

employee team meeting

I am impressed by the number of companies that are experiencing revenue records. And, surprised that in a large majority of cases, business should have been much stronger. Almost all of our clients have had to walk away from business or defer revenue. The primary reason has been related to people. While supply chain challenges have been a significant factor for some, two-thirds of the issue revolves around people. The number one challenge has been having had the wrong people or finding enough of the right people.

While many leaders have pity parties, others have taken a different approach. The truth is that your people’s issues are internally rather than externally driven. Yes, there are more job openings than people actively looking. Yes, many of the people who are applying are less than ideal. However, when was the last time you did not have this same problem! While many companies struggle to fill a few positions, others add hundreds of employees per month.

One client I work with had about 60 Employees in December and is now approaching 200 employees seven months later. They are on track to hire over 50 employees this quarter. They accomplished this while many other companies in their same industry are experiencing difficulty recruiting far fewer employees. There is a clear difference in how my client has approached winning the war on talent. They chose to follow the steps of other companies that were having success and not falling into the trap of listening to others that were not.

If hiring the right people is negatively affecting your business, I recommend you keep reading…

Before I get deep into how, I want to clarify that you probably need to raise rather than lower your standards. I am finding that a primary reason for your company is that you have been building a team with misfits, half-fits, people that lack hunger, and others that may be productive and a nightmare for everyone else to work with. This significantly deters the right people from applying or accepting your offers. Remember the saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” Be careful not to build the wrong flock.

When you accept lower standards, you create significant issues. And while you may try to persuade me that it is better to hire poor talent than none at all, I will respectfully disagree. Hiring success requires that you hire someone who consistently demonstrates all your core values and produces reasonably high productivity standards over one year. Those standards typically rise over the year. Anything less is a miss-hire. When you miss-hire, here are examples of the cost:

    • Let’s assume that lower hiring standards cause hiring success to be 25% (the national average). To correctly fill ten positions, it will take 31 hires before you have to fill them with the right people. Consider how much extra burden (recruiting, productivity, management time, training, and so on) it places on your organization.
    • Wrong people suck the life out of your best people. They infect the right people.
    • Wrong people cause lost business.
    • Wrong people damage your company’s reputation.
    • Wrong people cause right people to quit or not join your company.

I am sure you are reading this and thinking, “theoretically, you can’t disagree, but what do you do when you need people, and the right ones are not presenting themselves. I have identified seven techniques companies are using right now to win the war on talent.

Allocate Proper Resources

If I looked at how much organizational time and resources go into finding more of the right people, I will bet that you would receive a failing grade. You should be willing to work as hard (if not harder) to find people as you do to get customers, service customers, and create products and services. With the right people, it becomes easier to get and keep a customer. Product quality and service levels go up. To be a top-performing company, you must build a talent acquisition model that is the standard for your industry.

In every case where a company has a recruiting problem, I find a resource problem. For every eight people to be hired in a month, you need at least one full-time professional recruiter. Recruiting is not placing advertising on job sites. That is marketing, not recruiting. Recruiting is reaching to and communicating with candidates. Recruiting is a specialty role that requires the right type of person, knowledge, and skills. Just because someone works in Human Resources (HR) and has a professional designation does not make them a recruiter. Many HR people hate recruiting, suck at recruiting, and want to be doing something else. If you need a recruiter, hire a recruiter. Another common issue is delegating recruiting to administrative staff. This is the equivalent of putting a rookie in a position that requires a veteran. This is a war and you need the right weapons and strategies to win it.

The client I mentioned above has six full-time recruiters who all make six figures. What do your recruiters make? My client’s minimum standard for recruiter productivity is 100 applicants per filled position and two people hired per week. Essentially 1 in 100 candidates is employed by my client. They make every candidate complete three assessments, undergo several rigorous interviews, and have some of the highest standards of all companies I have ever worked with.

