The Team-Based business model ROCKS

TBPC_groupOn September 21st-22nd, Strategies held our first annual Team-Based Pay (TBP) Conference in Chicago, IL. It’s amazing that 158 business owners and leaders gathered to learn, to be inspired and to celebrate this thing called “Team-Based Pay.” Heck, it’s just a pay system. But labeling it “just a pay system” is a shortsighted conclusion that discounts what a company can achieve by rewarding the right overall individual and team performance. Team-Based Pay isn’t about the “pay” … it’s about achieving excellence by defining and rewarding excellence. It’s about building a team-based business model that is void of the “I/me/mine” commission mindset.

The intent of the TBP Conference was to bring together our community of TBP companies to network and share knowledge of the team-based business model. From the owners on the panel discussion to success story upon success story told by attendees, there was one common denominator essential to each experience – company culture. Our closing keynote speaker, Jack Stack, CEO of SRC Holding Corp. and author of bestseller, The Great Game of Business, said it best, “Create Leaders. Create business people who think and act like owners. Become a successful business of business people.” Jack offered the following three essentials to building a team-based company.

  1. Recognition: People need to be recognized for their contributions and their talents. They don’t want to be treated as irrelevant or disposable.
  2. Career Opportunities: Believe that everyone can go somewhere.
  3. A Stake in the Outcome: Believe in creating wealth for those you work with while you create wealth for yourself.

Strategies Coach Robin Gribbin delivered the following 12 No-Compromise Strategies to keep commission thinking from creeping back into a team-based culture:

  1. Stop talking about and comparing commission to TBP: Too often, owners/leaders keep the commission conversation going when there is no need to continue the debate. If you’re a TBP company … you don’t pay commission. Why keep the conversation on the table?
  2. Thinking and behavior drive the numbers you want: You can tell employees to “get their numbers up” all day long, but the fact of the matter is that numbers are an outcome. Focus on getting “Culture & Teamwork” and “Individual Strengths” right and the numbers will amaze you. The more these two critical areas shift to TBP thinking and behavior, the better “Performance & Critical Numbers” and “Skills Requirements” will get.
  3. Stop tracking “Request Rate”: Request rate is 100% super-concentrated “I/me/mine” thinking. The power is in tracking client retention and loyalty to the company.
  4. Column vision is “I/me/mine”: Coach employees to think WIDE, not narrow. “Column vision” cannot compete with “Everyone is responsible for every hour the company has available for sale” team thinking and behavior.
  5. For “top producers” and “senior staff”: Their future earning potential resides on all the columns on the appointment book – not just their own.
  6. It’s about managing your “Service Payroll %”: Once set, commission, including sliding scales, is inflexible. Simply put, you can’t control your payroll percentage as long as payroll is a fixed percent of revenue. Any change or adjustment in commission rates instantly turns into a full-blown pay conversion. Because TBP is hourly, not commission based, it can be controlled to adjust to changes in operating costs and cash flow.
  7. Never ever: Don’t use “cutting hours” as an everyday means to control your TBP payroll costs. If you have too many hours for sale, it’s a symptom that your productivity rate systems need attention and that you’re not following your cash-flow plan. Keep cutting hours and you’ll demoralize employees that want to work.
  8. I repeat: If you believe that employees won’t be motivated to work without the incentive of “commission,” why are so many leaders complaining about unmotivated commission employees? Leadership, clarified expectations, rewarding the right behaviors, systems, accountability, teamwork and culture are all where motivation is derived.
  9. Busier isn’t always better: The more you drive revenues in a commission-based business, the more you drive up your payroll costs. Make payroll a fixed expense and you can manage payroll costs just like any other cost.
  10. Watch your words: Commission has its own vocabulary that speaks “I/me/mine.” Build your request rate. Build your book. Your client/my client. That’s my sale … I should get the credit. It’s hard to build a team-based culture when your terminology does not match what it means to be a team.
  11. Love/hate relationship: Too many owners and leaders hold themselves hostage because they “love the money but hate the employee.” The longer you continue to pay an employee for performance and behavior that drives you crazy, the more toxic and contaminated your culture becomes. Make the tough decision and get it over with.
  12. Double trouble: Double standards in any company will wreck your culture. Reread number 11.

I want to personally thank my Strategies team for making our first TBP Conference an outstanding success for everyone. Eric Ducoff and the corporate office team planned and executed the entire event without a hitch. My team of Strategies Coaches delivered powerful content in the breakout sessions … and, when it came to customer service … they truly practiced what we coach and teach at Strategies every day.

We hope you join us at the 2015 TBP Conference next September.

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Keeping your business in balance

in-balanceI was boarding a 20-seat commuter plane with six other passengers. We took our assigned seats, most of which were toward the front of the plane. Just before the captain started up the engines, he came into the cabin and asked a few of us to take seats further to the rear. “We need to balance out the plane,” he explained. Given the explanation, I was happy to move to an aft seat. In the process, I found it interesting how immune we frequent flyers on commercial jets have become to flight dynamics. I know I never give it a thought.

