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THE MAIN THING

In the 1991 box office hit City Slickers, Billy Crystal’s character Mitch Robbins is going through a mid-life crisis. His two buddies played by Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby are not much better off and sign the three of them up for a two week old fashioned cattle drive in the great Southwest.  For the New Yorkers, it is quite a culture shock particularly dealing with their seasoned, hard–nosed trail boss Curly Washburn, played by Jack Palance.  In a classic scene, Curly holds up his finger and shares with Mitch that the secret to life is to focus on the “one thing.”  Of course, Mitch wants to know what that one thing is, but Curly informs him that he has to figure out what that one thing is for his own life.  In a medical practice or any other business, it is easy to lose track of what that “one thing,” or stated differently, the “main thing” really is.

I find that too often there is a lack of clarity among employees regarding what the main thing is, so organizations lose focus. Business is hard enough, but when everyone is not “on the same page” then it becomes that much more difficult to succeed. The first step is to get clarity about what the main thing is for your organization.  Perhaps your organization has a mission statement.  That is good start.  Maybe in that statement it is clear what the main thing of the organization is.  For example, the mission statement of the Mayo Clinic is, “To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research.”   MD Anderson Cancer Center’s mission is, “To eliminate cancer in Texas, the nation, and the world through outstanding programs that integrate patient care, research and prevention, and through education for undergraduate and graduate students, trainees, professionals, employees and the public.”

There is not one right answer for what the main thing needs to be.  The key is that it needs to be clear and concise.  Everyone should know and understand the main thing.  Looking at the two mission statement examples above, I find that the MD Anderson mission is clearer.  I would guess that their main thing is to “eliminate cancer.” That creates focus.  Employees can rally behind that cause. Your main thing should be clear to not only your employees, but also your customers, partners, and suppliers.

Once you have clarity about what the main thing is, you can’t simply take it for granted that everyone is going to remember it.  Leaders within organizations have to repeat, repeat, and repeat what the main thing is.  Great leaders communicate what is important to the stakeholders of the organization. Organizations naturally tend to drift, but great leaders keep everyone focused and aligned.  In other words, they “keep the main thing the main thing.”

Once there is clarity, you can strip away those things that are not consistent with the main thing. This is easier said than done and takes tremendous discipline and courage.  You will upset people because you will have to say “no” more.  However, unless we say no more, you can’t put your full energy on the important things you have said “yes” too.  When you have clarity about your main thing then it helps in making critical decisions.  You have to ask yourself, “is this decision going to help us achieve our main thing.”  If not, then the answer is no.

In one of his latest books Great By Choice, Jim Collins examines a set of major companies that achieved spectacular results over 15 or more years while operating in unstable environments which he calls “10Xers” because they provided shareholder returns at least 10 times greater than their industry.   About Apple®, Collins noted, “Steve Jobs didn’t so much revolutionize the company as he returned it to the principles he’d used to launch the company from garage to greatness two decades earlier.”   There is a recurrent theme in the book about sticking to the basics that made you a success.  The 10Xers all had what Collins’ calls Level 5 Ambition –  “the passion for a cause larger than themselves and infused with the will to do whatever it takes to make good on that cause.”

While the language may vary, the principle is the same, great organizations have a “cause”, or a “main thing” that is the focal point for all that they do.  The opportunity for us is to bring clarity into our organizations, and make sure that we have this type of motivating Level 5 Ambition to rally around.  As this is a journey and not a destination, we will also have to make sure we are diligent to realize when opportunities may take us off course.  Whenever you are feeling your organization starting to drift, think about old Curly and remind yourself to think about “what is your main thing!” 

THE GAMIFICATION OF WORK

Picture for a moment yourself on a sunny and cool fall afternoon getting ready to watch your favorite college football team playing their biggest rival.  The stands are packed, and the crowd is ready to cheer their team on victory.  However, right before the game begins the announcer comes over the loudspeaker and says that the teams won’t be keeping score and are just going to play for fun.  How would you feel?  Would you still be as interested?  Do you think the players would give it their all or simply go through the motions?  Have you ever watched a professional All-Star game – not exactly the highest level of intensity and effort.

It reminds me of when my kids were very young playing youth sports.  I remember coaching baseball and soccer, and I could not get my head around the fact that we were not keeping score.  I know, I know – five year olds don’t necessarily have to be competitive warriors out there, but still, it is just not very interesting if you don’t keep score.   You may be asking where I am going with this line of thought.  Good question!  In my 25+ years in the marketplace, I have found that most businesses operate just like my five year old soccer team – they don’t keep score!

Sure, ultimately, all businesses get down to the bottom line.  However, in most organizations employees go through their day as if they are in the Bill Murray classic, Groundhog Day.  It is easy to fall into a rut where you feel like you are on a treadmill with no end point.  There is a recent effort to try and “gamify” work to make it more meaningful.  While this gamification of work has become a growing trend, you don’t need high tech gadgetry to tap into the power of making work more interesting and meaningful.

