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 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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

How Do You Keep Your Business Rocketing?

Is your business taking you on the ride of your business life? Feel like an astronaut during liftoff? Maybe, unlike so many businesses in 2020, your business is soaring to new heights. The critical question now is—how do you keep it soaring?

In recent weeks, we’ve been discussing five different business phases we call the “5Rs”: Regressing, Rebuilding, Restarting, Resuming, and Rocketing. Today, we’d like to discuss the phase we all want to be—and stay—in: Rocketing!

Rocketing is a whole different beast. When you’re rocketing, you are very well-positioned for what’s going on in the market today. You are offering what the market needs from a supply and demand standpoint. And with what you’re offering and your value proposition, you’re rocketing for a reason.

It’s essential you understand your reason for rocketing—typically, rocketing opportunities have a window—and build upon it so that you can extend the runway. Don’t take your foot off the gas because you’ll slow down. Others will catch up and grab market share from you—the share that you’re capable of—so you have to take full advantage of what you brought to the market.

Let’s take a look at a few key areas to evaluate and adjust to keep your growth rocketing.


Your cash system is critical, so this is the first area to evaluate. We know that growth sucks cash. Do you all have all the cash you need so you can make the right decisions, build up the team fast enough, and take full advantage of the market?

If you don’t, you need to ask how much cash it will take to keep rocketing? Where are you going to get it? How are you going to do it? Do you need to raise money? Or perhaps, this is a time you might even consider going public. Consider your options wisely.

Attracting “A” Players

If you’re rocketing, chances are you’re hiring at rates that many companies have never experienced in their lifetime. You may also find that your systems and processes—even the team you had in place pre-rocketing—are not what you need. Now’s the time you want to attract those whom we refer to as the “A” Players in the market. After all, if you’re rocketing, you should be the game everybody wants to play, right?

So, are you taking advantage of being a rocket to gather the best talent in the market? And then, do you have the best onboarding processes? After all, you need to get them performing as quickly and as effectively as possible.

The next question is, what are you doing to grow, develop, and nurture that talent to keep them as long as possible? How do you help them excel as your needs grow? It creates opportunities for many of these people, so you need to have the processes and systems in place to be able to move bodies around and create a more enriched job experience for them. It will also allow you to tap into the creative genius of the new employees you’re adding.

Highly-Effective Teams

As you bring on new talent, it’s especially important to look at your team structure. As you move forward, there will be more teams working together cross-departmentally and cross-functionally, so you need to examine how well they function. It’s vital to break your teams down. Smaller—and flatter—is better. The key here is to start from the front lines and move up.

Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini have written an interesting book, Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them, that discusses some great stories about companies that have built their organizations with very flat structures. And they’ve built their organizations to put more decision-making at the front lines rather than create a cookie-cutter formula and try to roll that out across the organization.

So many “traditional” companies are not taking advantage of their talent. And because they view employees in the wrong way, believing that only a few people can make all the strategic decisions and can design the processes, they’re leaving tremendous value and growth potential on the table. And then they throw too many bodies at the leadership and management level, and those leaders and managers self-perpetuate work that does not contribute to the value of your end customer. All this does is destroy your cash and slow down your velocity. It would be best to learn how to serve a market better, faster, better, and differently from your competition.

One final point here: having leaner cost structures to build your company gives you a chance to pay your existing employees more because you’re positioning them where they’re adding more value. So it’s a win-win for your employees and your organization, and it gives you that advantage over the competition.

Other Essential Points to Consider

We believe the key to great results is found in asking the right questions. So here are a few other questions you should be asking as you are rocketing.

  • What are the things that are going to help you to be more scalable? How easily can these things be implemented?
  • Is this a good time for an acquisition? Can you take advantage of what you have to share while you’re moving quickly? Are there key capabilities that are holding you back that, through an acquisition, could increase the speed of your rocket? Is acquisition the most cost-effective and fastest way to increase your market share?
  • What’s the easiest way for us to keep growing at this rate? (You have to keep asking this question.)
  • What training do you need to put in place to bring new employees up to speed and keep existing ones performing and producing at the top of their game?
  • Do you have the fewest number of right priorities, and then also have the meeting rhythms and metrics to tell you that those priorities are coming to fruition?
  • What are the complexities that you now have the luxury of resolving since cash coming in can now be directed to underinvested areas?
  • Do you have a dashboard to help you see as you’re ramping up this company? Are the dials improving, shrinking, or staying the same? What are the dials telling you?