But on that tiny plane, I was reminded how performance and safety depend on the proper balance. That captain knew that had he not balanced the weight, he would have had to over-compensate on the controls to keep the plane flying straight and true – especially during takeoff and landing. As captain of your business, how often do you find yourself trying to overcompensate when things are out of balance? You know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s when you’re trying to fire up your team while their sense of urgency is stuck in a funky comfort zone. It’s when you take your eyes off the financial controls and expenses get out of hand. It’s when team morale and motivation turn into a toxic stew that contaminates a once-vibrant culture. Simply put, when the symptoms indicating that a business is even slightly out of balance begin to appear, it’s imperative for the leader to engage and restore balance.

But before you can do that, you must look at your own life. Do you have a sense of balance in your life? Are you calm? Happy? Have a clear sense of priorities? You need to have your personal house in order. If not, your staff will sense a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude that will further degrade your business culture.

Everyone has a different interpretation of what a great business culture is. A balanced business has a culture that fuels a sense of energy and momentum. The different departments synchronize, with everyone coming together for a common purpose.

So what does balance look like in business? That’s an interesting question, as balance can’t be seen. However, you can experience it and measure it. Consider these points:

  • It’s capable, confident and aggressive: Employees of a balanced business enjoy pushing the envelope. They do so because when there’s a state of balance, the natural tendency is to compete and drive forward. An unbalanced business gets bogged down in its own internal issues.
  • The pace is fast and steady: If you exercise regularly and take care of your body, you know what balance feels like: you feel energized and have the endurance to go the distance toward whatever goal you’ve set for yourself. A business that can consistently function at a fast and steady pace is balanced. An unbalanced business always seems to be running out of gas and having engine problems.
  • Execution at its best: Balance is like a football team that makes it to the Super Bowl. Every player and every coach is there to work together and win. A balanced business is disciplined yet flexible enough to be self-correcting when things go awry. A balanced business is impressive to observe and do business with, and consistently outpaces the competition.
  • The results are measurable: When a business is in balance, it’s evident in the numbers … from revenues, profits and a healthy Balance Sheet to high productivity rates, customer and employee retention.

If you want your business to fly high and fast, it’s your job to get it, and keep it, in balance. Flying any other way is dangerous. No compromise.

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What you need to know but do not know

need_to_know2Being a truly effective leader means being in the know about everything that is going on in and around your company. But being in the know about “everything” is impossible and would probably cause your head to explode. Yet, every day there are forces at work that could impede growth, hinder productivity, drain cash flow, degrade your brand or cause you to miss a major opportunity. By forces, I’m referring to the people side of your company where decisions are made and where thinking and behavior deviates from the company’s vision and core values. This is where personal or collective compromise can throw a wrench in what should be your well-oiled machine.

In business, believing in the old adage, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is like avoiding reality by sticking your head in the sand. If you’re having cash-flow problems and you’re not paying attention to – or can’t read – your financial reports, and you don’t have a cash-flow plan/budget … then you don’t know what you need to know. If you’re having productivity issues and pushback on much needed changes, but do little to change your “I don’t like structure” leadership style … then what you don’t know – you need to know. If you’ve ever discovered a major problem and uttered the words, “How was this happening right under my nose?” … then you don’t know what you need to know. Got it?

Since it’s impossible for any leader to know and do everything, here are some no-compromise strategies to keep you in the know more effectively than ever before:

  • Myopia” isn’t a Greek island: In business, the term myopia refers to that very narrow field of sight we fondly call “tunnel vision”. A leader may see what’s directly in front of him, but be oblivious to hazards and threats coming at him from the sides or behind. So often, what leaders need to know is readily available, but they’re “too busy” or preoccupied to really see or even be aware of it. Even with the best intentions, some leaders shut themselves off from what they don’t want or care to know – or believe that others are paying attention for them. Strategy: Schedule time to come up for air so you can pay attention to and check in on what’s going on in your company. All it takes is asking a few questions and setting aside the time to really listen to the answers. The intent is not to catch people doing something wrong – it’s to ensure that they’re doing their jobs right … and to coach them where needed. Avoiding myopia is the best strategy to avoid problems before they occur.
  • Upgrade U: You can stick to the business and leadership skills you have and are comfortable with, but it is unlikely that your current skill set will keep pace with the growing complexity of your company. The problem is that a leader’s pre-ordained obsolescence creeps up almost unnoticeably until time and circumstance takes the leader to task. Yes, you have unique skills and talents that got you to this point … but that’s no guarantee that those skills can or will take you any further. Strategy: Make a plan to upgrade your skill set at least once a year. Challenge yourself to get better. And guess what? It will actually feel good and broaden your leadership horizons.
  • OK, stop avoiding it: We each have natural skills and interests that we build our careers on. But when leading a business, there are skills you need to know that are beyond your interests, abilities, and comfort zone. Nevertheless, there are specific skills that your leadership position requires you to learn and know – but not necessarily master. For example, the need to know and understand your financials and practice financial disciplines is a non-negotiable for all leaders. You can delegate the bookkeeping and accounting – but you cannot delegate the knowledge of what your financials are telling you. You may have a low tolerance for confrontation, but knowing how to navigate tough conversations that must take place is non-negotiable. Strategy: I bet you have a couple of non-negotiable skills that you’ve been avoiding like the plague. Well, it’s time to make peace with these imaginary monsters because in this case, you know exactly what you don’t know and it’s time to do something about it.
  • Every company has ick: It’s that festering, toxic stuff that lurks in dark places with names like “resistance”, “resentment”, “attitude problems”, “egos”, “entitlement”, “laziness” and “indifference”, to name a few. No one aspires to be a leader because they want to deal with ick … but it’s part of the job. What’s interesting and remarkably clear is that as ick accumulates over time, it does so right under the very noses of the leaders that build the company structures, layers and levels that feed the ick. Ick feeds on stagnation, lack of information flow, lack of opportunity – and lack of appreciation. The point here is that what you need to know is all around you. Strategy: The best way to know and prevent ick is by involving all employees in the process of business growth. Contrary to popular belief, people want to be a part of something that’s worthy of their effort. People want to contribute. That’s why I believe in open companies with open leadership and cultures. That’s why I believe in transparency and open-book management. What you need to know resides in the hearts and minds of those you lead. Tap into the knowledge of your people and you will know more than you could ever imagine.