Over 40 years ago, business consultant Charles Coonradt had an epiphany that led him to commit his life’s work to helping people make their work more like their recreation. He was watching a group of young men building a house that seemed to be slow and arduous work.  However, he noticed that on their lunch break these same young men engaged in heated competitions of 4 on 4 pickup basketball games.  For him, this was a paradox.  How could they put that much energy into their recreation but not their work?  He became fascinated with the phenomena that people will work harder and expend more energy in sports and other athletic pursuits than they will at their daily jobs.   Coonradt has several books out on this topic, but I want to highlight a few key ideas that may revolutionize how you think about your work.

KEEPING SCORE

In my teens and early twenties, I taught a great number of people how to play tennis.  I enjoyed the game and learned how to teach others at a young age.  As I would teach beginners the basics of how to hit the ball and keep a rally going, they all eventually wanted to play.  In order to do that they needed to learn how to keep score.  It was always interesting to watch how people pushed themselves harder and the competitive spirit would come out when we would keep score.  In organizations, we want to find simple and clear ways to keep score of what is important both as an organization and for the individual team members.  I have found over the years that some positions are easier to come up with the 2-3 areas to keep score. Scorekeeping should be objective and the individual employee should ideally know how to track and keep their score.  If you have not defined winning and losing for your team members then you are at risk of mediocrity.

ESTABLISHING GOALS

When a golfer goes out to play a round of golf, they usually have a score in mind they are trying to beat.  While I am a novice runner, I have come to understand a little of the lingo of competitive racers who talk about their PB (Personal Best).  When the coach gets the basketball team together to discuss the goals for the season they focus on specific goals.  For many programs, the goal is to make it into the “Big Dance” – the NCAA basketball championship tournament.  I have experimented with all kinds of goals for organizations and individuals.  I have found that the best are shorter term in nature.  I find that if they are too long term then people wait until the last minute to work on them like cramming for an exam. I like clear and specific goals that ideally can be accomplished in three to six months.

PROVIDE FEEDBACK

I went to a St. Louis Cardinals exhibition game recently against the hometown Memphis Redbirds.  As I looked at the new scoreboard in the stadium, I noted how much data was readily available: the score, balls, strikes, outs, and even the speed of the last pitch.  The players get real time feedback on how they are doing and can adjust their strategy.  Unfortunately, that is often not the case in business.  I have visited with many employees who never get any feedback or maybe only once a year in a perfunctory review.  How can people improve if they don’t get constructive feedback on their performance? As leaders, we should give helpful feedback early and often if we want our team members to develop.

KNOW THE RULES

Along with teaching my tennis students how to keep score, I also taught them the rules of the game.  Without rules, it would be chaos out on the court and constant controversy.  What if you started a game and then halfway through the rules changed midway?  How frustrating would that be?  Unfortunately, many workplaces feel that way.  The rules are not clear and may change in an instant.  Sure, there may be policies and guidelines in an employee handbook, but I am talking the day to day rules of operation.  What is expected?  What is off limits?  Too many handbooks are more driven by legal than practical considerations.  Employees want clarity and fairness.  As a leader, you have the opportunity to stomp out the ambiguity and create clear a set of rules that you expect everyone to follow.  I promise it will reduce the drama in your organization.

I hope these concepts give you some inspiration and ideas to “gamify” your organization.  We don’t have to watch the clock until 5:00 or wait until the weekend to enjoy a little competitive activity in our lives.  Our work can be just as invigorating and challenging if we put our minds to it.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

ORGANIZATIONAL HEALTH

Rich Roll is one of the fittest men on the planet. He has been interviewed by CNN and featured in numerous fitness magazines. Roll has been a top finisher in the Ultraman World Championships which is a three-day/320-mile double ironman distance triathlon. The event is invitation only for 35 select participants from around the world.  The first day is a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90-mile cross country cycling race.  The second day is a 170-mile cycling race, and the third day finishes up with a 52-mile double marathon. I am exhausted just thinking about that type of incredible endurance feat.  While he had been a competitive swimmer in college, this attorney and father of four had hung up his “Speedo’s” after college and was almost fifty pounds overweight by his 40th birthday.  Roll overhauled his diet and got back on track with his fitness program, and within two years, he was competing at an international level for endurance athletes.  What he has done through intentional planning and hard work is to achieve a level of optimum health that is allowing him to compete internationally well into his 40’s.

Similarly, organizations of different types and sizes can achieve a level of optimum health. This does not mean that we need organizations full of ultra-athletes.  Rather, we want organizations that operate in a healthy, complete, and consistent way. Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni emphatically stated in his book The Advantage, “The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it.”  Most organizations fail to embrace organizational health, and the typical reasons include that it is too “touchy feely,” the concepts are too simple, or the tyranny of the urgent feeds our adrenaline addiction. Lencioni describes a healthy organization as one with minimum “politics” and confusion, employees with high morale and productivity, and low employee turnover.  Wouldn’t that be a great place to work?  As obvious and important as that is, we tend to spend all of our time and energy on the technical aspects of the organization (e.g. strategy, marketing, etc.) and very little time in making sure that we have a healthy company.  I have summarized below a few of the ways to help make the transformation from being a “couch potato” organization to one that has optimum organizational health.