Will Your Rocket Run Out of Fuel?

As mentioned earlier, rocketing opportunities typically have a window. Rocketing companies need to be careful of assuming that rocketing growth is the new norm. So you need to ask yourself what the risks are to this growth stopping? What’s happening regarding the competition in the market, and what’s happening regarding technology? After all, if you’re not staying on top of these areas, you could eventually crash and burn.

To learn more about how to take your business to the next level, order Wall Street Journal bestseller, The Leader Launchpad, written by Activate Group’s founder and CEO, Howard M. Shore, here.

One of the best-known examples of a rocketing company that lost it all is Blockbuster. They rocketed up and then ignored the fact that people moved toward digital downloads, thus allowing Netflix to carve into their space and eventually cut them out.

So strategy is still very important in keeping a close eye on the market, your position in it, and how to continue positioning yourself in ways that separate you from everybody else. Always be asking, “What’s next?” so you can continue the rocket growth.

We know there are numerous questions to ask. If you’re not sure you’re asking the right questions, we’d be delighted to have a conversation with you to see if you’re covering all the bases to keep your rocket soaring into orbit. Sign up for a FREE 30-MINUTE NO OBLIGATION CONSULTATION. We’ll talk, ask more questions, and you’ll gain value from our time. You want to keep rocketing this year, and we want to help you do it.

Getting Back on Track after a Business Hiccup

What did 2020 look like for your business? More so, how do you think it’s looking for 2021? Do you feel like your business is stagnant, not growing the way it needs to—basically regressing? Or perhaps an external event, like what we’ve seen resulting from the pandemic, has forced you to rebuild your business? Maybe you experienced a blow, like a tornado or fire, that has caused you to restart your business completely? These are three of the five business phases I refer to as the 5Rs. I’ve been discussing each one over the past few weeks. Today, I’d like to examine the fourth phase: Resuming.

Has your business recently experienced a hiccup—a temporary closure due to a factor outside of your control, like a hurricane—but you’re now back up and running near or at the same level of growth you were experiencing before the event? The chances are good that you are in the Resuming phase. Just like the Rebuilding and Restarting phases, your business found itself here because of an external event. What separates you from businesses in one of those two phases is that you had the cash to survive your downtime.

If you’re resuming, but your growth before the event was flat, then you are likely not in the Resuming phase, but instead in the Regressing phase. It’s essential to know the difference because strategies to get your business where you want it to be are different.

Something we firmly believe is that you have to ask the right questions to move forward. Today, we’d like to share a few key questions to ask yourself if your business is in the Resuming phase.

Do You Have a Business Resiliency Plan?

Having a business resiliency plan will allow you to resume your business faster. It will also allow your hiccup to be less than your competitors’. If you don’t have a business resiliency plan, we recommend that this be the first thing you do. It will allow you to get your staff up and working faster, whether in person or virtually, and you’ll be better set up to do that.

Even if you had a resiliency plan, now—right after the event is over—is the best time to think about what this plan needs to look like for the future. Everything is most fresh right after you’ve gone through the storms, so to speak, so be sure to go back and review it. What did you learn? Contemplate how you would start back better, faster, cheaper, and be sure to document it. There is no better time than right after you have experienced an event to do this.

Are You in a Better Position than Your Competition?

Closely examine your situation to see where you might hold an advantage over your competitors. For example, do you have more cash on your balance sheet than the average business in your industry? Do you have any strategic advantages over everybody else that you need to take advantage of? These are things that will allow you to resume faster than others.

To learn more about how to take your business to the next level, order my Wall Street Journal bestseller, The Leader Launchpad, here.

Key questions you want to consider here include:

  • Is there a way in which we can steal share right now?
  • Can we steal share by acquiring somebody else that was weakened and crippled that doesn’t have the cash?
  • Can we acquire capabilities, like technology, because the cost to acquire has just dropped and is less than it would otherwise be?