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Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks

fuzzy_numbers2Every leader has a story of that “perfect team” of people. The stories are always about a shared passion to achieve the near impossible – to overcome all obstacles. There’s camaraderie, mutual support and knowing that everyone has your back. And then there’s that sprinkle of magic that gives each and every team member the belief that, together, they are unstoppable. But gradually over time, members of the team move on and replacements are brought in. The legacy of greatness remains, but that magic and electricity is different … or else absent entirely.

For leaders, it is a privilege to lead such a perfect team. But how does such a team come together? Is it by chance or by design? Perhaps the real question is, can such a team be persistently and consistently replicated? Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks. You know the stats they’re capable of producing. You know the required skills and can articulate how all the players should seamlessly interact. You think you know all the ingredients … but it’s getting that mixture just right that eludes you.

Here are some no-compromise leadership insights to make perfect teams more of a constant as opposed to just a legacy moment:

  • The state of YOU matters: As a leader, you are not invincible. You are subject to all the stresses and trials that life can throw at you. Think back to your state of being when you led that perfect team. You were on your game. You were focused and driven. You were decisive and bold. You brought out the best in your people. That’s the leader your team experienced. That’s the leader that inspired and pushed them. I always tell leaders that they must want success by a factor of ten over those they lead. Yes, there are times when your team will pick you up when you fall. But when picking you up becomes a job … or when the team senses that you’re stuck in burnt-out mode … believing in you is no longer a good investment. Resentment and distrust festers on both sides of the relationship. Be vigilant about your state of being. Don’t blame others for your funk. Do something like hire a leadership coach.
  • Vision erosion: The very first tenet of No-Compromise Leadership is to “have absolute clarity on where you are taking the company.” Grand visions may be inspiring, but it is absolute clarity that establishes the foundation that supports all visions. Absolute clarity means defining exactly what’s required to achieve the vision in terms of commitment, time, hard work, innovation, skill requirements, sacrifice, potential hazards and more. Without a foundation of absolute clarity, visions erode over time. And once your vision begins to erode … so too will your perfect team or your hopes of achieving one.
  • Sense of urgency dial: Sense of urgency is the energy that drives growth. As a leader, you control your company’s sense of urgency dial. If your personal sense of urgency dial is redlined at ten and your team’s sense of urgency dial is set at a comatose two … you and your leadership team are not paying attention to information flow, systems, accountability, quality, performance, productivity, deadlines, customer loyalty, cash flow and other components that keep both leadership and team sense of urgency dials synced at high performance levels. The moment the dials fall out of sync … so too does the opportunity to create a perfect team.
  • Lost in legacy: If you keep talking about that one-time perfect team that achieved the extraordinary, today’s team will do nothing but become tired and resentful of the story. They’ll wonder why “what was” can’t happen today. Monuments and ruins of once great civilizations are facts and content for history books – it’s not for today’s business that changes as fast as a thought flowing through a brain. Leaders build the present to measure against the past. Got that?
  • Believe in people: I recently read a story written by a leader that had an awakening. He wrote about how he finally found the courage to look in the mirror and have that tough conversation with himself, confronting the fact that all the good and bad in his business is what he created. He wrote about how, as the years passed, his belief in people deteriorated into “me against them” resentment and distrust. His story was about acknowledging the truth about his leadership and how he created the dysfunction that caused stress in everyone. Most importantly, he laid out his plan to change and re-launch his career as the leader he knew he was capable of being. He is now prepared to retake his company and lead it through a long overdue culture shift. And he’s prepared for the pushback and possible employee defections that may occur. You can only regain your belief in people when you first acknowledge that you’ve lost it.

