Category: Company Culture


An Entrepreneurial View of Failure

July 23rd, 2014

When Edison searched for something to use to illuminate a light bulb he spent months and months with hundreds of different filaments until he found one that worked. Do you think he viewed each unlit bulb as a waste of time or something irrecoverable? He knew with each failed experiment, he was one step closer to something that would work!

ID-100209779As a small business owner, I have failed many times. I have hired the wrong people, put the wrong programs in place, even launched the wrong business ideas. However, I don’t view this as failure. Rather, this is a process to make something right and unique. This is how business works. Try something, fail quickly. Tweak it. Make adjustments. Learn from it. These are the basics. This is not failure. This is how we grow and gain knowledge.

Some say that being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. How do you handle the rejection? The no’s? The pats on the head when your business is just starting? Some will say, “When are you going to go get a job?” This is all part of the failing—dealing with the fact that most people really can’t handle the risk of trying.

I always feel as if I have more control of my own destiny when I am my own boss than when I work for others. That is just my my view. I would rather have tried to be a small business owner,  to have launched new services, and to have hired the wrong person because most of the times we end up getting it right. And we only need to get it right more often than not in order to be successful!

So the next time someone is taking a risk, think twice about your commentary. Risks create learning, knowledge, and opportunity. Everything changes. Why not be the one that initiates and drives change? Then failure will not be an option!

Servant Leadership: Vacation & Days Off

July 2nd, 2014

At Outside-In® Companies, we work hard to share content and to communicate regularly with our employees, customers, and other key stakeholders. When this week’s marketing went out, mostly automatic responses came back. “I am sorry I am out of the office until July 7th, the 14th, or whatever it might have been. Please contact (fill in the blank) if you have any urgent matters.” I stopped and thought about all those that left working—those employees who got the extra call, email, or workload because you or someone else was out on Holiday.

ID-100135888Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs (and earns) their time off. Generally speaking, the average employee never seems to take all the time off that they have earned. However, with technology only a touch screen away, work always seems to get in the way.

I have a culturally-led goal for Outside-In® Companies—for leaders to encourage the newest or least senior person get that choice week or Friday off before the Holiday weekend. Leaders should be in the office working and getting things done. And yes, you should close the office down. (I am not bragging but four of my leaders were working and wrapping things up long after 5pm on July 3rd so that others could get started on their long weekend).

The average leader works so hard to climb the corporate ladder, to have the title, company car, three-week vacation, or big bonus that we have forgotten what servant leadership is all about.  To be a servant leader, you need to anticipate and meet the needs of your employees. You must be honest, direct, and fair. Leaders must share the truth. Especially when it prevents an employee from being good or great in what they do.

However, being a servant leader also means showing sacrifice and equality. If you expect your values to be real and for all to be equal, you must show it in your actions and policies. Next week take a look around the office. Are all the leaders on vacation and the employees working hard? Or is their servant leadership in place? Either way, all can live this trait. Take on the burden and offer to close the office for someone. That is what servant leadership can be; especially when your staff is getting the job done!

World Cup: Who Wears the Yellow Arm Band?

June 25th, 2014

Almost half of the entire planet is watching the World Cup. Perhaps not where you live, but here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s all we have. Hockey and basketball are over. Our baseball team stinks. And football has not started just yet. The sentiment of local sports radio personalities is that the World Cup is boring. Soccer does not score enough. This is cross country running with a ball! In fact, the radio folks seem restricted in their ability to talk about it, even if they are one of the few DJ’s that will embrace the sport and the Cup.

ID-10056952Well, not in my house. And frankly the public sentiment is changing. Today kids play the game and parents socialize on saturday mornings on the sidelines and at tournaments. Soccer is becoming a lifestyle here in the states. Now I will get off my soap box!

