Archives for October 2010

25 things you can do to grow your business…

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In a conversation recently with a group of professional associates, the conversation turned to what successful small and medium sized businesses did in order to grow. Here’s our list:

1. Hire the right people – attract top talent
2. With problem employees – remediate or terminate
3. Jettison mediocre performance
4. Cultivate critical thinking and the ability to separate the important from the unimportant
5. Learn how to structure your organization for growth
6. Build a growth plan
7. Connect with customers in a meaningful way
8. Offer real and differentiated value
9. Communicate exceptionally well with your employees, customers and vendors
10. Inspire employees, customers, and prospects
11. If privately owned, differentiate between organizational strategy and personal strategy
12. Focus on your strengths and delegate the rest
13. Know your key metrics and focus on them daily
14. No matter your product or service – provide remarkable value
15. Communicate your strategy – especially to your employees
16. Build great teams
17. Delight the customer
18. Add shareholder value
19. Don’t be afraid to bring in outside council
20. Transform the company into a “systematic” and replicable business
21. Encourage creativity and commitment
22. Have vision and cash
23. Continually test your assumptions and convert them into knowledge
24. Recognize you cannot cut your way to growth – if you’re not growing you’re dying
25. Intentionally focus on cultivating a culture that embraces change, growth and innovation

What would you add?

I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You – You Should Know!

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In his book, Language and the Pursuit of Happiness, Chalmers Brothers makes the case that the conversations we have with ourselves and with others determines the results we get; both at home and at work. How true!

One chapter in particular grabbed my attention – the chapter on making requests of others. The more I read and thought about the content the more I realized that making effective requests has the potential to invent a completely different future than the one we’re experiencing. Why? Because whenever we make a request of someone, what we are doing is moving toward the hope that the future we believe is going to take place can be transformed into something more favorable…otherwise we wouldn’t be making the request.

But people don’t make effective requests for a variety of reasons. Here are Chalmers top three reasons people don’t make effective requests:

1. They believe they don’t deserve to be making the request
2. They believe they don’t have permission or authority to make the request
3. They believe they will be declined or rejected.

There are effective and ineffective requests. Effective requests are characterized by the following six traits. They are:

A Committed Speaker: A committed speaker does not make requests in drive by mode. They are committed to asking for what they want in a way that works not only for them, but also for the listener. They take the time to make sure the listener is ready to listen and respects the timing of both people involved.

A Committed Listener: A committed listener is someone who is willing and able to give their full attention to the conversation taking place. They aren’t checking email, texting, or talking on the phone. They provide solid eye contact, and they are present, aware, and not actively engaged in something else.

Future Action and Conditions of Satisfaction: An effective request is clear about what it is the speaker wants the listener to do (future action) and what the standards are that they want to apply to doing it (conditions of satisfaction). I remember my father and I arguing over the definition of what “clean your room” meant. It was something very different to me than it was to him. We never got clear so I was never held accountable.

Timeframe: One of the components that is typically missing in an effective request is a clear time frame. Being clear as to when you want your request to be accomplished is a requirement for getting what you want when you want it. Oftentimes what people say are things like “as soon as possible” or “as soon as you get a chance”. Neither one is clear. What’s needed is “I need the information by Friday at 3:00pm”.

Mood of the Request: Chalmers makes the point that “the right conversation in the wrong mood is the wrong conversation”. This aspect requires that we observe the mood of those involved in the conversation so that we can time the conversation for the best results possible. While many of us know this and do this without thinking about it, there are some of us that move forward in the same way we would have had the person been in a different or more favorable mood. Not recognizing the mood is a significant limiter of our effectiveness.

Context: Setting the context requires that we inform the listener of what else is going on in the background and or what else has occurred in the past. Our intent here is to give the listener a broader and more accurate perspective of what the request means and how it fits into the bigger picture. Doing so prepares the other person to listen to what you have to say, in a way they can hear you, and in ways that ensures you will get the results you want.

My request of you is that you review one ineffective request made of you or by you over the last four weeks and determine what made your request ineffective? Which of the six steps were missing? What one action can you take immediately to get better in that area?

If you do so within twenty-fours of reading this blog post you’ll retain 65% of what you read. If you do you’ll also make a more effective request of others, produce the results you want, and achieve a higher level of satisfaction.

3 Levels of Learning

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Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are three simple levels of learning. They are…

1. About – learning “about” something is primarily geared toward gaining an intellectual understanding of a subject and can come from watching a documentary, reading a book, or listening to a lecture. I can learn about leadership from books, but until I move to the second level I can’t be seen and viewed as an effective leader.

2. Doing – learning to “do” something comes from doing what I’ve learned, requires practice, and is something I do consciously. Once I’ve read the current literature on leadership I have to practice what I’ve learned in order to truly learn how to “do” leadership.

3. Being – learning to “be” something is achieved when we internalize what we learned in levels one and two. We embrace and embody what we’ve learned in previous levels and don’t think about “doing” it because is has become part of who we are and what we aspire to.

Too many people believe level one is sufficient in order to create extraordinary results and to live an extraordinary life – that’s simply not the case. You have to move to level three in the most important areas of your professional and personal lives – if not, then you’ll be stuck in level one and not know it.


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Celebration from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

Change is Certain – Growth is Optional

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Consider for a moment what would happen in your team or organization if everyone stopped learning – either because they chose to stop learning or because they became closed to learning and growing but were unaware of it. What would happen? It’s safe to say your team would become stagnant, inflexible, myopic, outdated, and professionally extinct. It’s also safe to say your customers wouldn’t be your customers for very long.