Is Now the Time to Recruit A-Players?

One of the best times to recruit, especially for A-Players, is when you’re resuming after an event. If you’re upgrading your technologies, why not also consider upgrading your human capital.

And don’t think your recruiting is just recruiting from your competitors. You’re looking for people with different skill sets, talents, abilities, and behaviors that fit your organization. And many times, those skills are transferable. And with the right training, you may be able to steal talent from other industries hidden differently by what’s going on and causing the uproar in the market.

So, the Resuming phase presents an excellent opportunity to recruit talent.

Are You Set Up to Achieve Exceptional Growth Rates?

Now is when you want to make sure you have the right strategies in place so you can do more than resume.

  • Do you have the right strategies to grow at the exceptional growth rates that you want to achieve?
  • Do you have clear accountability systems in place?
  • Are you looking at the right metrics?
  • Do you have the right strategies for building culture?
  • Is your team operating as effectively as it should?
  • Are you doing a better-than-adequate job of choosing priorities so that you’re building now and thinking about the next three years?
  • How do you make your highly achievable but aggressive goals come to fruition over the next three years?

How Do You Get to the Next Phase?

So, when you’re in the Resuming phase, you need to get back to where you left off in your business and build your capabilities and differentiators in your model that can cause you to rocket ahead of your competition. Rocketing—that’s the fifth phase we’ll discuss next week—is what you need to start considering. Two final questions to ask yourself: 1) How do I become a rocket in my market; 2) What needs to be put in place for me to do that?

If you feel that you’re in the Resuming phase and need that extra guidance to keep growing at an exceptional pace, I encourage you to join one of our experts for a FREE 30-MINUTE NO OBLIGATION CONSULTATION where we will ask you more in-depth questions and quickly pinpoint actions you can take to get your business on the path of exponential growth, profitability, and increasingly greater cash flow.

Restarting – It’s Day 1 All Over Again

For most business owners, 2020 was a year filled with the unexpected. Perhaps you’re one of the fortunate businesses whose products were in great demand last year and which continue to be in great demand this year. Or maybe you were able to quickly pivot and adjust to new market requirements, which may have saved your business. If you were fortunate, you had sufficient cash reserves built up to get through any downswings in your business.

Unfortunately, there are many businesses who, for various reasons, find themselves having to restart. Restarting is one of the business phases of the “5 Rs” that I’ve discussed over the past few weeks.

Businesses in the Restarting phase are experiencing “Day 1” all over again.

Reasons You Have to Restart

Typically, a business finds itself in the Restarting phase because of an external factor. In this phase, a company isn’t here because it was operating inefficiently or wasn’t keeping up with changes in the market. Many have great products and a valid business model. But something outside of its four walls has knocked it out.

Has this happened to you?

These knock-out events are outside of your control. Perhaps your business was destroyed by a tornado, hurricane, or fire. Maybe you had to shut down entirely during last year’s lockdown.

The fact of the matter is, one day, you had a thriving business, and the next, you didn’t. Now you have to move quickly—and wisely—to get your business back up and running. But what’s the best way to do that?

Critical Steps When Restarting

The way you get through the Restarting phase, to some degree, will depend on what caused you to be in this position. If you’re restarting because your location was flooded in a hurricane, you’ll take different steps than if you had to close down during the lockdown. Was the event a one-time event (like a natural catastrophe), or is it on-going?

Regardless of the cause, the first thing you have to ask is, how do you get started again and open up your doors safely and be able to do it as quickly as possible? And so now you’re in triage mode, and having a strong cash position is very important.

So the first thing you want to do is take an assessment of where your cash is. Do a forecast of where your cash needs to be for you to come out on the other side. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What can you take advantage of to strengthen your balance sheet and your cash position so that you can confidently make the right decisions to get restarted in the right way?
  • Do you need to get loans?
  • Do you have to get government help?
To learn more about how to take your business to the next level, order my Wall Street Journal bestseller, The Leader Launchpad, here.

