Category: Leadership


What is Outside-In?

February 4th, 2016

Although Outside-In® is a regular topic in my blog, the definition tends to elude some readers. By definition, Outside-In® is when a business is customer-centered. It is a philosophy, a culture, a way of thinking that impacts the way a business and its employees operate. When you’re Outside-In®, you are always listening to your customers’ needs and wants for opportunities to improve, drive change, or try something new for your customers.

I know many leaders that pride themselves on focusing on the customer exclusively — kudos to them. But how many leaders truly turn outward first, then build a company that does the same? A leader’s focus on the customer does not necessarily translate into every employee. Outside-In® suggests that leaders don’t have to hold the customer’s wants and needs on their shoulders alone. In a world that is moving faster every day, isn’t it better to have everyone in the organization listening and reacting to customers, instead of just one or a few?

Outside-In® companies should and can run like one, big, constant focus group. Imagine a focus group that never ends, where employees get to ask the questions and observe the customers’ behavior. What if these observations were collected and cherished every day and that company decisions and plans were driven based on all the customer insights collected? In an eternal focus group, every employee sees the impact the company has on the customer and when that impact is negative or unproductive, each employee has the opportunity to recognize how the issue could be addressed.

Employee IdeasLast year, Comcast NBCUniversal awarded employee ideas in the company’s internal ‘Shark Tank’ competition, The Idea, which challenged employees (139,000+ globally) to come up with the next big idea to make the company better. Employees responded to challenge, submitting 200 submissions within two hours of the program’s announcement, and nearly 3,000 ideas in the end. All employees’ suggestions “for enhancing the customer experience or driving innovation and new business opportunities.” Maggie Suniewick, a Senior VP for the company and organizer of the competition shared, “We have so many talented and engaged employees with really good ideas — they just haven’t always known how to share them more broadly.” The Idea winner, Nathan Kalish agreed with executives inspiration behind the competition, “We have to look to employees and consumers to identify needs and challenges,” he says. “And if we want to adapt and grow, we need to respond.”

Google is another example of a company that not only rewards employees but also their customers who uncover vulnerabilities in Google’s system. Last year, Google rewarded Kamil Hismatullin who discovered that he could delete any YouTube video file in minutes. Instead of exploiting this information, he reported the code he used to Google, who fixed the issue within a few hours and gave him $5,000 as a thank you. And just this week it was reported how much Google paid the man who bought the Google.com domain back in October 2015. What would Google do if they no longer had Google.com?!

There are lots of companies that practice the Outside-In® behavior of listening to customers to fix problems, make improvements and implement new ideas. And you don’t need to be a big company with a huge bank account like NBCUniversal or Google. Harvard Business Review notes one Japanese company Idemitsu, which gets more than a hundred ideas per employee each year without offering any bonuses. Imagine your company living with a customer-centric mindset 24/7! Wow, think of the money you could save. Or how much your company could make with new ideas?

New Year Leadership Planning Tips

January 6th, 2016

Outside-In® Chronicles: a throwback post, originally published five years ago in January 2010

2016 Leadership PlanningLeaders often ask me about how they can be a better leader tomorrow. What can they do right now to have impact on their business. I find the key is to know how to plan and approach leadership actions creatively. Still not sure what I mean? Leaders do stuff — they are in meetings, they make and take phone calls, they solve problems, etc. As a leader you could spend all day reacting to the world around you. In fact, it never stops coming. All day long the cell phone rings and the inbox fills up. Yet this is not leadership. And it’s certainly not planned, thoughtful leadership. Leadership planning is a way to have a real impact. To be proactive and creative in improving the lives of your employees and the productivity they can achieve.

No matter what industry you are in, you will inevitably have customers, employees, vendors and prospects in your day. The best way to plan? Let’s start by thinking about any employee. What do they need right now? A compliment?  Recognition? A tough talk? Someone to listen? Training? Your job is to eliminate barriers for your employees while holding them accountable, to remind people that they have something to learn, let them know you’re there to help and that you care.

Still not so sure what to do? Think about your customers next. Who can use a proactive call from you. Have you pulled the team together just to talk about a customer when there is not a problem? This is where the real opportunity lies.

  1. Leadership planning is scheduled time.
  2. Leadership planning involves critical thinking.
  3. Leadership planning can be exciting and creative if you know how.
  4. Leadership planning is a basic skill that can change your world. And your employees.

Do this homework assignment on a Sunday night.

  1. Take out a note pad. Right out your top to do’s for the week/Monday.
  2. Analyze the list. How much is recurring or just work to do?
  3. Make a list for an employee or special project.
  4. Think about them. What do they need from you to be more successful?
  5. Make plans.

Remember we all can get better, all of the time. And we will if our leaders can impact us in a meaningful way.

Need help to have real impact or want to share your ideas with others? Would love to hear more from you; we all have something to learn!

The Realities of the Current Labor Market. (plus a prediction)

November 4th, 2015

Contrast perceived advantages to working with small/medium firm versus a bohemoth. What is market information telling us?