Establish Trust

You don’t need to go to the ropes courses to build trust (although team building exercises can be helpful); instead, there are some simple things you can do to increase the trust in your organization.  One of the major symptoms of unhealthy organizations is that the management group does not feel free to share their opinions.  When managers are simply “yes men and women,” the organization is not benefitting from the collective wisdom of the group. Teams that always have complete consensus are potentially toxic because people are certainly withholding their true opinions.  The intelligence of the organization is hindered as employees all try to CYA (cover their assets) instead of contributing their best thoughts and ideas. The leader of the organization sets the tone here and should insist on candid discussion and promote vigorous debate. Remember healthy conflict is to be encouraged, not discouraged.  Team members need to understand the boundaries for conflict and be willing to commit to the path ultimately decided by the leader.   Another way to help strengthen the trust in the team is to utilize personality tests like DISC®, Myers Briggs Type Indicator® or The Birkman®.  These allow team members to better understand both themselves and their colleagues.  Many misunderstandings can be avoided once communication and personality styles are better understood.

Create Clarity

Healthy organizations have clarity and alignment around the main things and know how to “keep the main things the main thing.”  This is easier said than done and requires asking some simple but challenging questions. I recommend having the organization’s management team periodically independently respond to the following questions:  (1) What is our reason for being as an organization – why do we exist? (2) What are our true core values that guide our behavior? (3) What business are we in? (4) Where are we going as a company – what is our strategy for success? (5) What are the most important things that need to be done in the organization in the next 30-90 days?  (6) Who needs to do what to accomplish the most important things? (7) What are the key metrics for measuring the success of the organization?  Answering these questions independently will ensure that “group think” does not set in and that everyone does original thinking about the answers. The team can then gather and debate their answers and synergize their responses.  I am an advocate for having a concise 1-2 page summary of the results of this process which serves as the guide for the organization and an accountability tool for team meetings.  Answering these types of questions requires time and a change of perspective from “thinking in the business to thinking on the business.” In our world of constant emailing and texting, it is important to unplug and get away to periodically think on our organizations to create clarity.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Healthy organizations know how to communicate well. Their leaders repeatedly communicate key themes. They know that repetition counts and that they need to communicate with clarity what is really important.  I have found that whether coaching sports, raising kids, or leading in an organization, the key is to keep the messages simple and repeat them often.  Effective leaders use different mediums and tools to constantly reinforce messages.  Ambiguity and confusion are the hallmarks of dysfunctional organizations.  The anti-dote is communication!  Too often leaders fail to communicate enough because they are too busy or incorrectly believe that they are being too repetitive. Healthy organizations not only have effective top down communication that cascades through the organization, but they also have effective lateral and bottom up communication.  Smart organizations know that the information gathered by front line employees is invaluable and needs to circulate within the company.  Innovative companies will create regular opportunities to make sure upper management is spending time with front line employees to foster open communication.  Leaders can also promote good communication by being accessible and utilize techniques like “management by walking around.”  There is nothing worse for leaders than to get stuck behind their computer all day.  Focus and alignment occur when organizations have clarity on what matters most and communicate effectively throughout the organization.

Conclusion

While being an Ultra athlete is not in the cards for me, I do know that I can be a part of making sure that organizations I am part of achieve optimal health. There is no reason to settle for working in dysfunctional situations. By recognizing the important of being “healthy” in our business and utilizing some of the simple ways to become healthier, we are on our way to building healthy organizations!

THE CRITICAL NEED FOR TEAMWORK

Teamwork has been a buzzword around the business culture for some time.  Leading businesses know that well performing teams are the key to profits in a business.  However, teamwork takes on a whole new level of importance in life or death situations such as military combat, airline travel, and healthcare. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which was a revealing review of the U.S. medical care system and the inadequacy of safety practices used in the treatment of patients. The IOM report estimated that medical errors result in 44,000 to 98,000 deaths annually—more than automobile accidents (43,458), breast cancer (42,297), or AIDS (16,516). Since then, there have been a number of initiatives and task forces to address this problem, including the development and research of team based training to improve patient safety.

While the focus on teamwork in healthcare has brought improvement, there is still work to be done. The study, “Medical Errors Involving Trainees: A Study of Closed Malpractice Claims from 5 Insurers,” appeared in the October 22, 2007, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The lead author, Hardeep Singh, M.D., M.P.H., noted, “Our study confirms the relationship of poor teamwork to preventable errors and quality of care.”  The Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. stated about this study, “This study reminds us that we have a lot to do to ensure that hospitals are providing appropriate supervision to trainees and implementing team-training programs, both in the inpatient and outpatient setting.”