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How to lead through numbers. Not by them

Numbers_collageIt is true that numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the complete story either. The best example is “Net Profit” on a Profit & Loss Statement. You can get all excited when you see a nice net profit – but having net profit doesn’t mean you have cash in the bank. You can check your bank balance – but that balance doesn’t reflect checks that were written but have yet to clear. If you understand how to read your Profit & Loss Statement, Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows…and how all three reports work together…then you know they will tell you a more complete story. If you don’t, you’ll be making decisions on very incomplete data.

Numbers speak to people in different ways according to their depth of understanding about what those numbers mean. There are those “left brain”, analytical people that love to process every morsel of the story numbers tell – but this doesn’t guarantee that the story will be interpreted correctly. Likewise, there are those creative, “right brain” folks that just can’t stop their eyes from rolling back in their heads when looking at financial or analytical reports. For them, the story is a painful documentary on the origins of Algebra.

Because numbers communicate how your company and employees are performing, many leaders fall into the trap of leading by the numbers. Every meeting, every huddle, every memo and every one-on-one is about the numbers. As I stated above, not everyone can figure out what systems, skills, behaviors or approaches must change in order to move specific numbers in the right direction. As a result, frustration and stress can spread through a company’s culture.

Here are four no-compromise leadership strategies that will help you lead through the numbers – not by them:

  1. Share the whole story: Numbers are like laser pointer dots. They illuminate one incredibly tiny piece of data, leaving the bulk of the story that created it untold. Yes, you want your productivity rate to improve…but why and where is it struggling now? You want profits to improve…but where and what are the potential profit leaks? Too many leaders throw out commands like, “Get your client retention rate up,” or, “Get your retail numbers up.” Without knowing the whole story, your commands may have your employees trying harder with a system or approach that simply doesn’t work. Slow down. Give your team the possible “why” and “how” behind a number that needs to improve.
  2. Feed both brains: If your approach is to constantly hammer away at the numbers, you’re likely doing more damage than good. The right brains may understand the importance of a problem…but they don’t possess the creativity to figure out a solution to fix it. On the flip side, all the left brains hear when confronted with too much analytical talk is, “blah, blah, blah.” Both brains need to be fed a balanced diet of inspiration, motivation and celebration in order to digest and address the hard facts and data. Simply put, the left and right brain thinkers depend on each other to perform at their best and deliver the outcomes you seek. Put the numbers aside for bit and share where the company is going and how it’s going to get there. Celebrate the right behaviors that you observe. Celebrate the small wins because it’s the small wins that inspire the big wins.
  3. Analysis paralysis: There may be numbers and reports that are important to you and only you. I’ve seen leaders sap the time energy of their managers and staff by having them compile daily/weekly/monthly reports that have little or no impact on performance. Even worse is when leaders don’t even look at, acknowledge or provide feedback on those “what the heck” reports. The key is to isolate and focus on a specific and limited set of critical numbers and move them in the right direction. Channeling your team’s efforts on three or four critical numbers can and will have a profound effect on performance and growth. Focusing on a laundry list of numbers creates dysfunction and stress.
  4. Financial literacy: Profit and positive cash flow are outcomes that cannot be achieved in the vacuum of “I can’t control what I don’t understand.” I have long been a believer in the need for financial literacy at all levels of a company. It’s amazing what happens when everyone understands the impacts of driving revenue, controlling costs, eliminating waste and increasing productivity. The basic premise of open-book management is that if you want your people to think and make decisions like an owner…they need to understand your Profit & Loss Statement and Balance Sheet. I’m not suggesting that you call a meeting and pass your financials around the proverbial table. That doesn’t work. What I am suggesting is that you begin a process of teaching financial literacy to all team members and embed financial literacy into your company’s culture. Designing an open-book approach that fits your company is a process that takes time. Warning: Teaching financial literacy and going open book will force many leaders to “clean up” their act. If you don’t understand “clean up” your act…email me at and I’ll explain it.

TEN No-Compromise Leadership Disciplines

leadership_disciplines2No leader is a complete package of thinking and behavior disciplines. For most leaders, being that complete package is best defined as a quest to becoming as near complete as one can get. Just how hard are you willing to work at it? Just how open are you to making profound changes in your own thinking and behavior? If you’re truly committed to becoming an authentic No-Compromise Leader, you will need to embrace the following ten No-Compromise Leadership disciplines:

  1. It’s not about you: Being a leader is innately personal. It’s about achieving your full potential by coaching others to achieve theirs … all in a singular effort to achieve the company’s vision. People fight for and are loyal to a leader’s fairness, integrity, compassion and courage in accomplishing something great and worthy. But a leader is simply a guide to a better place. When a leader devolves into “all about me” thinking, an egotistical and selfish dictator takes over. No-Compromise Leadership is never about you. It’s about the people you lead and where you are taking the company.
  2. Strive for absolute clarity: It’s hard for people to put their best efforts into an abstraction they don’t understand. No-Compromise Leaders take extreme care to communicate the company’s vision, objectives and tasks with absolute clarity. I use the term “absolute clarity” because it eliminates the wiggle room that gets many leaders into trouble and pushes leaders to thoroughly define their desired outcomes. Make a practice of embedding “absolute clarity” into your approach to communication.
  3. Orchestra leader: This discipline is for all those leaders that meddle and attempt to micro-manage just about everything. It’s an exhausting leadership pattern that fuels frustration in everyone – including the leader doing it. The role of a leader is like that of an orchestra conductor. The conductor leads the way through the musical score, keeping all the musicians and sections in sync. The conductor creates urgency, boldness and order to bring emotion to the score. But … the conductor never touches an instrument. Leadership means guiding and coaching others – and never touching their work. It’s about achieving the right outcomes through others.
  4. Respect levels of authority: This means that each member of your leadership team should be prepared and empowered to make decisions and guide operations that adhere to the company’s objectives and visions. The moment you bypass levels of authority by making or overriding the decisions of your leaders, you de-power that leader. Work with and through your leaders by providing the training, coaching and resources they need to fulfill the requirements of their position.
  5. Brain and heart balance: It’s great to be compassionate. It’s prudent to make decisions based on facts, analysis and probabilities. However, both brain and heart decisions must be properly balanced. Too much heart can have you tolerating intolerable behavior and performance, which often leads to double standards and contamination of your company’s culture. Too much brain and people become numbers and statistics. No-compromise Leaders strive to have a balance of both.
  6. Voice of the company: Companies have vital signs just like humans do. When a company is sick or encounters challenges, it needs its leader to speak on its behalf. That’s why No-Compromise Leaders always speak as “we” … not “me.” Leaders monitor their company’s vital signs and performance. Leaders plot the future of the company. Leaders address challenges with decisive action. In every way, the leader must always be the voice of the company.
  7. Measure what matters: There’s a reason they call “critical numbers” critical. If they’re not heading in the right direction, there’s a problem. No-Compromise Leaders have a set of critical numbers that are relentlessly monitored; numbers like gross profit margin, net profit, cash, client retention and productivity rate, among others. Leaders get into trouble when they don’t pay attention to their critical numbers – and even more serious trouble arises when they don’t know what the critical numbers mean. The most important part of monitoring critical numbers is in how they shape the company’s performance and culture. “What gets measured gets repeated” isn’t just some clever saying … it communicates how people and teams improve performance in order to push critical numbers in the right direction. What critical numbers are you measuring?
  8. Lift or drag: This is such a simple and powerful leadership process. If a person, system or project isn’t creating lift…then it’s creating drag. There is no middle ground. Lift is good. Drag is bad. Lift is fast. Drag is slow. Got it? No-Compromise Leaders have little tolerance for drag. If they can’t find a way to turn drag into lift – they eliminate the drag. For example: If you have a team of “A” players, allowing a “C” player to remain on that team is drag and will eventually degrade one or more of the “A” players into “B” players. That’s how cultures become contaminated.
  9. Urgency of the unknown: No-Compromise Leaders know all too well that comfort zones are merely “rest stops.” Getting trapped in a comfort zone means all forward progress stops and status quo officially becomes the accepted normal. The future is going to happen no matter what; leaders can either prepare and control as much of the future as possible … or allow the future to render them irrelevant. The future is an exciting place that is full of opportunity. It is the leader’s job to create a sense of urgency to embrace the future – not to fear it.
  10. Let go of the reins: This is the most difficult part of leadership. No-Compromise Leaders surround themselves with an inner circle of leaders that are in total sync with the objectives and vision of the company. Letting go of the reins is a natural and necessary part of leadership that ensures the company can live beyond its leader’s lifespan. Simply put, leaders that can’t let go of the reins by preparing and empowering emerging leaders are essentially forcing the company to live and die with the leader. Got it?

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The No-Compromise approach to building and protecting your BRAND

brand-1Every company has a vision of what it will become. That vision defines how big a company will grow, the markets it will serve, its commitment to excellence, its core values, its growth opportunities, its potential financial rewards and all those other lofty and worthy things that represent a well-crafted vision. Company visions are supposed to be enticing and empowering because they define the quest. But within those visions resides one of the most essential components to achieving any goal – your “brand.”

Envision a large funnel with an incredibly tiny opening at the bottom. You pour all those precious elements of your vision into the top of the funnel and stir it up a bit. What emerges from that tiny opening is a little encapsulated entity that represents the uniqueness, qualities, abilities, reputation and purpose of your company. It is simply called your brand. If you mix in all the right vision elements, your brand will be extremely valuable and precious. But what many leaders fail to realize is that their company brand is also extremely delicate and susceptible to damage from just about everything. Just as leaders are responsible for protecting a company’s culture, so too are they responsible for protecting the company’s brand.