The US unemployment rate is at 5.1 %; this is considered full employment for economic discussions. However, we have only been here for a couple months. In fact, at the beginning of this year we were at 5.7%, and this time last year we were at 5.8%. This is not a lot of time for workers to see a change in their job search outlook. Nor is it much time for employers to see and react to trends in turnover and hiring.

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The realities of Oct/Nov 2015 if you’re a worker, is that it has not been “good” for very long at all. Not even long enough to notice any change really. And this unemployment rate a national statistic. Some regions are red hot and doing better like the mid-west or parts of the west. The east is much cooler in jobs-related reporting than other regions right now.

And if you’re in charge of hiring, every company story is different. Fewer companies are really-aggressively hiring right now. Business strategy drives talent plans. And many current talent plans were set during more conservative and modest business times, likely around the second half of last year. Big companies are not adding or are, in fact staying status quo with hiring plans this year. Small to mid-size companies on the other hand, are driving the growth. As is the rise of the contingent worker who is freelancing, temping, or contracting to greater and greater numbers, which (frankly) barely shows in government labor data.

Now for my predictions.

  • Managing labor costs in business will continue to be a critical focus. This means employers still want flexibility in their labor costs as a strategy. Enter in temps, contractors, independents and or outsourcing.
  • Companies will lower labor costs over time. IT is a great example — After years or decades of using contractors many organizations are seeking to lower costs by bringing more IT folks in-house. This will happen in any skill set over time.
  • We are entering an era of labor shortages. The War for Talent predicted the boomers exit from the workforce and it is happening everyday. Yet now, the exiting labor pool is causing a negative point of view on today’s labor numbers. The labor is leaving the workforce as predicted, albeit a little slower than anticipated. But it is happening and it will cause labor shortages. We simply want our labor shortage to be caused by marketplace growth versus a sharp reduction in supply!

The 2015 Outside-In Summer Reading List

August 5th, 2015

Sometimes I can’t find enough time to read the pile of “must reads” on my night stand. So I am careful to suggest that others add to their guilt (I might be projecting my own guilt!) by having even more book and article suggestions to tack on to their lists.

Books.Pile of book on desk.When I make time to read, however, I am able to set aside the events of the day and the many distractions from people and electronics and something amazing starts to happen. Ideas and thoughts seem to flow in a torrent! I hope you’re able to spark your learning in a similar fashion. Find the time. It reduces stress and allows you to chew on the problems of the day in a new and productive way. And as a CEO or business leader, you don’t have to read all business books to find inspiration. This year, the trend (Fortune & LA Times for example) is for CEOs to read non business books to inspire new ideas.

So whether you’re committing to regular reading or simply looking for something to do on that family camping trip or week at the beach, this August I have a few page turners to consider.

  1. Choose Yourself by James Altucher: James is an avid writer, blogger and many time entrepreneur. Choose Yourself defines today’s workplace realities and offers real world ideas on how to take control of your work and how you will forever define how you earn an income. Thought provoking!
  2. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides: This one grips you! A few weeks ago, I spent a week ignoring friends and family on the beach in Block Island and read this one. It’s a true story researched for years by Hampton, Outside Magazine and others. This is the greatest historical story you don’t know! Great lessons in leadership, sacrifice, and survival. Imagine trying to get to the North Pole in a wooden ship with no means of communication with the outside world!
  3. Delivering Happiness A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos.com. In a business world where few have any real meaningful, sustainable business advantage, Delivering Happiness chronicles the dramatic rise of Zappos and how their culture drives everything and defines their success. And it is an entertaining read to boot! Not every success is immediate and over night. Success takes time, risk and perseverance.

I am always scanning for the next must read, I hear the Uncontainable, The Story of the Container Store by Kip Tindell is a must read… Next on the list? What books are on your list? Share away!

How to Retain Millennials

July 30th, 2015

Everyone seems to be curious about Millennials.Millennial-Workforce They are, after all taking over the workforce – in the next ten years they will comprise 75% of the global workforce (The Deloitte Millennial Survey). So, employers should take time to get to know millennials and what makes them tick.

One thing we know is that millennials are job hoppers. According to a survey by Pinpoint Market Research, 39% of participants aged 20-29, have already held 4-7 full-time jobs and 83% plan to stay at a single job for just two years, unless promoted. What is it that makes millennials move around so much? What do millennials value? Let’s look a little further into what Pinpoint found in their millennial survey to figure out how to retain millennials.

  1. Offer work/life balance: this seems to be one of the most important things that millennials seek from an employer. 88%, aged 20-29, said they seek a consistent work/life balance and 57% said they will leave a job if they aren’t getting it.
  2. Create opportunities to work from home: part of a work/life balance is the flexibility to work at home. 72% choose companies with work-from-home options.
  3. Don’t assume money is everything: if your retention plan is to throw money on the table when an employee seems unhappy, think again. 47% choose fewer hours over more pay and 60% choose “love of job” over money earned. Perhaps you should look at your workload expectations instead.
  4. Ensure your company is stable: millennials seek employment at stable companies – 88% say company stability is a top priority when considering employers.
  5. Focus on learning opportunities and career development: millennials want to work for an employer that fosters learning and development AND pays for it. 81% want companies to invest in their professional development and 83% want a clear path to promotion and will leave if they don’t get it. Here’s a few more statistics that really emphasize this one:
    • 83% want tuition reimbursement for education sought while employed
    • 78% want learning opportunities in leadership
    • 73% want to attend conferences, networking events and seminars

Based on the findings in this survey, millennials care about work/life balance, flexibility and career development. What will you do to retain millennial workers?