In addition to the obvious importance of teamwork for patient safety, there is also a critical need for effective teamwork to create the efficiencies needed to deal with increased patient volumes and decreasing reimbursements. Physicians today need to make sure they have expert teams, not just teams of experts.  Expert teams aren’t created overnight.  It’s a process and takes purposefulness and commitment.  Teams typically begin in the formation stage where people are learning, leaders are directing, and people are getting to know one another. Unfortunately, this is usually followed by the storming stage where clicks can development, a great deal of supervision is required, and disagreements can ensue.  While many teams get permanently bogged down in the storming stage, better performing teams will enter a norming stage.  In this stage, the team starts to actually work together as a team, goals and directions become clear, and the overall performance improves. Truly high performing teams will enter a performing stage where team members all exhibit leadership, self-motivation is high, and the team members all have strong skills and knowledge.  The reality is that most teams will move up and down this spectrum as they progress and decline in their teamwork.

For some, discussions about teamwork and team building conjures up images of warm and fuzzy games and retreats.  Working on teamwork can be seen as a waste of time and money and not “real work.”  The reality is quite different.  From 1955-2008 there were over 300 empirical articles on teamwork studying over 10,000 teams. For example, a study by Eduardo Salas, Diana R. Nichols and James E. Driskell Small Group Research 2007; 38; 471 entitled “Testing Three Team Training Strategies in Intact Teams: A Meta-Analysis” found unequivocally that team training improved performance.

There are a number of training methods that can be used to deliver results including: cross-training, event-based approach to training, scenario-based training, self-correction training, stress exposure training, team adaptation training, and team leader training.   The reality is that physician team settings vary dramatically from emergency room, to general surgery, to primary care physicians.  The key is adapting your training to your specific environment. For those considering team training, it can be a waste of time and money unless the design and delivery of the training is based on scientific principles, the physicians take ownership, teamwork is rewarded and encouraged, and there is feedback loop to debrief and measure success.  True team development should focus on building the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of your team members and should be an ongoing process.

The handwriting is on the wall.  There is no doubt that quality of care will continue to be scrutinized with greater intensity, particularly with the shift to electronic medical records.  The link between pay and quality of care is only going to get stronger.  Physicians will have to continue to do more with less.  There will be increase pressure to see more patients and be highly efficient. At EMHC, we are continuously striving to stay up-to-date on the quality of our patient care. While more studies need to be done, we have enough data from the commercial airline industry and the military to show us that we need to strive for better teamwork in healthcare to improve safety.  Since many physicians are also entrepreneurs, they must keep an eye on the bottom line and the work of business has shown us undoubtedly that it’s hard to be profitable with a poorly performing team. In the near future developing your healthcare team won’t be a luxury, but a necessity.

 

MOTIVATING TODAY'S EMPLOYEE

Have you ever stopped to really consider what motivates you or your employees?  This is a critical question for today’s companies. When I do one-on-one coaching with employers, this topic comes up a lot. For decades, most businesses have utilized extrinsic methods of motivation with the “carrot” and the “stick.”  This typically takes the form of bonus plans or negative reviews and firing for poor performance. The question to be asked is whether or not we are getting the desired results from these extrinsic efforts to motivate our teams.

Interestingly, recent scientific studies are challenging the way business leaders have traditionally thought about getting results. Researchers at the London School of Economics conducted an analysis of 51 separate studies on financial incentives in employment relations and found overwhelming evidence that the incentives may “reduce an employee’s natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so.” According to Dr. Irlenbusch of the LSE, “we find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace norms such as fairness.  As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

Author and speaker Dan Pink helps us make sense of this counterintuitive point by arguing that extrinsic rewards are only effective for left brain activities that involve rules and routine tasks such as certain types of accounting, financial analysis, or computer programming. However, there has been a major shift in many organizations to outsource as much of this routine work as possible. Therefore, many jobs today require more right brain creative problem solving skills than ever before.  The problem, as noted above, is that studies have shown that traditional incentives do not work well to motive employees tasked with right brain responsibilities.

When you look at the way most firms attempt to motivate their employees, it becomes apparent that most businesses have not caught up with these scientific discoveries.  So, what do we do to motivate today’s employees?  Leading thinkers point to the value of intrinsic rewards for work.  Pink notes three key elements for the new paradigm of employee motivation:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy

It is particularly apparent with the younger generations that they will be demanding more autonomy in their work life.  They will not be content to be blindly directed by management without some level of self-direction.  Employees empowered with autonomy usually have a sense “ownership” and are more engaged.  A practical example of this is Google’s practice of allowing its engineers to spend 20% of their paid time on their own projects.  Of note is that about half of Google’s products and services have been created by employees during this autonomous work time including Gmail. In the extreme, some companies have completely gone away from schedules and allow everyone to work their own hours.  The bottom line is that autonomous workers have greater productivity and job satisfaction.  The problem is that the “manager” mindset has been so ingrained in our business psyche that this can be a difficult shift.