Engage Everyone

Every person in your company should be engaged in recruiting! When you are proud of your company, why wouldn’t you? Asking people for referrals and engaging them in a process is different. Engaged means it is important to them. Ask an overworked person how you can help, and they will tell you to hire more people. Yet, they know and interact with lots of people all the time. “And birds of a feather flock together.” They need to be part of the solution. If you want more people like you have, teach them how to help fill the company with great people.

Do you have a process to engage employees? Have you provided them with the knowledge, tools, and resources to help bring in candidates? Do you have a financial incentive that is worth their time? Does everyone know what positions you are trying to fill? Do they know what to look for? Have you made the process easy for them to help? If not, you are missing huge opportunities. The right approach leads to better candidates, more candidates, and often your best employees. If you are not receiving a significant number of candidate referrals from employees, they either hate working there, or you have a bad process.

Segment the Market

Similar to identifying customer segments, you need to identify employee recruitment segments. Everyone is not an ideal candidate for your position. One of our clients hires a lot of salespeople. They figured out that many of their best employees came from the car industry. These employees were well trained, well-screened, and could make far more than if they sold cars. As a result, most of their recruitment efforts target people who work for or worked for car dealerships.

Another client needs people in construction-related work and realizes that they have high success with former military people. So all of their efforts for certain positions are focused on getting access to people that are in the process of transition from military to civilian life.

Reduce No Shows

A problem that has always existed is people who applied for positions and never showed up for their interviews. With government stimulus packages to help unemployed workers, it seems to have exasperated this issue. Whether or not that is true, you need a process that discourages these people from wasting your time. We have found that requiring applicants to complete assessments before they are considered for positions weeds out the not serious people. That, combined with a quick phone screen, can help you minimize the effects of no-shows.

Increase Process Speed

Another common I see, which often is the consequence of the resource issue I mentioned above. Does it take too long to complete your hiring process? How long from when someone submits a resume to when they can get to “yes” or “no.” If it takes more than four weeks to complete your cycle from resume to offer made, you are going to lose great candidates. The lower the level, the faster your process should be. If it is a front-line position, set your goal to a two-week cycle time. They have lots of options, this is where the biggest shortages are, and the early bird gets the worm. The longer it takes to complete the process, the less interested someone will be to work for you. Customers require speed and employees are your most important customer.

Raise Pay

For any of you that have read my book, Your Business is a Leaky Bucket, you will not be surprised to find this suggestion. There are many case studies where companies paid far higher compensation than their competition and had higher net profit statistics. This happens when you are more proficient in hiring the right people. Great people do three times the work of the average worker. Finding the best people and compensating them leads to more ideal candidates and higher retention. Don’t look at compensation, monitor return on the payroll. The later is where the secret to success lies.

Leverage Virtualization

If you are one of those people that believe that people have to work in your office to be productive, you are missing a great opportunity. While I know you likely have positions that require people to be in your office, there are many situations where that is not true. By being willing to allow people to work anywhere, you increase your pool of potential candidates. When we were hiring an executive assistant, we picked markets where we thought more high-quality candidates would be. This not only increased our candidate pool, but we also found that we were getting far better candidates in other markets. In the end, we hit a home run with the person we hired. Virtualization is here to stay and can be a key weapon in the war on talent.

Conclusion

If you can’t fill positions fast enough, have too many underperformers, it is an internal problem, not external. Put the best talent at your biggest problem. And engage all employees to be part of the solution.

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 the other activate group business coaches please call (305) 722-7213.

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.

Avoid Horrible Meetings

A client asked me to observe his weekly leadership team meeting and it was one of the worst meetings I had attended in a long time. Every leader in the room should have been upset because they essentially wasted 90 minutes. More concerning was the fact that leadership rated it a great meeting.

Might you and your leaders unconsciously fall into the same traps as my client? After all, the agenda and process for the meeting is common practice and is prescribed by EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) Implementers all around the world. The problem was not the process or EOS, it was the way it was being implemented. Let’s dissect what happened and then discuss what should happen in every weekly meeting.