Here are my No-Compromise strategies to building and protecting your brand:

  • It’s about protecting the promise: The essence of a brand is its consistency and dependability in delivering on its promise to the customer. If you promise quality, deliver it. If you promise being on time, be on time. If you promise a unique experience, provide it. The best brands are brands consumers and buyers can trust. It’s that “meeting and exceeding expectations” thing in real time. What’s your promise to the customer? Where and how often is that promise compromised?
  • Take the test: Stop reading and, out loud, describe your company’s brand. Did you get cool chills from its awesomeness? If not, you’ve got a lot of work to do. Again, I’m not talking about a vision statement here. I’m talking about your brand – the product, service, and experience you consistently and relentlessly deliver … and your company’s reputation. When you start to get those cool chills from the “describe your brand out loud” test, challenge the members of your leadership team to take the test as well. Then try it out on the people that are closest to your customers – your employees. If there isn’t at least some semblance of consistency in their responses, you’ve got work to do on defining your brand.
  • It’s unique and proprietary: If your brand description sounds a lot like your competition’s, you’ve got a brand identity problem. The best brands “own” a segment of the market. Why? Because if a consumer wants it, there’s only one place to get it – your company. Everything else is a knockoff and a compromise. The more unique and proprietary your brand, the less price matters. That’s why Apple can sell iPhones, iPads and Mac computers at premium prices that flat out kill the competition. That’s why my wife and I just bought a Tempur-Pedic mattress. We wanted the real deal and we were willing to pay for it. The more you “own” the process, technology, product and experience, the more unique, influential and valuable your brand becomes … and the more your competition is forced to compete on price.
  • Excellence is more than a choice: Target and Walmart may be value-based brands, but they do offer their version of “value-excellence.” Comparatively, Nordstrom is at the premium price level and offers its own version of “premium-excellence.” The key is that whatever your version of excellence is, it must be embedded in your brand and its identity. The more premium your price point, the higher the concentration of excellence in your brand should be. Tesla is the maker of “premium electric vehicles.” Everything about the Tesla brand speaks “excellence” to support their premium brand. Just visit one of their Tesla stores and you’ll experience branding at its very best. And by the way, Tesla not only builds truly amazing electric cars – they own the technology.
  • The bond of culture and brand: Logos, products and marketing support a brand, but it is the people that bring a brand to life. And the moment the human factor enters the brand conversation, so does the collective thinking and behavior of the company – better known as the company’s culture. To drive this point home, I always suggest replacing the term “culture” with “attitude.” What is your company’s collective attitude? When a customer enters your business, calls on the phone, or interacts one-on-one in any way with your company, what attitude do they experience? Simply put, great brands can and will be compromised if the collective thinking and behavior of your company – its culture – is not in sync with your intended brand.
  • The no-compromise brand: Leaders are the keepers and protectors of a company’s culture and its brand. It’s tough and relentless work to keep culture and brand components dialed in to the realities of economic trends and competitive threats. But the biggest threat to a brand resides within the company itself and begins with its leadership. No-compromise leadership is about creating dynamic cultures capable of supporting dynamic brands. Like excellence, growth and profitability, the no-compromise brand is an outcome.

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A NO-COMPROMISE LESSON: When it is time to shake things up

shake#1The body language of the employees I was about to address oozed negativity and resistance. You could cut the tension in the meeting room with a knife. As the business owner prepared to introduce me, my mind was in rapid creativity mode, crafting my opening for this launch of a major change initiative that included a new compensation system.

It was show time. “Good morning,” I began. “As your consultant, I have examined every conceivable aspect of your company, and I’m happy to announce that absolutely nothing needs to change.”

As I stood silently, allowing my words to sink in, almost in unison the employees responded with, “You’ve got to be kidding. Everything here needs to change!” With the ice broken and everyone in agreement that significant changes were needed, I was able to proceed.

There are two lessons to learn from this story. First, the owner waited too long to implement the tough changes the business truly needed. This “fear of change” caused deterioration in the business culture, which trashed morale and productivity. Second, employees are more ready and open for change than most leaders think. It doesn’t mean that all change will be welcomed with open arms. It means that, in general, employees know when change needs to happen.

I love change and the sense of urgency it ignites in a company. Change not only stirs the pot, it often gets people focused on a specific project, behavior, objective or goal. When necessary, change can snap a business out of its complacent stupor.
The question is: What do you need to change in your company? I’m not talking about little tweaks; I’m talking about that vision-driven, courageous, fearless, heart-pounding kind of change that transforms a company and offers unlimited possibilities.
I’ll bet you already know the answer. So what’s standing in your way?

Let’s get the fear-of-change thing out of the way. Get over it! Leading a company is not about you – it’s about ensuring the health, profitability and growth of the business. You are responsible and accountable for doing what needs to be done. When you allow your fears and leadership blockages to get in the way, you are compromising the company and its employees, suppliers, investors and customers. It’s the leader’s job to make tough decisions – even if they’re unpopular – if those decisions are right for the company as a whole. Get over it, or get out of the way.

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily mayhem of business and not be aware that your vision is getting stale. Companies with strong, inspiring and vibrant visions have a distinct bounce in their step. It’s as if the entire company is focused on and moving toward one laser dot on the horizon.

If your vision has become rusty, it’s time to get out the polish and work on it until it shines brightly enough to guide everyone in the company. Shake things up. Get your company moving until its heart is pumping at an invigorating rate.

At different points, change is the perfect prescription for every business. Change is simply part of the evolutionary process of creating an enduring company.