You also want to make sure you’re positioned correctly. If your knock-out event was a one-time event, like your building was destroyed in a fire or tornado, then you are very quickly trying to figure out where you can do business in the interim until your new facility has been rebuilt. If it was a more extended event—like the lockdown—are others in your industry also experiencing this same need to restart? If so, then there’s now it’s a battle to fight for market share and to get back quickly.

The Silver Lining

When you’re in the Restarting phase, you have an excellent opportunity to redefine your “why,” to redefine what you want your new business to look like. Just like in the Rebuilding phase, this is a great time to ask yourself if you really want to build back and be the same company you were yesterday, or do you want to take this opportunity to get a clean start?

You now have wisdom, knowledge, and experience that you didn’t have when you started your business the first time. Think structurally—could your business operate better with fewer layers and less complexity? Think operationally—is there a better way to do what you do? Maybe with upgraded equipment, you can produce a better product, more quickly and more efficiently. Just think fast if you’re in that position of having to battle for market share. Your competitors are restarting as well. Restart smarter!

If you’re in this Restarting phase, we know that all you can think about right now is how to get started up again in the right way and position it so that it has the least amount of cash drain as possible. Carefully consider the questions we’ve presented here and get started. You’ll get back into the Rebuilding phase and be a healthier company for it.

For tips and insight into restarting, rebuilding, and then rocketing your business, we invite you to grab a copy of The Leader Launchpad, the latest Wall Street Journal bestselling book written by Activate Group’s CEO, Howard M. Shore. Over 30 years of hands-on experience was poured into this book, and it will help you get your business back where you want it to be.

Be sure to come back next time as we continue on our journey through the 5Rs and discuss the Resuming phase.

How Do You Stop Your Business from Its Slide Down the Slippery Slope of Regression?

Do you feel like your business has lost momentum or is in a slide that you can’t stop? Not sure what to do? Chances are, your business is in the phase we refer to as Regressing. Last week, we shared the five phases we believe companies find themselves in—what we refer to as the 5 Rs: Regressing, Rebuilding, Restarting, Resuming, and Rocketing. Today, I’d like to talk more about Regressing.


Regressing, verb, movement backward to a previous and especially worse or more primitive state or condition.


This is not a particularly healthy place for a company to be, yet many businesses find themselves here. The question is, how do you stop sliding down the mountain and get your business back on track?

It would be natural to think that market conditions—especially like some industries experienced in 2020—would cause regression. Yet, it’s our experience that regression is caused more by a failure to recognize changes in the market. In fact, many of the clients we’re working with now, who find themselves regressing, were regressing before the 2020 recession began.

If you’re regressing, it means that the business model and strategy you’ve been using for your market just is not working. So far, in nearly every regressing company we’ve talked to was regressing before this recession. Their growth rates had not been in the 20% to 25% growth range for quite some time. And as for their expectations for growth, well, they had become accustomed to slow or no growth.

For example, one of the clients we’re working with is in the restoration industry, and they have not made money for the last three years. So even though the economy was booming, they were not. And even though there was plenty of business to be had in their market, they were not getting their unfair share of the market. What we discovered is that they had operational effectiveness issues that were causing their lack of profitability.

Further, a lack of strategy caused them not to stand out, and competitors were winning out. The reality is, they didn’t understand why the adjusters and agents were referring business to their competition and not them. This caused them to have little to no growth.

Asking the Right Questions

Typically there are no swift actions you can take when you’re regressing—you didn’t get into regression overnight, and so you won’t get out of it overnight. But the actions you should take need to be guided by asking the right questions. And by looking at those questions, it points you in new directions.

Are you market-focused or internally-focused?

What measures and processes do you use to demonstrate you know the customer better than the competition?

What is the strategic approach you’re using to address the right questions?

Many look internally at their operations—and don’t get me wrong, operational effectiveness is essential—but it’s not a strategy. Strategy is about choosing a different set of activities and what to do and not to do, relative to everybody else, that creates a unique mix of value in the market. And it usually requires tough trade-offs.

Many of these companies we’ve worked with in the Regressing phase have not done that.