Form Over Substance

The overriding problem was form over substance. The team followed a proven process and yielded the wrong outcomes. The meeting involved a standard agenda, covered the topics, engaged everyone, started on time, and finished on time. From a theoretical standpoint it appeared to be a well-run meeting. And my client rated it so!

Here are the primary reasons I would rate the meeting horrible:
1. Clarity of Purpose
2. Undervaluing time
3. Little (if any) conflict
4. Lack of accountability
5. Failed to address serious problems

Clarity of Purpose

Are your meetings more focused on purpose or process? Purpose focuses on intended outcomes and process focuses agendas, start and end time, checking the boxes, and having the meeting in the first place. The problem with process is that you can follow it flawlessly and not accomplish your purpose. The challenge with standard operating procedures is the presumption that conditions don’t change. When it comes to leadership meetings, we are always operating in turbulent conditions, so we need to have flexible standard operating procedures that adjust the process to accomplish our purpose.

The purpose of the weekly leadership meeting is to:
• Share key information across the team
• Break silos
• Keep focus on the top priorities
• Hold people accountable when they are off track
• Solve big issue(s) together

Agendas are typically designed to identify the key information that needs to be shared. Personal update, business update, customer feedback, employee feedback, priority status, to-do status, metrics update, and key company and department challenges. After providing this information the team identifies topics, prioritize, and discuss key topics, and agree on solutions. This is precisely what my client did. So, you are probably thinking, this sounds like they should have had a great meeting. What’s the problem?

Information was shared and after 45 minutes none of the key issues in the company were raised. Yes, they identified issues, but it was all small issues. This company had major issues and none of them were brought to the table. When issues were addressed, half the room would check out when it was not their issue. Leaders had opinions and observations that should be raised, and they did not. Worse, most of the issues discussed was a quick conversation between two people that should have happened and could have been resolved before the meeting. These people are all in the same building, are steps away from each other and clearly have not been talking.

Had this meeting addressed its purpose, the leadership team would have spent a lot of time discussing their number 1 issue, people. Certain vacant positions were causing the company to miss opportunities. Keeping the wrong people was costing them money. And, there was no confidence in how this would be resolved. Every leader has a hand in this obstacle and failure to address was costing this company over $1 Million in profit. This discussion should happen every week until results prove that the plan is in place that is showing the progress necessary to capture the $1 Million.

Key Observation: Focus on making major improvement to your business every week. Leadership meetings should limit the small stuff.

Undervaluing Time

If your week is like most leaders, time is always an issue. Time is finite and if we don’t use it wisely the company and performance suffers. When we have meetings, we are investing time just like we would money. When you allow for a bad meeting, one that fails to speed up taking advantage of big opportunities and eliminating your bottlenecks, it is costing you dearly. In the case of the people issue (identified above), it is costing the company $20K in profit each week.

Have you ever wondered why time is being squandered? I have given this significant thought and find two reasons to be the main culprit. First, we tend to avoid the elephants in the room. The elephants are the big problems. To resolve them is difficult, it can take considerable thought, requires conflict, and takes significant steps and time to address. As a result, we go after the small stuff. Second, it feels good to check items off the task list. As problem solvers by nature, we feel good when we solve a volume of problems. However, most of the problems would go away or be different if you addressed the elephants.

In the client example, it was considered important to finish and end on time. Because this occurred, the meeting was rated well. Based on the content and discussion, this meeting should have been completed in 60, not 90 minutes. Most weekly meetings, when focused, can be completed in 30 minutes. In my client’s case, the extra time was caused by taking 45 minutes for ideation and updates. Not only did they spend time focusing on minor issues, but they also spent too much doing it. I plan 60-minute meetings with a 30-minute buffer. While I expect to get done in 60 minutes, there are times when the issue is big and important. It is crucial that you finished discussing and prescribing a solution before leaving the meeting. Failure to do so adds a week delay in addressing important issues. In addition, it causes more time to solve the same problem because you lose momentum in the discussion.