As a leadership coach, entrepreneurial leader of a company, and a high school soccer coach, I tend to see the world of soccer through a different lens that comes from an adoration for the sport and the study of what makes a leader in any life situation. What has fascinated me most is what it takes to be Captain. In soccer, this is signified by the yellow arm band. My curiosity lies within the question of if the traits of a leader are the same on the pitch as they are in the board room. What do you think? My sense is that you can insert the President, the VP or a Manager in any of these situations if they represent good leadership behavior.

What it takes to wear a yellow arm band:

  • You have to have players that will follow you. Every leader must have followers. Leaders can’t send a message or create a vision if no one believes in it. No one can be Captain without buy-in from the players!
  • A Captain is vocal in both big and small ways. A captain knows all aspects of the game. And they put their teammates in the right place while on the field. They communicate constantly. They direct and put players in the right position. The team listens and respects the chatter. This mental direction is so critical in the game. The smallest mental lapses in spacing, positioning, and decision making on and off the ball create most of the goal scoring opportunities for your opponent.
  • A Captain can put the game on their back as they say. No matter what is required. Shut down the other team’s best player. Make the critical play or pass. Even the score—go ahead and make a goal.
  • The captain must lead the team 24/7 on and off the field. Winning and being competitive is not contained in a 90 minute game. The season begins the day the last one ends. Being a leader is learning more about the game, playing it, getting in better physical condition in the off season, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Captains do everything with intention. Every meeting, every Friday night game or spaghetti team dinner is with a purpose. Closeness in a team off the field relates to trust and understanding of your teammates on the pitch.
  • The captain respects the entire team and knows that all have value. However, the captain also understands and respects individual roles and contribution levels.
  • A captain knows the team values and communicates with them. All action, word recognition, and discipline stems from living the values or helping teammates do it better.

Interesting to note, leadership behavior is just as hard to notice in a soccer game as it is in the game of business. You really have to look for it because it is effortless for good Captains and good leaders.

Create a Culture Holiday!

June 18th, 2014

How do you reinforce and teach the right organizational behaviors to your employee base? Leaders want their company to have a culture that reflects the values they put in place, but how can you do this from a practical day to day perspective?

Generally, we want to tell stories around our values. We want to reward and recognize values-based behaviors. And then we want to keep repeating and reinforcing. Not so hard in theory, but it can be difficult in a practical sense.

At the Outside-In® Companies, we have established a values holiday calendar. We have quite a few values, so every three to four weeks we celebrate one of our unique values for the day. Employees partner up and work on a value to find a way to bring the values to life. The value gets reinforced at our morning huddle. Legacy stories might be shared. A module of learning might be created. Handouts and visuals placed on desks or in prominent places to reinforce the message. The key is the simple routine and consistency. The challenge is to keep it fresh and changing.  And to make the story and symbolism meaningful.

When you encourage employees to take on a value they must become learners in order to act as teachers. Allowing all to be innovative and unique in how they communicate it is simply part of our culture. This reinforces taking risks and being knowledge-based workers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 1.39.32 PMSpeaking of risk taking and holidays. Check out the $9 dollar bill with my face on it. This was the handout on for the Risk Takers values holiday. I always say make $9 dollar mistakes. Involve others when its goes to $99 or perhaps $99,999 or up. Once you bring the values to life in a meaningful way the rest will fall into place as employees live and breathe your culture. Humor. Education. Recognition. Rewards. Repeat.

Take Advantage of The Lazy Days of Summer

May 28th, 2014

We all know the sayings – “The early bird gets the worm” or “The harder I work, the luckier I become”. Our mindset and approach to getting ahead is unfortunately prone to external influences like time of year and life events! Kids are now getting out of school for the summer. There are several long weekends ahead of us. Vacations are  being planned. Graduations, end of school picnics, concerts and pool parties start to fill our calendar. The beginning of summer is similar to the November/December holiday season for a lot of us. We look forward to it. It is tempting to lose some of our typical drive and determination to feel that we deserve the time to ease off just a little.