Here are several questions that we frequently ask clients to guide them back on a profitable track:

  • Are you chasing revenue? Are you pursuing anybody who breathes because you’re desperate for revenue?
  • When was the last time you shifted your offering to the market? Shifted how you positioned yourself? Shifted and grew your capabilities in ways that propelled you past your competition?
  • Are you using the right messaging to help you stand out when potential buyers evaluate and make their choices? How can you help them see that your company is the best company to solve their needs and wants?
  • Are you looking at your market and deciding which market segment you want to own?
  • How long is the list of things you’re not doing, and not willing to do, that your competition is willing to do?
  • What have you doubled and tripled up on so that you have a core competency and a capability that is resoundingly better than your competition—that’s more important than those things you said you were not going to do for that market segment?

Yes, some of these questions are tough…they have to be. Your business, goals, and aspirations are at stake. But they will change the way you think and look at the challenges your business is facing—and they will get you on the right track.

Is Your Company Part of the Exception?

As noted above, the vast majority of regressing companies have been on a long, slippery slope. But a few of you may be part of the exception—a short-term regression. Maybe you’re regressing because the main channels you’ve been in have changed, and now you need to get out of them. If so, you need to start asking yourself, what are the new channels to acquire customers?

To learn more about how to take your business to the next level, order Howard Shore’s Wall Street Journal bestseller, The Leader Launchpad, here.

Or are you regressing because some of your products and services can’t be delivered the way they were in the past, and people are buying an alternative? Are you positioned for that alternative right now as these market forces are causing you to regress short-term?

Regardless of whether you’re the short-term exception or the longer-term norm, you need strategic tools to stop regressing. Having the right tools shift your questions, and then shifting your questions shifts your perspective. And by shifting your perspective, you have a better chance of competing in the market. And that’s when you’re on the road to growth and profitability.

We’re proud to say that the above customer achieved profitability in 12 months. That profitability puts them in the top quartile of all companies in their industry. They are now executing their roadmap to extraordinary growth.

If you feel like your business is regressing, we want to help! Join one of our expert coaches on a FREE 30-MINUTE NO OBLIGATION CONSULTATION where we will ask you more in-depth questions and quickly pinpoint actions you can take to get your business on the path of exponential growth, profitability, and increased cash flow.

Come back next week when we will be discussing another one of the 5 Rs.

How to Increase Accountability

This post is a bit long, but it addresses a topic I am frequently being asked to provide feedback on now that workforces have become remote: accountability.

The true test of your team’s commitment and buy-in to its goals is accountability. After conducting many surveys about corporate culture, the number one issue we have found across the spectrum is “accountability.”

In general, we find that employees do not think they or their colleagues are effectively held accountable for their responsibilities and actions. We have also found that accountability is typically weak among partners, owners, and executive teams because these groups allow relationships to take precedence over the best interests of the organization. This is why the most successful business leaders have found it useful to hire a third-party to help hold them accountable.

Sports teams provide us with a great look at what happens when a team is working right. Have you ever noticed that the players on championship teams hold each other accountable? They will not stand for other members of the team not playing their role to win. Failure of one team member means failure of the whole team. As a result, they are all vigilant to make sure each other do their part to win.

“Without accountability, teamwork breaks down.”

The coach does not even need to get involved. Each player knows their job and so do their teammates. If someone fails, they know it and so does everyone else. It is not unusual for someone to apologize to the other team members when they fail to be in their position or a man gets by them.

Have you created enough clarity around roles and specific outcomes for each team member so that they can self police? It is essential that everyone knows what is expected of them and that this is public knowledge. The more clarity and specificity the better!

When someone fails to achieve their part of the plan they need to be held accountable and exceptions should be rare. If you create an environment where only some people are held accountable, or goals are only sometimes achieved, then you will not be able to create a championship team.

Measuring Accountability

For the most part, accountability processes and systems already exist within companies; they are just not working properly. Leadership simply does not enforce policy related to tools that were designed to hold others responsible.

For example, the most effective way to hold salespeople accountable is to measure the daily activities that lead to sales. Many companies have experienced tremendous difficulty in enforcing adequate usage of the CRM. In our experience, when it is mandatory, salespeople provide the data, and management monitors and takes appropriate action as a result of the information provided. Failure to do so is causing most companies to miss a lot of opportunities as a result.