Mastery

For centuries, most people either worked in agriculture or in a trade with their hands.  This usually involved years of training and experience to master a craft.  In the industrial age, we were challenged because our labor became repetitive and disconnected from the final product or service. This led to inevitable job dissatisfaction problems and poor productivity. Today is no different. We want to provide the opportunity for our employees to learn and become better at their skills and abilities.  We all tend to feel better about ourselves when we improve.  A focus on mastery allows people to once again become experts at their craft and to continually improve.  It is no wonder that most successful organizations today place a high value on the training and development of their people.

Purpose

When your work seems pointless, it is hard to become motivated to give it your best.  An effective leader knows how to bridge this gap and let each employee know how his or her contribution directly impacts the success of the organization.  I believe that as human beings we all desire to find our purpose in life.  Since work takes such a huge part of our time, it is only natural to seek meaning and purpose in our work. I strongly advocate that businesses also benefit when they have clearly stated visions and values that define who they are.  This allows employees to connect with the larger purpose of the company.

In sum, it will be imperative for businesses to embrace these scientific findings that intrinsic motivators can achieve the best organizational results.  I believe in the very near term, U.S. companies will face increased competition globally even in the right-brain work prevalent in our economy today.  Incentivizing management and workers with outdated “carrot” and “stick” models will lead to being left behind.  Companies that unleash the potential of their employees through intrinsic motivators such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose will lead the pack in the future.

LEADING THROUGH CHANGE

In 1804, Napoléon Bonaparte was crowned emperor by the people of France.  Five years before, he had seized control of the French government and named himself First Consul.  Until his ultimate defeat in 1815, he led the French military through almost two decades of war where he seized control over much of Europe.  As a part of Napoleon’s thirst for conquest, he set his sights on destroying the British Royal Navy and invading England.  The Royal Navy had established its dominance of the seas in the 18th Century, and during the Napoleonic Wars, the British had blockaded France’s ports.  Napoleon was determined to break the Royal Navy’s supremacy, so he assembled a fleet of barges and over 100,000 soldiers on the English Channel ready to invade once they could subdue the mighty British Naval fleet.

Napoleon tapped Vice-Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve to lead the French Mediterranean Fleet.  On September 16, 1805, Napoleon gave the order for the French fleet to put to sea and engage the British Royal fleet if the French had superior numbers.  The British Royal Navy was led by Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, and in the Atlantic Ocean off the Cape of Trafalgar, the British fleet of 27 ships faced the French with 33 ships on October 21, 1805.  Back in these days of sail ships, the cannons were on the sides and the traditional form of battle was to sail line to line against the enemy, and the British preferred to sail into battle with the wind at their backs. This military approach had its limitations, particularly from a communication standpoint.

Admiral Lord Nelson was a gifted leader and saw an opportunity to break from traditional thinking and pursue a different strategy.  Instead of the normal line to line attack formation, he sailed straight at the French military and used a new communication method.  This unorthodox approach achieved a dramatic result as the British lost no ships and the French fleet lost 23 of their 33 ships.  While the Battle of Trafalgar was a major military victory for the British and thwarted Napoleon’s plans for invasion, they lost their hero as Lord Nelson was killed in battle by an enemy sniper.  As he was leading his men into battle, he signaled from the flag ship, “England expects that every man will do his duty.”  This phrase went down in history as probably the most famous military signal in British military history.

So why take this stroll through some two hundred year old military history? What relevance does this story have in our fast paced modern world?  I believe a great deal.  As a history major in college, I was intrigued when reminded of this story by a friend.  As a student of leadership and a business consultant, I was particularly intrigued by the leadership lessons that Lord Nelson had to offer.  I believe that true leadership principles are timeless, and we can glean insights from throughout history from men and women of true courage and vision.

Consider for a moment, if you were one of the officers or soldiers in the British Royal Navy.  For over a century, there was a conventional way of doing battle.  Your leader has asked you to try a very unorthodox approach which has you sailing straight at the enemy who happens to outnumber you!  As a leader in any organization, you will face times of change.  There will be times of fear and uncertainty.  To be effective, you will need the trust and loyalty of the team.  You will need people to follow you into uncertain situations and believe that you have a vision for success.   Just because you have a title, it does not mean that you will have that level of trust.

Reward Success/Take the Blame for Failure

According to one Lord Nelson’s biographer, he had a history of taking initiative and being aggressive. His men also knew from experience that if things went wrong Lord Nelson would take the blame.  If the outcome was a success, Lord Nelson ensured that his leaders were rewarded and acknowledged for the victory.  Leaders are not glory seekers.  They don’t hog the limelight.  They are quick to praise and reluctant to ever criticize in public.  Leaders today should consider the need to utilize every opportunity to encourage others by acknowledging their successes, and they should avoid pointing the finger.  As the sign on President Harry Truman’s desk said, “The buck stops here.”  Leaders are called upon to make decisions and accept responsibility for the outcome.

Lead From the Front

Lord Nelson had the trust and loyalty of his soldiers because they knew he led from the front.  He shared in the danger they faced.  In the Battle of Trafalgar, he sailed on the flagship Victory which was the deadliest spot in the battle.  Similarly, George Washington told his Continental Army in 1777 when he came upon some British troops in New Jersey, “Parade with me, my brave fellows,” and led the charge into enemy lines.  Great leaders don’t ask others to do what they would not do themselves.  They lead with a moral authority that inspires others.  Consider in your own organization whether you are truly leading from the front.