ID-10030008This time of year it can be hard to not be just a little lazy. After all, that is why they call it the Lazy Days of Summer, right? Being lazy during the weekend or when you’re taking much deserved time for vacation is expected and ok. We all need to take a break sometimes! The challenge becomes when that starts spill over into the rest of our days. When we perceive and rationalize that fewer people are working and push things off because we feel like we won’t really be able to really get any results. If you’re in a customer facing role, it can be hard to reach people, hard to make schedules work for meetings, to find the time personally to be planned and prepared. After all life’s distractions are often more pleasant then our work.

I will actually take this whole notion fighting off the lazy days a bit further. This time of year is the chance to truly get ahead in whatever it is you do. Putting the time in today can get you ahead of the curve and create opportunities for you.

So play hard when you’re off! In fact, use that time to disconnect and turn off the distraction of work when you’re not working, put that tablet or smart phone away. However, don’t be the one that feels sorry for yourself when others are off and you are working.  Don’t lower yourself to that level. It is easy to coast when fewer are looking. This is your chance to get ahead just for you! The skills, knowledge, output, and results are going to make you better and probably make you more valuable to your career and your employer in the long run!

If you are interviewing or looking for a job, use this time to get ahead in your job search when others are rationalizing that “No one hires this time of year”. Don’t fall prey to that sort of justification. Good people are getting new jobs everyday. Interviews are taking place right now. Trust me, my companies have them scheduled all day, every day with our customers.

If you’re in a business development role and playing golf today or heading to happy hour early, ask if there is anything else you could be doing to ensure you are on plan for the month and the quarter (or for the year!). Because there is always something meaningful to do in customer centric roles and to keep your relationships going.

Taking the extra time in your day to go the extra mile and putting in the extra effort can really pay off in the long term!

Can Your Team Handle the Truth?

May 14th, 2014

Several weeks ago my leadership team went through a self-conducted Patrick Lencioni exercise. If you don’t know Patrick he is a consultant and writer of wonderful books that generally use the power of a good story to reinforce certain principles around team building, leadership, communication, and organizational health.

In his newest book, The Advantage, Patrick recommends that each leader write down the answer to the following two questions:

  • What is one strength that each individual team member brings to the group?
  • What is one non-strength or challenge that negatively impacts the group?

ID-100255083At first, most leaders have to think long and hard about whether or not their team has the organizational maturity and closeness to pull this off. So, it starts with the leader and with all team members giving their positive feedback. That part is not so bad really. In fact, it is actually a compliment and a feel good. Then the negative feedback begins. And guess what? That is even better than the positive. We all kind of know our strengths and our big impact. However, we all really wonder what people think about our leadership qualities. To get this directly without caveats and not sandwiched between two positives is beyond refreshing.

So what did my team say about me? NOTHING surprising. They said that I need to be more direct and clear. (Be careful what you ask of people) I also need to make sure I am not too understanding in our team environment. My team reminded me that we all want to be in a winning environment and that it is my job to hold all to that high standard along the way!

The best part about all of this is that it’s a shared experience. One that leaders remember and can use in their efforts in the grey areas with their peers. This is a safe reminder for all of us. Chris, be direct. Leaders, please be more open. Listen. Or whatever else you need to work on.

This is all about creating an open, honest environment that encourages and builds a real team. One that can work through differences, can care enough to offer feedback, and challenge each other. Most teammates fight to get their work improved, not help the broader team. To know that this behavior will be rewarded—well, then we have something special to build on!

What is Your Personal Operating Philosophy?

April 2nd, 2014

Although each of us has one, few of us have ever sat down to work on it. Yet it still exists and your operating philosophy is at play all of the time. How do you react to people and situations? How do your beliefs impact how you act and perhaps even how you interact with the world around you. Your series of beliefs are your operating philosophy.