Change means identifying obstacles and opportunities on multiple levels that impact the behaviors and culture of a business. Change can be described on a scale that ranges from critically urgent (survival change) all the way to steady, incremental growth change. No matter where your company is on the scale, change is a non-negotiable part of business. Failure to change is an invitation to failure itself.

Here are some no-compromise strategies when it’s time to shake things up and initiate positive change:

  • Put everything on the table: Too many leaders fall into the trap of keeping individuals, groups, systems or elements of the business off limits to change. Be prepared to go all the way, or don’t change at all. Anything less is a compromise of the change process.
  • Stay true to your values: Don’t allow the need for results to compromise your values; those values must guide all change initiatives.
  • Go deep: If you’re going to begin a change initiative, don’t dance around the issues. Go deep enough to create positive change where it counts – in your business culture.
  • Think big, think long-term: There are times and conditions which call for big-thinking change that will prepare your company for the future. Evaluating what needs to change means out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Change takes collaboration: You can’t change a business all by yourself. The energy of change comes from collaborative innovation and the recruitment of change-friendly disciples.
  • Change takes time: Most change initiatives fail because of unrealistic expectations and timelines. Remember, basic system changes can take up to 18 months to stick, and major culture shifts can take years. Be tenacious and courageous.
  • Re-think strategic planning: Based on your growth rate, today’s strategic plan can quickly become obsolete. Do strategic planning as often as necessary to keep on top of change (quarterly, if that’s what it takes) and to stay realistic with your goals.

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Controlling your own chaos

chaos2In many ways, the work of leadership is the work of controlling chaos. It’s a given that change is relentless, but to embrace change is to embrace chaos. Likewise, if you resist and avoid change, you feed chaos, because holding on to status quo is unsustainable, short-term thinking, as current strategies and systems will wither over time.

It’s also a given that problems will occur, equipment will break, seemingly good decisions will backfire, and employees will come and go. For this discussion, I’m simply going to define chaos as a state of varying degrees of disorder and confusion.

Chaos may be inevitable, but to a large degree, it is also controllable. Why? Because much of the chaos that surrounds and stresses leaders is self-inflected. Avoid a problem too long and it spins off waves of chaos. Over-commit yourself and chaos ensues. Hit the launch button on a new initiative or project before it’s ready and there will be chaos. Give incomplete instructions and poorly defined expectations and rest assured, there will be chaos. Keep a toxic employee on payroll too long and there will be chaos. I’m sure you get what I’m saying here.

The problem with chaos is that leaders eventually build up a level of tolerance for it. They have to be able to cope with chaos in order to navigate through the daily stress of leading a company. It’s much like understanding and managing your heart rate zones in running and cycling. Zone 1 is easy for “recovery.” Zone 2 is an endurance pace for long distances. Zone 3 is a high level of aerobic activity. Zone 4 is pushing yourself to that point you can sustain without going anaerobic. Zone 5 is maximum anaerobic effort that is impossible to hold for very long. As a leader, you should be able to manage chaos in zones 1 – 3. Zone 4 chaos is a period of high stress that you can manage through – but not a level you want to stay in for an extended period. Zone 5 is where chaos becomes crisis. Living and leading in zone 5 is unsustainable and outright unhealthy.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to control your own chaos:

  • Chaos is an outcome: Chaos is the result of something that didn’t go right. All outcomes have drivers. As leader, it’s your job to find, isolate and eliminate the driver. The challenge with chaos drivers is that they are often rooted in the leader’s or the company’s collective thinking and behavior. The chaos driver may be a flaw in communication and/or information flow, a system that was broken or not followed, lack of training, double standards, leader wasn’t paying attention … the list goes on. As always, the forensic search for the chaos driver begins with the face in the mirror.
  • Rethink your chaos zones: If you’re that multi-tasker who thinks you can handle anything and everything, you’re wrong. Maybe you’re the micro-manager that has your tentacles wrapped around every project and decision. Maybe you just made some bad decisions. If you’ve been functioning for extended periods in chaos zones 4 or 5, chances are you’ve been having thoughts of throwing in the towel and getting out. Too often, I see leaders and owners so deep in chaos and stress that they’re stuck and afraid. Getting out of the extreme chaos zones requires a plan and taking action. This is where the services of a business coach are invaluable. Remember, chaos is a state of great disorder and confusion, which means you need expert guidance and coaching to show you the way out – and keep you out. And the only way coaching works is if you do the work and follow the plan. Too often, I see leaders begin with good intentions only to slip back into chaos-producing thinking and behavior.
  • Overwhelmed sucks: The byproduct of chaos is being overwhelmed. With fires burning all around you, you should feel overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed makes decision-making difficult and feeds the “what-ifing” things to death. If you equate being overwhelmed to starting a complex jigsaw puzzle, you begin by organizing the pieces into like colors and straight edges. You find a few pieces that fit and build on it. Before you know it, the puzzle is taking shape and the solution is within sight. There’s no magic pill to instantly cure being overwhelmed. Understanding the drivers, having a plan, and making strategic and steady progress will build confidence and momentum. You must attack and chip away at chaos until it’s gone – or contained in a chaos zone you can deal with.
  • Fix the big stuff: One of the essential tenets of No-Compromise Leadership is, “If it needs to be done – get it done.” If there is a toxic employee on your payroll, why are you still signing his or her paychecks? I just never understand reasons like, “I don’t want my unemployment rates to go up,” or, “We can’t afford to lose the revenue he/she brings in.” Is the minor increase in your unemployment anywhere close to the damage that the employee is doing to your culture and your stress level? If it were the loss of revenue you fear, what would you do if the employee quit effective immediately? You’d have to deal with and work through it. I’m not suggesting the carefree firing of problem employees. I am suggesting that when the chaos level passes into zone 4, it’s time to deal effectively with the problem. This goes for leadership, financial, operational and customer service problems as well.