I once completed an organizational survey with a company’s top 10 executives in preparation for their annual planning retreat. We found that the CEO commonly provided this team with 25 new initiatives every week, even when the last 25 were barely addressed.

The above situations are not uncommon, and we typically find the following additional issues:

  • The CEO was good at understanding what needed to be done but failed to recognize and/or commit the resources required to do it.
  • The CEO was failing to prioritize and was making everything appear equally important.
  • While the CEO may be a master at time management, his leadership approach was having a negative impact on a subordinate’s ability to manage time well.
  • Too often, responsibility and accountability are given without authority to accomplish the work.
  • There is not an appropriate dashboard of key metrics to isolate progress in the essential areas of the business.

Improve Accountability

If any of the above sounds familiar, don’t take it to heart. Just know that there are solutions out there. It would be great if there was a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of accountability, but each company is unique. My team and I excel in extracting the underlying issues within companies that have all the necessary parts to grow but remain stagnant.

Strengthen your company’s culture by installing the right processes and systems. We have decades of experience in:

  • Helping your team members create a specific roadmap to success
  • Aligning your incentives with strategic objectives
  • Increasing focus in the organization around the activities that will have the biggest positive impact
  • Communicating your goals and objectives to everyone in the organization
  • Ensuring that there is not more than one person accountable to any initiative, process, and desired outcome

This part can be the hardest, but you need to take the first step sooner than later. Let’s create an accountability plan for you and your business so that you continue to grow as markets once again begin to rise.

How Does Impatience Affect Leadership?


If you know yourself to be impatient, you may also have some other leadership traits that are holding you back as a leader and having severe consequences to your organization.

Many entrepreneurs believe it is their sense of urgency that causes them to succeed. By instilling this sense of urgency in others, they can push others through barriers in ways that otherwise might not have happened. This “just do it” mentality causes people to not overthink decisions and have a penchant toward action rather than inaction.

While there is some truth that we need this sense of urgency to move forward, it is only an ingredient, and when overused (and it often is), it causes far more damage than good. Many of the CEOs I work with use high urgency as a management tool. They are the organizational “drivers” that push others to get things done. They are also known to get things done themselves, which in many cases has been a key factor in achieving success.

They are highly driven, bottom-line oriented, have high expectations of their people, and have a vision that many of their team members lack. They get things done that others believe it is impossible to do . So you might be wondering what the problem is?

The Impatient Leader Tends to Be Aggressive Instead of Assertive
Often, organizational drivers tend to be impatient and have been known to be aggressive instead of assertive when communicating with others, not understanding the critical difference between the two styles.

An aggressive communicator is perceived as someone that is more concerned about their feelings and shows no regard for the other people with whom they communicate. They will enter a conversation or meeting with a specific agenda and will make that agenda happen regardless of the ideas, opinions, or feelings of the others. Ironically, they may realize afterward they have done this, but the damage is done.

When you communicate aggressively toward colleagues, their reaction (and of others who witness the exchange) is usually negative (resentful, angry, hurt, etc.). You may even go back to them and ask if they were okay with your aggressive style, but do not expect to get an honest response. If they did not address you at the time of the exchange, they are either passive-aggressive or passive communicators and just want to avoid a confrontation with you, particularly if your position of power is superior to theirs!

The aggressive-style leader will almost always get compliance from subordinates, but often at the expense of long-term loyalty, enthusiasm, creativity, extra effort, and motivation. In extreme situations, a highly aggressive leadership style can result in other negative outcomes, such as passive-aggressive behaviors, resentment, alienation, dissatisfaction, high turnover rates, sabotage, and in some cases, litigation (e.g., hostile work environment).

When you have a direct report that is not performing and you are in aggressive mode, the initial response is to be sarcastic, hurtful, or use threatening comments. You believe that to motivate people you should show them that you and others are better than they are, tell them that the work they did was inferior, give them crazy goals that no one would be able to accomplish, and tell them they will not make it at the rate they’re going. Nothing you tell them is helping them understand how to perform or indicating that you want them to succeed. In fact, they most likely believe you are going to hurt their career and cannot possibly succeed if they stay on your team.