Trust me, even if you think you do not have one you do. So we all have a choice to make here to determine our philosophy. People do not know themselves. They know they don’t necessarily like dishonesty or rudeness or folks that lack direction or purpose in their lives. But knowing these things for yourself. Well I think in business and as a talent expert I see all kinds of people who simply have not taken the time to decide who they are and what they stand for. Imagine a culturally led organization asking culture-based questions to folks that don’t know their own culture? Hard to find a match.

So how do you go about defining yours? A business has an operating philosophy that defines in many different ways. Things like a mission statement, values or culture, even things like a purpose define the operating philosophy. They work hard to answer the basic questions of what a business does, why it exists, and how it goes about doing its business. I get asked this everyday as a business owner. And an answer I must give.

As people we have a choice. Are we half full or half empty? Are we reactive or proactive? Are we going to be friendly or nasty? Each of us needs to determine what we stand for and believe in.

ISTJ2I help people refine their personal operating philosophy by asking the following questions:

  • Brainstorm leaders in your community and famous people. What is that you admire about them?

  • Think of who you admire most. Then determine why.

  • Find an assessment tool like Disc, Strengthfinders, Myers-Briggs, or other tools for self-reflection and thinking.

Most important of all is to do some thinking about what the world needs from you. If we truly control our reaction to the world, we get to decide what we put out to the world, right? So the real answer is to define your thinking about your attitudes, beliefs, and values. And be able to talk about them.

So what is your operating philosophy?

Seasons: The Ultimate Agent of Change

March 26th, 2014

Spring is finally here. The temperature and my yard still look like winter; however, we can count on seasonal change. Ironically, we tend to look forward to this change. This winter is easy to forget as we all long for the warm sun and time outside! When the heat of Summer rolls in we will long for cool breezes and crisp Fall days! We accept these changes and embrace them. Why do we not accept other changes?

agent-badgeWith today’s world evolving and shifting right before us, I know most employees struggle with the notion of being an agent of change. Sometimes we all long for normalcy, safety, and just a little status quo. We find comfort in routine and the familiar. However, this is not really the way the world of work stays for long. I believe today’s worker has begun to romanticize the notion of being an agent of change. We all want to believe that we will be the ones that smile in the face of adversity, that take the bad news head on, that are willing to do whatever is asked of in order to live this value. Though truth be told, change is hard. We might have to give up tasks and duties we like and that give us energy. We might even have to take on new tasks that are brand new and unfamiliar, that we might struggle to grasp and master. As employees we might even do things we are not good at and never, ever saw ourselves doing. And when faced with change in reality your response can be very different than perhaps you want or even planned. Reactions to change are personal, unique, and ultimately up to the individual.

I have lived this first hand. Entrepreneurial founders face many crossroads and business challenges. During the “great recession” I found myself cleaning our offices on the weekends. I was also thrust back into leading, selling, and managing in a way I did not have to do for many years. We always have a choice with change. I actually fought it for too long. I ignored the recession, reacted slowly, we kept fighting, but we were not embracing the real realities of the new economy and its impact on our services and the marketplace.

Our goal at the Outside-In® Companies with change? To teach, discuss, equip, lead, educate, and work on our knowledge of the topic of change. We make it a value to remind us of our desire to be change-makers. We want our customers to envy our adaptive and flexible mindset. We want it to be an edge that we use daily to take advantage of business opportunities. And as a feature in working with us that provides our customers a one of a kind benefit. We find that our customers need to drive change and it is very hard work, but a partner that lives, breathes, and eats change seems to make their transition easier and less painful!

To be a true agent you must do more than be willing to be adaptive in your job and to the role you play in your company.  A true change agent seeks to understand why change is absolutely necessary to begin with.  Change is not just happening to you; change is constant for a business.  A business and its leaders must be making adjustments at all times, balancing goals with results, the external marketplace with internal resources, etc.  A company with a real advantage has to do less work convincing and influencing staff why change is necessary.  And gets to spend more time being productive!