Empower Others

As he led his fleet into battle, Lord Nelson would not be micro-managing his other leaders.  As they sailed into the heat of combat, he had to trust that others would act on their training and experience and be responsible for carrying out the plan.  When he signaled, “England expects that every man will do his duty,” Lord Nelson was unleashing his leaders to greatness.  He expected them to be courageous and to do their job.  While he expected a great deal from his soldiers, he expected even more from himself.  Legendary basketball coach John Wooden would share at the beginning of his pre-game locker room speech, “Men, I’ve done my job, the rest is up to you.”  Coach Wooden’s team had done the preparation.  On game day, he released them to go get the job done on the court.  In your organization, have you empowered your team?  Do they know you have their backs?  Have your prepared your employees for success?

While we don’t face the heat of military battle every day, we are competing in a challenging global marketplace.  We encounter traditional ways of doing things every day.  If you are not in a period of change then you are probably just coming out of one or about to head into another.  If you are in a leadership position, perhaps the lessons of Admiral Lord Nelson might provide some encouragement and insights into navigating your next challenging season.

LEADERSHIP RESOLUTIONS

The New Year brings a sense of renewal and change.  Studies show that almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately only about 10% of those will actually achieve their goals. As you might imagine, resolutions to improve health and finances rank at the top of the wish list.  One of the key ways to achieve resolutions is to let them become a habit.  Psychologist Williams James noted, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”  While it is frequently said that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit stick, my review of the scientific literature on the subject indicates that it takes our brains closer to 60 days to actually rewire around a new habit.  As we enter 2015, here are a few leadership ideas to consider making a habit.

Just Say No

It’s tough to say no.  We might offend someone or miss an opportunity.  A friend of mine describes the need to “chase shiny things” versus staying focused.  However, great leaders know that the ability to say no is critical.  As Gandhi said, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”  Leadership expert Tony Schwartz similarly emphasized, “Saying no, thoughtfully, may be the most undervalued capacity of our times.” We have more options than ever and countless opportunities vying for our attention.  It is more important than ever to be purposeful about what we say yes to.  However, this is no easy task.  We often have to say no to many good things.  However, unless we say no to the “good” then we will never be able to focus our time, talent, and energy on the “great.”

Show Appreciation

Studies have shown that for knowledge workers, money alone is insufficient to motivate performance.  Dan Pink summarized this research in his book Drive and noted that workers are best incentivized by creating an atmosphere of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  In addition, I believe that people need authentic and genuine appreciation.  As I interview employees in organizations, I am amazed at the number of them who have never been shown appreciation in any form.  Appreciation is like a gift.  There is no reason as a leader to be stingy with this gift.  Whether a subordinate, co-worker, or a boss, I highly encourage people to get in the habit of showing appreciation.

Follow Up

I believe one of the most difficult aspects of leadership today is living by the motto “say what you are going to do, and do what you say.”  As I was beginning my career, a wise businessman told me that if I would do good work, return phone calls, and do what I said then I would always have plenty of work to do.  I believe there is great truth in his advice.  As leaders, we need to make a habit of being excellent at follow up and execution.  In addition, if you have people that you are delegating to then you need to be very intentional about follow up.  One of my early mentors kept a legal pad where he wrote down every promise someone gave him regarding delivery on a project or task.  If you missed a deadline, you could expect an immediate phone call from him.  My observation was that his team knew that when they were assigned a task and deadline that he meant it.

I hope these ideas will be an encouragement to you to be the best leader you can be in 2016.

5 WAYS TO RAISE CASH FOR YOUR BUSINESS

For many entrepreneurs, these are trying and uncertain times. Cash is critical and many companies are facing the twin fronts of attack of vendors wanting their money up front and customers delaying payments.  All the while, employees still need their regular paychecks. Therefore, if a business is experiencing a liquidity crisis, management (and their key advisors) must act quickly to assess the situation and determine the appropriate plan of action.

The first course of action is to determine whether, and on what terms, additional cash resources might be made available.  There are a number of ways a business can free up cash.  The determination of what options to pursue will depend on the specific facts and circumstances and must take into account the health of key relationships (i.e. vendors and bankers) and the general economic climate.  Below is a list of some of the options available for entrepreneurs:

  1. Trim the fat: Reduce overhead and cut expenses

Most businesses wisely start here because the decision to cut expenses is within the control of management and generally does not require the need to get approval from outside parties such as lenders. This cost reduction could include closing unprofitable store locations or divisions. Sound accounting and reporting makes this analysis and cost reduction process much easier.  However, from a strategic standpoint, you need to make sure the cuts are not so deep that they disrupt the business’ core economic engines.