It’s easy to say, “manage what’s on your plate” and “fix the big stuff.” But controlling and keeping chaos at bay will always be about your approach to leadership and taking action.

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Teamwork: Hard to get, easy to lose

teamwork3Business leaders toss the word “teamwork” around like some boundless, renewable resource. Well, it’s not. In fact, teamwork is a precious commodity revered by those who have achieved it and envied by those who want it. You can refer to employees as team members, use scoreboards and do huddles every day, but these exercises are no guarantee that teamwork will follow.

FACT: Teamwork is an outcome. It is the culmination of a multitude of complex forces, systems and accountabilities that merge into one truly dynamic state of being called teamwork. In this teamwork state of being, the collective energy of individuals harmoniously synchronizes to achieve the extraordinary. 
It’s much like achieving a true meditative state. One must learn to quiet the mind until a “oneness” with the world is achieved. This meditative state is difficult enough for individuals to master. Consider the added complexity of groups of individuals – all possessing unique personalities, ambitions and job functions – coming together to achieve that state of being we call teamwork.

Without question, teamwork is more work than most leaders and employees realize. By repositioning teamwork as a state of being, leaders gain a new appreciation for this often overused term. Suddenly, all claims of teamwork are put into question.
The test is simple. Is there a unified, shared vision in your company? If so, is it evident in the actions and performance of all employees in all departments? Is everyone pulling the company in the same direction?

Yes, even the best sports teams drop the ball and bungle plays every now and then. But those who possess that true teamwork state of being have the highest degree of execution. In business, the scorecards show high customer retention, fierce employee loyalty with low turnover, and financial performance that leaders are proud of.

Every successful company has a few fantastic stories of how everyone pulled together to overcome and achieve the impossible. In the heat of those quests, there existed a teamwork state of being. Such is the power of working together.

Given that teamwork is a state of being, it’s easier to comprehend its fragility. In business, change is relentless. And change is the ever-present nemesis of teamwork. In order for change to occur, new systems and behaviors need to be learned. It’s like a sports team learning new, more challenging plays. Change exerts pressure on teamwork. It disrupts its state of being.

Unforeseen changes, such as the loss of a key leader, team member or major customer, or a cash crisis forcing challenging cutbacks, can snap a business out of its teamwork state of being. A by-product of change, planned or not, is the toxic drama that can follow in its wake. Drama is a teamwork killer. Leaders who don’t have their finger on the pulse of the business can quickly find teamwork deteriorating into chaos.
 All teams have leaders, but few leaders do the work necessary to elevate individuals into a cohesive teamwork state. Inspiring, demanding, tenacious, compassionate, tough decision-making and pure “no compromise” describes leaders who create high-achievement teamwork environments.

Teamwork fizzle can happen in an instant. Follow these tried-and-true No-Compromise strategies to maintain team focus, energy and momentum:

  • Fuel it: Teamwork is fueled by vision, mission and objectives: Don’t expect teamwork if the challenge is vague or undefined. A neat idea may get teamwork out of the gate, but it won’t keep it going. Be specific.
  • Relentlessly communicate it: Communicate your vision, mission and objectives. Too many leaders stop communicating and wonder why teamwork deteriorates. Lack of communication can signal that the mission is over.
  • Track it: It’s hard to play to win when no one is keeping score. Scoreboards show progress and opportunities for improvement. When the answer to “How are we doing?” is “Not good enough,” you’re inviting fizzle.
  • Celebrate it: Celebrate progress and wins along the way. Doing so fuels teamwork energy and maintains momentum. Achieving incremental milestones is like climbing a ladder; each step brings you closer to the top.
  • Coach it: Coach teams and individuals. They will encounter those inevitable obstacles. This may require additional resources or mini-teams to brainstorm solutions. The key is getting back up to speed before fizzle sets in.
  • Just do it: Make tough decisions and move on. If you have to pull a weed or two from your team, do it. If coaching efforts fail, you must act to protect the integrity of the team. Laboring too long over a tough decision creates funk and slows everything down.
  • Reward it: Teams love rewards. There’s nothing like that surprise lunch or bonus celebration to power up teamwork. Sometimes simpler is better. Learn what motivates your team.
  • Enjoy it: Make it fun. Teamwork, games, winning and celebrating should have fun built in. Sure, there will be tough moments, but fun should be waiting when breakthroughs occur. Fun is contagious. Fun is empowering. Have fun.

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