Outside-In® Ubiquity

March 19th, 2014

Last year we realized that Outside-In® Companies have done much work to achieve our written and stated purpose. You see, we like a purpose because it is more actionable than a mission statement. I hope you don’t care for mission statements—they get put on lobby walls and above doors of conference rooms, but are not often talked about or brought to life. I am not sure what consultancy started to charge tens of thousands of dollars to Corporate America sometime in the 80s, but they should have to give their money back. In fact, most are not active in the day-to-day lives of the typical employee. Committees write them, yet no one understands them. And it’s easy to know why, they are just a bunch of jargon and buzzword-filled statements that impress but have no real purpose. In fact, most mission statements don’t seem to make any sense and are foolish, even!

purposeNow, purpose–this is why I hope you bolt out of bed every morning and get excited about what you’re doing. (Of course you love your job and career, right?) All of us at times need to think in longer terms, say 10-15 years in order to achieve and dream. Creating a big future and broader meaning for being are critical to culture and the experience that your employees and customers feel when they are a part of your organization. This is what drives you through thick and thin. And it is why I am writing this story. A purpose needs to be talked about, be actionable, and be alive and well in every single meeting. There is little coincidence that we use the word ubiquity in our purpose. We want our purpose everywhere, every place, all of the time. And everyday we bolt of bed to climb the Outside-In®  Mt. Everest. We put it out there for others to use. Now we need to get inside people and create a doctrine of beliefs that people can find useful to making their lives better and more fulfilled!

We have always wanted to get Outside-In® to become a household name in business. We registered the trademark in 2004. We wanted to encourage its use and not litigate, defend, or protect our claim. To me, the greatest form of flattery was when the national business magazine, or local technology blog used Outside-In® in a way that described customer-centered thinking and a culture that is, in essence, built around the customer.

I have a shelf full of books and an electronic database of references to our precious, Outside-In® moniker. Here’s four:

Getting Outside-In® in everyday language was fun. This was hard work. This is still a vibrant goal.  But we wanted to think bigger and differently about the next ten years. To us, Outside-In® is about our values and how they can play a role in our lives as employees, as parents, as neighbors and siblings, frankly all of life’s roles. We started to think that perhaps our new purpose is about showing everyone that Outside-In® Ubiquity is quite possibly the best thought we ever had. We started to hear from employees that they were taking our values home and into their personal lives. That they helped show the teenager the value of homework, that they improved relationships with neighbors—that our values were becoming ubiquitous. This makes a lot of sense. If you hire for values you have employees that generally came there for those congruent reasons. If we are rewarded, recognized, and appraised consistently against these values then the purpose becomes more like an Outside-In® tattoo. It is forever omnipresent in our lives.

Interrupt Us!

January 29th, 2014

At Outside-In® Companies we have a value that is rooted in being responsive. Responsive is somewhat nebulous because it means something different to everyone. The key to being responsive is to be Outside-In® with your audience. To do this you must ask the questions, “If I got back in touch with you tomorrow at 9am would that meet your needs? Is an email summarizing our pricing by end of day going to work for you? Honey, if I take the trash out before dinner is that ok?” I think you get the idea. We must all work hard to establish expectations with our various relationships if we hope to have any shot of living up to (and exceeding) our own standards.Responsive

We like to take responsive one step further here at Outside-In® companies. Each and every one of us answers the phone during office hours and we set a standard of picking up in three rings. We’re competitive so two rings is better; one ring is best. Hard to do better then that, although we would if we could. Being responsive is a cultural mindset that starts with leadership. Like a drumbeat, it must have a consistent and never ending rhythm.

However, that is not good enough. Part of being responsive is the demonstration of our commitment to it. When you call our offices we will ask you if you would like the person you are calling for interrupted. Please take us up on it! So few will, but, we know you called for a reason. To show you the importance we expect our staff to be able to juggle calls, take your call quickly, and arrange the best way to get that thing done your were calling about. Of course there are exceptions. However, most of the time we can juggle and we know it makes our customers more productive. Most importantly, being responsive stops the game of phone tag cold!

Welcome to our value of being responsive!

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