  1. Get stingy:  Aggressively monitor collections and trade credit (especially to new customers)

A liquidity crisis often happens in an economic slow-down (like the current one we are experiencing) when all businesses are fighting over limited cash resources.  Therefore, many customers become “slow pay” or “no pay” and cash receipts begin to shrink. If your business is owed money, you need to obtain it.  Even if you have to bonus your collections personnel or use an outside agency, this additional cost is worth it if it brings precious cash in the door.   Keep in mind, however, that aggressive collections also requires a balance – you don’t want to alienate key relationships.

  1. Consider your leverage: Cash out or refinance existing debt

If your company is paying above-market interest rates on debt or is carrying debt against assets with substantial equity, then you should exhaust every effort to refinance the debt to cash out equity or to lower its interest carry.  However, it would be better to keep above market debt (especially if is revolver with an additional room for draws), then to obtain a new loan with financial covenants that will ultimately restrict flexibility and further distress the company.  Also, the time required (and closing costs involved) must be considered in determining whether refinancing current debt is a feasible option.

  1. Go back to the drawing board:  Seek concessions from existing creditors

If new financing is not available, then existing creditors are another option to consider.   Keep in mind that “creditors” includes not only traditional lenders, but also includes vendors that may provide goods and/or services on short-term credit.  Therefore, among the options for resolving a liquidity crisis is to ask vendors to extend payment terms, grant discounts, or provide other forms of relief.

  1. Get a shot in the arm:  Obtain cash through an equity injection

There are many investors that are not afraid to look for value in the form of distressed companies.  However, the “cost of equity” is often far greater than the cost of debt – particularly in high-risk scenarios.   Furthermore, these investors will usually want to protect their cash via a controlling economic and/or voting interest in the company.   This option often does not sit well with management, particularly if the company is still in control of its founders.

Again, these are just a few of the many options available.  Some of the most successful companies were founded in recessions (e.g. Southwest, Microsoft, Genetech).  By proactively and realistically addressing the liquidity crunches in their businesses, hopefully many companies will weather the current storm and potentially even turn this downturn into an opportunity for growth.

 

Originally published in Pointe Innovation Magazine

ELEVATE: HELPING OTHERS BE THEIR BEST

Paul Simon, one of my favorite musical artists, penned a song, I Am A Rock in 1965.  The song about a recluse repeats the chorus, “I am a rock, I am an island.”  I think about this song a lot because we tend to forget that achievement in life is rarely a solo act.  We aren’t islands.  We all stand on the shoulders of those of who preceded us and helped us along the way.

Are We Independent or Interdependent?

Herbert Hoover, the United States’ 31st President, emphasized our country’s “rugged individualism.”  He believed that the U.S. faced a decision between “the American system of ‘rugged individualism’ or the choice of a European system of diametrically opposed doctrines — doctrines of paternalism and state socialism.  He said, “The acceptance of these ideas meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of government; it meant the undermining of initiative and enterprise upon which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness.”  It is interesting that over 85 years later, the U.S. still debates this choice.

Regardless of your political views on this point, there is no denying that the emphasis on individualism and a “frontier mentality” runs deep in our culture.   These concepts are related to the “American Dream” – the idea that each of us can have upward mobility through hard work.  James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book Epic of America. He stated, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

I describe these cultural patterns because it is easy to take them for granted and not realize the impact on our thinking and our lives.  While there are many positive aspects of these ideas, we sometimes fail to understand their limitations. We can’t lose sight that the greatest successes in life are made with and through people.  Great achievements in life are never solo endeavors.  Sometimes we forget that.  We can be like the turtle on the fencepost.  As the story goes, when you find a turtle on top of a fencepost, “You know he didn’t get there by himself, he doesn’t belong there, he doesn’t know what to do while he’s up there, and you just want to help get him down.”

In reality, our success in life is linked to the lives of other people (whether we recognize it or not). There is a great expression that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.  This quote was first attributed to 12th century scholar Bernard of Chartres, who used to say “we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”

The late Zig Ziglar had a wonderful quote he often repeated that “If you help enough people get what they want in life, you will get what you want.”  This was not a manipulative idea; instead, it is one that recognizes that, by serving others, we truly are helping ourselves.  When we can walk in humility and realize that our success in life is not just the result of our own hard work, but the help of many others along the way, then we are on our way to being a true leader.

Elevating Others

Once we recognize that success in life is not a solo act, then we can begin to consider the importance of building up others to create a great team.  An organization with high performance teams will go further, faster.   Teams are built on a foundation of trust.  One of the ways to build trust is to invest yourself in the lives of others.  What does this mean?  It means that you help other people elevate and achieve their goals and objectives.   Unfortunately, this is rare.  We are typically so caught up in the tyranny of the urgent of our own matters that we don’t stop and consider the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of others.   Think about it – do you really know what your colleagues are seeking out of life?  Do you know what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning?  What would be the difference if you did?  By taking the time to understand your colleagues hopes and dreams, you are investing yourself in their lives.