The economy is forcing organizations to change, rethink, and rework how they provide value to their customers. But do organizations really know how to learn and change? Have they created cultures where learning is not simply seen as valuable, but discussed, rewarded and role modeled throughout the entire organization?

Ralph Stayer, the Chairman & CEO of Johnsonville Foods understands the importance growth and learning has on organizational performance and has fully integrated them into his culture. Here’s what he says:

“We will succeed by setting near-term objectives and long-term goals that will require personal growth and superlative performance by each of us. We will change any objectives or goals that no longer require personal growth or superlative performance to ones that do. We understand that our commitment to stretch, grow and excel is an unending one.”

Does personal growth and learning fully show up in your team or organization? Can you recall a compelling and inspiring story of one employee who exemplified what Ralph Stayer says is important? If not, what are the implications for your leadership, your team, your organization, and most importantly your customer?

Dynamic or Disheartened?

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In the Sunday New York Times there was a front-page article entitled, Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened. For twenty years Japan’s economy has seen deflation; no growth whatsoever. They’ve experienced continuous price pressure downward and now real estate values in Osaka and Tokyo are the same as they were in 1983. Government debt is 200% of gross domestic product and consumers are not purchasing the consumer electronics for which Japanese companies were once renowned. There are no vacations planned, no eating out, just surviving day to day. It’s a disheartening article to read.

As someone who believes that language influences behavior, I was struck by the language used by those interviewed for the article. It was a disheartened language that I believe leads to disheartened behavior. For example, people said:

“I don’t believe I can ever enjoy job stability”
“I’ll save as much money as possible”
“My generation is in a defensive position all the time”
“We are a survival generation”
“It’s stupid to spend money”

Can anything remarkable be created with this type of thinking? Yes, you just don’t want it! This type of thinking breeds remarkable levels of negativity, pessimism, a sense of lack, an inability to think creatively, and a spiraling down to lower and lower levels of performance. As leaders and manager we encounter the same type of thinking in our teams and organizations. It’s the same message as those interviewed just delivered in more subtle and nuanced way.

One of THE most important responsibilities leaders and managers have is to ferret out all morsels of this type of thinking and replace it with a sense of hope, optimism and confidence. Doing so requires that we recognize that what we practice doing we’ll get very good at accomplishing. The question is what are we practicing? Are we practicing having conversations that uplift and enable others?

I’ve often said “the smallest good deed is of more importance to leadership than the grandest of intentions.” If you agree,practice doing one small good deed today that generates a deeper sense of hope and optimism with your key constituents. Why? Because it’s contagious and far more valuable than simply having it as a grand intention.

Stop Doing That: 5 steps to remarkable results

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I’m constantly thinking about the best way to communicate “how” leaders, teams and organizations can move to higher and greater results. Not intellectually, but literally. I’ve figured it out and have five steps to achieving the extraordinary. Here they are:

1. Jettison old outdated habits…change is inevitable but growth isn’t! We all have a preferred way of doing things; we’ve learned a routine that works for us and then we repeat the routine unconsciously until it’s no longer a routine but a rut. Consider this: everything around you is changing and yet most of you reading this post seldom if ever stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing still works. You’ve become so accustomed to doing things the same way that you can only see the world through the filter of the known and predictable. My recommendation? Stop doing that!

2. Be prepared to fail…if you’re not failing you’re not growing. Babe Ruth was the home run king as well as the strike out king. He struck out six point six times for every ten times at bat. He ventured out beyond what was believed to be true about batting averages, beyond what he thought he was capable of, and is revered today by baseball historians. Without venturing out beyond where you’re comfortable, you are guaranteed to lead a vanilla life, with vanilla results, and a very vanilla headstone. My recommendations? Stop doing that!!

3. Be fearless about communicating the value you provide…if you put a small price on the value you provide, no one is going to give you a raise! Most people lack the courage to ask whether their clients, customers, and or team members are better off for having interacted with them. Why? Because too many people are focused on the inputs of their work (I prepare financial statements) versus focusing on the outputs of their work (I provide management with the best information so they can make the best financial decisions). Without knowing how you’ve made the world of work a better place you’ll be timid and focus on inputs rather than outputs. My Recommendation? You guessed it…stop doing that!

4. You have to let go…you are over thinking things! Getting exponentially better at whatever is important to you requires you to stop thinking so much. The more you try to control your results; control is something you do consciously, the more you lose access to the infinite potential that is your subconscious mind. Mario Andretti said “If everything feels like it’s under control you’re simply not going fast enough.” At a top speed of 212 miles his ability to consciously control his car was limited. He tapped into his subconscious mind; that part of his mind that saw, heard, and gathered information faster and more accurately. When you over think things and don’t access your subconscious mind your results will deteriorate. So, what should you do? Stop doing that!

5. Think bigger…are you a possibility thinker or a probability thinker? At fifty-one years of age I finally get how my thinking has limited me. I’ve spent a good portion of my life (a euphemism for a ridiculous and inordinate amount of time) thinking that if other people believed in the extraordinary as much as I did that somehow my way of thinking would be validated. Friends, family members and business associates may want the best for us, but they can also bring a fear of being audacious and extraordinary that saps our energy. My thinking shrinks when I give energy to helping people think bigger when in reality they want to think smaller than I do. My belief in accomplishing the extraordinary remains unshaken, but I have to take my own advice. STOP DOING THAT!

I recommend that at the end of each week you ask yourself two questions. What aspect of my week produced the best results and warrants doing more of the same? What parts of my week produced the least results and requires doing something different?

If by chance you’re not looking at your week in review I have one last piece of advice for you…stop doing that!