Key Observation – Get better at increasing the value from holding meetings and have the discipline to get done in shorter periods of time. Reward the team with unscheduled time when this happens, and they will go back and get more ROI from their time. A key measure of a successful meeting is identifying and measuring the value of the decisions and actions from the meeting.

Break Silos and Encourage Conflict

I have participated in thousands of meetings. The difference between great and ordinary leadership team meetings is how leaders engage in meetings. In great meetings, everyone in the room is playing to win and there are no sacred cows. Everyone demands excellence, want to contribute value, and cannot stand for bulls#@t. If you get through a meeting and there is little conflict, your meeting suffered one of the following:

1. You are discussing insignificant items.
2. There is a lack of trust

Healthy conflict needs to be mandatory. If you are discussing a difficult issue, there should be varying opinions as to the definition of the issue, multiple ways to solve the problem, and rarely consensus on actions to take. It takes vigorous debate, challenging each other’s assumptions, questions about sources of information, and so on. While I am certain there are moments where this happens in your meetings, how often? What percentage of your meeting involves conflict?

In my experience, a lack of conflict occurs because of the highest-ranking person in the room. For conflict to happen, this person must be more curious, and listening rather than talking too much. After all, they already know their opinion. The job is to access everyone else’s brains. It is important to understand everyone’s perspective on a subject. Even when it is not in their area of expertise. Some of the best ideas and perspectives come from those people that seem the least qualified to contribute. In every meeting everyone should expect to share and contribute ideas. They should truly be part of the decisions. Our job in meetings is to co-create.

We also need to be vigilant about three types of circumstances:

1. Politics
2. Low Contributors
3. Negative Influencers

You can identify politics when people are not speaking their mind. Their body language, tone and past discussions on a subject indicate whether they are speaking up. When people are saying what others want to hear or staying quiet because they are avoiding going against the grain, this is politics.

Key Observation: By making people speak up you help them grow as leaders. You get more and better ideas and break siloed thinking. We want to not only hear everyone, but we also want to understand why they have come to their conclusions.

Lack of Accountability

We must hold the team accountable for achieving company and department priorities and goals. While this is obvious, it is not happening in most organizations and execution suffers. While my client presented the status of priorities and goals, it was a farce, and no one spoke up but me.

First, when leaders presented their metrics, almost everyone one of them was red. Red should be an indicator of poor performance. In an accountable organization when this goes on for too long someone should be fired. When I saw how many metrics were red, I asked “how long they had been red.” The team answered “forever.” Essentially their targets were not real expectations and did not represent reasonable expectations. Targets for the week, month, and quarter for every metrics must represent present conditions. Failure to adjust them accordingly leads to an environment where it becomes impossible to be accountable.

Secondly, this team recently set new priorities and had concluded that the old priorities were too shallow and would not drive needed results. Instead of updating their scorecards they reported on old priorities. Worse, since there were no clear milestones and due date for action steps it was impossible to know whether leaders were on track to complete their priorities. Thus, the priority status update was bogus.

Key Observation: When metrics and priorities are not properly developed it is impossible to hold someone accountable until it is too late.

In conclusion, by having meetings that achieve their purpose, you will be able to grow your organization faster and with less effort. You must properly use time when you hold weekly leadership team meetings. Time is best used solving “big” rather than small issues. Your company would be better off solving one big issue rather than lots of small ones. The big issues relate to quarterly priorities and show up when metrics are below meeting a reasonably high standard. You know that you have hit gold, when you are having constructive conflict and rigorous debate. 

If you need further help, then head over to our business coaching page for more information.

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.

Lack of Accountability is an Epidemic

Have you ever been frustrated because a colleague had failed to follow through on a critical priority? You are not alone. I have concluded that lack of accountability is an epidemic in most organizations. The good news, this is solvable.