I have experienced the benefits of others investing in my life first hand. After earning my law degree, I launched into the practice of law which I enjoyed; however, I felt like my true calling was to use my business and legal training to be a strategic advisor to companies.  I knew for several years that I wanted to make this transition, but I was stuck.  I could not seem to make the switch and clung to my law career like a child holds onto a favorite blanket. I would not let it go.  Two people helped me better understand my motivations, clarify my path, and make this next step in my career.  One was Dr. Carl Hicks.  Carl helped me gain a much deeper understanding of myself.  Carl is an expert with the Birkman® assessment tools and used them to help me clearly see my deepest motivators as an individual.  Through his example and encouragement, I realized that I could make this transition.  He coached and encouraged me along the way.  For that, I am forever grateful.

I also was encouraged by my friend and colleague Andy Wimberly. Andy made a successful transition from being a well-established financial advisor to an executive coach.  As he says, “it took me 15 years to become an overnight success as a coach,” but his example and encouragement reinforced my confidence.  Both Andy and Carl reached out and helped me help myself.  They challenged me and created accountability.  They would not let me just “talk the talk” about change, I had to “walk the walk.” They shared and continue to share their wisdom and life experiences with me. I use the examples of Carl and Andy to illustrate the point that there is a significant impact of helping others be their best.

The Rewards

There are both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for investing yourself in helping people to be their best.  You will find that when you help others elevate that you feel better about yourself.  I write a weekly column on leadership.  I have interviewed hundreds of leaders for this column and one of the standard questions I ask is “What is your proudest moment as a leader?”  By far, the most frequent response I get is the satisfaction that comes from seeing others develop and move on to achieving great things.  There is typically no direct financial reward for these leaders for that kind of success.  However, by watching others succeed that they had invested in, they were able to know that their investment paid off.  They could see the fruit of their efforts.

Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I also like Benjamin Disraeli’s statement, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him, his own.”  I hope that you will consider whether you are being the kind of leader who is elevating others to help them reach full potential.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

After an unplanned hiatus from much airline travel, I have recently begun once again frequenting the “friendly skies.”  As with many service businesses, I am struck by the wide variance in customer service among the airlines.  While some companies acted like they were doing me a favor to let me travel with them, others actually made traveling fun.  Having been involved with service businesses for almost twenty years, I am fascinated by how some companies seem to make customer service look so easy while most others glaringly fall short.

Shining examples of stellar service include Chic-fil-A, Southwest, and, of course, Disney.  In fact, a friend recently shared with me a classic Disney experience.  After several tense minutes at the front desk trying to check into their room, they were shocked to find out that they had been randomly picked to be upgraded to a luxurious suite for their weeklong stay.  That’s service!  No telling how many people they have shared that positive Disney experience with.

What’s the secret? How come some companies just seem to do it better than others?  On individual basis, it obviously starts with great people.  I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about an airline pilot who displays exemplary customer service. Capt. Flanagan routinely takes pictures of stowed pets to let the owners know they are on board and safe; calls the parents of children traveling alone to reassure them; and writes notes on his business card to first class passengers to thank them for their business.  In fact, when storms detour his flights to unplanned destinations, he will often call ahead and order food for his weary passengers. If only the rest of United Airlines’ pilots shared his passion they would dominate the market.

Secret Service

John Dijulius in his book Secret Service  gives us some great practical guidance.  Dijulius has studied many of the great customer service companies and applied their best practices in his multi-location spa/salon business located outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  Using practical illustrations, he examines what truly allows some companies to excel.  He describes how every company has their own customer experience cycle. For example, how does a prospective customer first interact with your business? How is your product or service delivered? What follow up occurs with each customer? Diagramming this process will allow you to see what your particular business’ customer experience cycle looks like and who plays the critical roles in its success.  Only then can you design a world class customer experience cycle that you can implement in your business.

Creating the Experience

Almost every business can benefit from enhancing their customer’s experience.  Think about your own interactions as a customer. Where was the last place that made you say Wow!  Where did you last stop and take note of the outstanding service that was being provided?  Was it at your physician’s office or car repair shop? Was it maybe during your last dining experience or retail excursion?  Think further about who consistently Wow’s you.  Where can you go time and time again and feel like you are truly appreciated and taken care of as a customer?  Disappointingly, in my experience, there are too few of these. The key for business owners is creating a quality and repeatable customer experience.

Moving Past Good Intentions

Most business owners I know want to please their customers. They know that their customers are the lifeblood of their business.  The problem is that great customer service is great in theory but tremendously difficult to consistently execute on.  I see many companies that start off with high aspirations and great intentions regarding customer service.  However, for many business owners, the day to day demands of payroll, rent, and staffing tend to overshadow proactive customer service activities. Before losing hope, remember that it can happen – you really can have great customer service.  The key is to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and truly understand your company’s unique customer experience cycle.  Once you design a great customer experience, then it takes good hiring, lots of training, and accountability systems to make this a reality.  Customer service can’t be left up to chance but must become a non-negotiable systemic part of your business.  Applying these and other customer service best practices will help you create a competitive edge in the marketplace.