It is important to note that everyone can learn to adapt their behavioral styles to different settings to overcome their natural negative tendencies. If you know that you need to make some changes to your leadership style, or you would like some outside perspective on how you lead your organization, connect with me

Does a Remarkable Company Culture Equate to Superior Performance? You Bet It Does!

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many amazing clients over my decades of coaching businesses and their executives, and I’ve been able to learn and confirm many eye-opening things about what made them great. One thing that proves true time and time again is this: The organizations that exemplify sustained superior performance all have a remarkable culture—without fail! While it is true that you need products or services to make money, the prevailing attitudes and behaviors that characterize your people are what fuel success. In other words, the core values practiced daily have helped top companies be more successful than their competition.

A Case in Point – “XYZ Company”

The best way to get your attention is through the eyes of a real company. This company, which for our purposes shall simply be referred to as XYZ Company, significantly underperformed against its competition. Its curse was that its performance level provided an adequate income for its main shareholder and leaders. What it did not want to address was what everyone who visited the company could see.

XYZ Company had approximately $1 Billion in sales. I met with the senior management team to understand the circumstances faced by the company. They were looking for someone to conduct training with their sales force. While it would be nice for me to have an engagement to develop 150 salespeople, I always first assess the company’s real need. What this company needed was more sales, not training and development.

The facts were alarming. I found that the company did not have clear goals, did not fire non-performers, did not have good hiring policies, did not tie compensation to performance, etc. In the end, I asked the magic question, “What are your company’s core values?”

The silence that followed was a bit deafening. The leadership had never defined or implemented core values to make this company great. What resulted were unwritten core values that were unflattering:

Mediocrity – Salespeople were not working hard or trying to be the best. When selling to customers, they would give in on price because they believed they were second-rate compared to their competition. Very few salespeople would proactively go to training, and when the company offered it, they would not show up.

No Accountability – If people did not hit their sales targets, it did not matter, particularly if they had been with the company for several years. They were just “forgiven” and still paid handsomely.

Mistrust – The organization would not follow-through on initiatives. They would talk big and act small. Consequently, when they said they wanted to create change, nobody took them seriously. Additionally, while the leadership indicated they had a “consumer-oriented” strategy, 80% of its products were “commodity-based.” The company generally operated as if their strategy was “low cost.”
Disrespect – Senior Management would begin initiatives only to have the CEO come and usurp them.

XYZ Company was growing slower and had lower margins than their competition even though their product was just as good, and in some cases, better. Many of their employees, including senior management and salespeople, came from the competition. While they thought sales training would solve their problem, they were not facing the core issue, which was values. My recommendation was to address the real issue first so they could get a real return on their training investment.

Find Your Core Values

As you can see with XYZ Company, if you do not plan your core values, they will happen anyway, and the results can be devastating. When it comes to a company’s culture, the longer you wait to define and instill the right core values in your organization, the harder it will be to achieve your ideal culture and maximize performance.

This does not need to be a prolonged exercise, and I do not recommend copying someone else’s values. I have worked with many companies. Typically, we bring together the senior management team and identify and define core values within 1 to 4 hours, depending on how large the group is. It can be fun and is critical to understanding what is important to driving your company’s vision.

Here is an example of one of my small-company clients’ core values, whose growth is more than 20% per year:

Trust is Everything – Decide, speak, and act to enhance our reputation.
Speak Up – Challenge the status quo.
Have Grit – Give 100%! Be process-focused, driving consistently high outcomes, and no excuses.
Make It Happen – Ask “How can I”…inspire action and results.
Be Humble – Be curious and inquisitive, and never stop learning.

So, if you want to reach a place of sustained superior performance, take a look at your company culture and the core values established by the leadership. If your core values aren’t clear, lock your senior managers in a room and have them clearly identify and define what those values are. That’s where it starts.

Once you have defined your core values, the real work begins. While it is essential to know what those values are, it is equally vital to institutionalize them. I’ll share more on this in my next blog. Be sure to join me then.

In the meantime, let us know how we can help launch your business to the next level, even in a pandemic. Receive a free 30-minute consultation from one of Activate Group’s expert coaches. No strings attached. We just want to help you during the COVID crisis.