I recently had a C.E.O., Rocky (not his real name), tell me that he felt his team wasn’t following through on the key priorities. Worse, they agreed to them! Rocky felt that maybe his team thought that what they chose to work on was more important than the agreed-to strategic initiatives. I found this puzzling and needed more context to diagnose and develop an action plan. After all, I knew his team members. All possessed high integrity and the required intelligence, and all worked hard. I doubted that any of them were willfully sabotaging the company, mainly since this was a group issue.

So, I asked if I could sit in on their next weekly meeting as an observer. What I found was eye-opening!

Rocky led the meeting with his entire team present, and they all actively participated. After the meeting concluded, I debriefed his whole team. I complimented them on their high energy and congeniality and asked if this was a typical meeting. They said it was. So, I pointed out that even though they all effectively worked together to solve a business problem, there was one key item missing from their meeting, and probably from their others, as well. All heads turned to me.

Now that I had their attention, I explained that not once did they discuss their key quarterly priorities and the corresponding key measures developed to provide headlights. In other words, Rocky wasn’t holding his team accountable for focusing on achieving their strategic initiatives. And, by extension, if Rocky wasn’t holding them accountable, I asked if maybe they thought that where they chose to begin wasn’t that critical? I saw a couple of heads nod. However, the most common response was that they didn’t fully grasp what they were supposed to do.

My colleagues and I at Activate Group, Inc. have been exposed to thousands of leaders spanning most industries in businesses ranging from start-ups to billions in revenue. We have learned that a lack of accountability typically stems from a lack of clarity. After all, it is hard to commit to something if you don’t fully understand it; and, if you’re not committed, you can’t subscribe to the need to see it through.

In his excellent book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni talks about how, for a team to get the desired results, it first needs to work its way up through four other levels. It starts with trust. This is the foundation required from which they can effectively engage. Next, a strong team will engage in constructive conflict and dialog to allow everyone to be heard, gain clarity, and consider more alternatives. After everyone is heard, it is crucial that you ask for and gain commitment from all stakeholders. It is at this point that engenders the necessity of accountability to drive results. When you skip any or all of the first three steps, you tend to lose clarity and commitment.

In my client’s case, it turned out they didn’t spend enough time engaging in constructive conflict. While they had developed a solid foundation of trust over the years, they didn’t spend enough time in having that constructive dialog so that everyone clearly understood the initiatives and could commit to supporting them as priorities.

The other mistake I found—and find often—is a lack of a clear accountability system. Within this system must be clear on who is accountable to make sure a particular thing gets done, what must get done, and when. In many cases, that assignment is left ambiguous, and, as a result, no one feels accountable.

I helped my client implement several steps that you can implement in your organization:

1- Leave plenty of time on the agenda to make sure that everyone was clear on the priorities.

2- Ensure that the priorities are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound—the useful acronym S.M.A.R.T.

3- Limit the number of priorities assigned to each executive to make sure you spend enough time in a constructive discussion (Specific, Measurable, and Relevant) and that they aren’t stretched to the point that they might drop some balls (Attainable) during the upcoming fiscal quarter (Time-bound).

4- Assign accountability to only one person. Others can help, so they can delegate responsibility for any number of tasks, but only one executive would be held accountable.

5- Create an Accountability Dashboard so that anyone could review it and understand the status of each priority. The Dashboard has to be updated before each meeting.

6-  Change meeting agendas so that time is allocated to priorities and key measures first, and other topics are addressed as time permits. The Dashboard now becomes a tool to be reviewed.

7-  Create a powerful meeting tempo for each week to allow the team to stay current with all key aspects of the business and get help with their stuck priorities.

The above changes have become ingrained in the company, and the level of team engagement has far exceeded Rocky’s expectations. As a result, by driving clarity and, thus, accountability, the company has managed to grow during the three most recent quarters, all during the pandemic! They grew sales by 20% and increased their profitability by almost 30%!

Want to Learn More about Accountability?

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