8 Easy Ways to Implement Your Core Values

How does growing your business 20% sound to you? How does it sound to do that consistently every year? Over the years, one of the things I’ve discovered in working with companies large and small is that organizations that exemplify sustained superior performance have a remarkable culture. In my last blog, we discussed how identifying and defining your company’s core values is at the heart of company culture. But, if you do not plan your core values, they will develop anyway, the results of which can be devastating. Today, let’s discuss eight practical ways to implement your core values into your organization.

Implementing Your Core Values

It takes discipline and diligence to create a culture. You must instill your core values in everything you do, every day, and in every way. The number one reason core values do not get ingrained in many businesses is that most senior executives do not live them. If the top three executives (e.g., CEO, COO, and CFO) are not role models, expect that the rest of the employees will not consistently exhibit the company’s stated core values.

Once you have clearly identified and defined your values, execution through spaced repetition and consistency is imperative. This is the most difficult and essential part of forming your culture. Most everything we have learned we’ve learned through spaced repetition. Think about how you learned the multiplication tables. Indeed, this is the method the advertising world uses to imprint the messages they want us to receive. Likewise, an organization must develop a repetitive system for all employees to hear, see, and act the company values.

Verne Harnish, in Scaling Up, does an excellent job of identifying how to institutionalize core values into your organization. He has put together the following checklist to ensure that you do not have a gap in building core values into your business.

1. Storytelling – Everybody enjoys a good story, and many great leaders have taught through parable or storytelling. Identify some “legends” and current stories that demonstrate each value. Stories can provide explanations for any core values that might seem unusual or cryptic on their own.

2. Recruitment and Selection – Design your new hire interview questions and assessments to test a candidate’s alignment with your core values. Then, rate the person in terms of their perceived alignment with each core value. After all, your goal is to make sure your new hires fit in your organization’s culture.

3. Orientation – Once hired, your new employee must be brought into the culture. Like many social organization initiations, orientation (you do have one?) is when you can teach the company’s core values. Consider organizing your orientation around the teaching of your core values.

4. Performance Appraisal and Handbooks – Core values should provide the framework for building your performance appraisal system. With a little creativity, any performance measure can be linked with a core value. Additionally, organize your employee handbook into sections around each core value.

5. Recognition and Reward – Organize your recognition and reward categories around your core values. You also gain a new source of corporate stories and legends each time a reward or recognition is given that highlights a core value.

6. Newsletters – Why struggle to come up with a catchy title for a newsletter when some word or phrase from your core values will do beautifully? Highlight a core value with each issue, incorporating stories—yes, more stories—about people putting these core values to work for the betterment of the company.

7. Themes – Use your core values to bring attention to your corporate improvement efforts. Milliken, the textile manufacturer, takes one of their core values and makes it the quarter’s theme, asking all employees to focus on ways to improve the company around the theme. The Ritz-Carlton chain goes to the other extreme and highlights worldwide one “rule” every day. In either case, establish a rhythm that keeps the core values top-of-mind in a repetitive fashion.

8. Everyday Management – I’ve found that managers and CEOs can repeat core values almost endlessly without it seeming ridiculous—so long as the core values they’re using truly are relevant and meaningful to their employees. When you make a decision, relate it to a value. When you reprimand or praise, refer to a value. When customer issues arise, by all means, compare the situation to the ideal represented by the value. As small as these actions may sound, they probably do more than any of the strategies mentioned above for bringing core values alive in your organization.

So, back to my first question: How would you like to grow your business by 20%? While I can’t guarantee that, I can confirm that a positive company culture with clearly-defined and implemented core values will go a long way in sustaining superior performance. It is one of the hidden secrets to maximizing corporate growth and profits. If you want to see employee satisfaction and retention, customer loyalty, new business growth, vendor loyalty, an improved pool of job candidates, innovation, and brand improvement, focus on core values. The rest will follow.

In my next blog, I’ll share ways to motivate your team, an important topic, especially during these pandemic-affected times. Join me then!

In the meantime, let us know how we can help grow your business by 20%, even in a pandemic. Receive a free 30-minute consultation from one of Activate Group’s expert business coaches. No strings attached. We just want to help you during the COVID crisis.