Outside-In® Chronicles: Three Things Grandmom Rose Taught Me About Leadership

May 6th, 2015

photo-2-223x300With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I wanted to revisit this blog about my Grandmom Rose and her significant influence on my leadership style.

My Grandmom Rose was an amazing person. When she was young, she absolutely loved to dance. When she was older, during a time when marrying those of another religion was uncommon, she left her Jewish faith to marry a man of a different one. And for decades, she fought for the underdog through volunteering for the rights and privileges of the blind here in Delaware. She lived to be well over 102—but her wisdom remains infinite. Although Rose died a few years ago, I think of her often. How could I not? Whenever I was sick as a child, Rose played 97 straight games of Candy Land with me. Imagine that. I think she let me win every time, too.

Today, I thought I would share a few thoughts on Rose’s lifestyle that I think translates pretty darn well into reminders for all of us in leadership positions.

1. Have a sense of mindfulness. This is a hard one. Are you centered and focused on the moment or the task at hand? Are you in the meeting you’re in? Or are you messaging others on your cell phone and trying to keep up with the rest of your day? Rose never knew technology and its advantages, but you always knew she was focused on you when you were sitting in front of her. As a leader, are you giving 100% to the team or person in front of you? Or do your distractions show? Does your lack of attention send the message that your time there is not important? Value the face time.

2. Ask valuable questions. If you’re in a sales, leadership, consulting, or frankly any role in life, there is nothing better than the ability to invest in others through asking questions. If you knew Rose she could ask some humdingers. They would just keep coming, too. They were good and stimulating questions. She genuinely cared about you and life—this showed through her investment in you. As a leader, how many times do you catch yourself talking, maybe dulling out general advice because it’s easier and feels good. Certainly easier than asking the style of questions that help people work through their own challenges and opportunities. Staff members want more than answers. They want skills they can use again and again. Does your leadership style involve a healthy sense of curiosity and frequently asking questions? Or are you too busy to lead and simply give out answers just to keep the day moving along?

3. Do one thing at a time. This sounds so…well, impossible in today’s world. Rose was really great about doing one thing at a time. I think she just wouldn’t understand why we think it is a good idea to multi-task to the point of exhaustion. Leaders get that adrenaline rush. Fight that fire. Answer that email. Text that message. All of these are signs of a normal, hectic day. However, before we know it the day is done. Did you accomplish your most important task? Did you finish what you started? It may seem old fashioned, but there is something to working on the hardest thing first and working on it until it is completed. It’s even more impressive if you do so without succumbing to the constant distractions of smart phones, tablets, and laptops!

When I was young, Rose took me to Gino’s for lunch every week for almost a year to collect that week’s plastic NFL football helmet. Each time she would laugh as I would eat one giant burger and then ask for a second one! Rose knew what was important in relationships. She knew what to bother with. If you see me turn off my phone, close my laptop, or shut the door to focus, know that in some small way, it’s my ode to Rose!

What Would Happen if We Stopped Taking Risks?

April 29th, 2015

Lets start with the obvious, avoiding taking any risk is actually a pretty serious risk all by itself! This requires us to avoid phone calls and interactions with customers and associates. We need to skip team meetings and duck out of the break room, too. The longer we stand still and stay status quo the more likely we are to fall a step behind or even lose altogether—all while our competitors and peers march forward.

The Outside-In® Companies believe in our value of taking risks. We definitely don’t steer around or away from it, but why does it matter for our employees to live this value? Who really cares anyway? In fact, why should any service company encourage risk taking?

ID-100309958First off, risk taking is really about decision making, the lack of perceived authority, task discretion, and reward for doing so. Employees that do not make decisions often do so because their company’s culture discourages it. This is cultivated through the management team and their practices. This is quite often an unexpected negative outcome of a company that lacks a cultural plan to encourage customer centric actions with those that have direct customer contact.

Employees that don’t make decisions have little or no choice but to get the answer for a customer from those that have the power or information. Usually, the power lies in controlling that information and it is intended to be a business control that simply hedges risk. However, in this case, it kills the customer! This can be because of a lack of training and knowledge or a matter of policy and the preferred hierarchical nature of the company.

Close your eyes and remember when this happened to you, a roommate, someone from your household, etc. Is there anything more frustrating than when you’re on the phone with that utility, or in line at the retail store, or airport and the service associate needs a manager? All you needed was to make a return, change a seat, or get your bill in the correct name. The worst part is that the supervisor does not do anything fancy—they just need a stupid code or a key to take care of your return or to move your flight.

A culture that values its customers empowers and encourages risks that take place in the act of serving a customer!

Employees that are not encouraged to notice what their customers are actually saying and then do something about it are not serving the strategic purposes of the business. The front lines see and hear it all. How many times have you heard a clerk or phone representative say that they have told management about a customer opinion so many times but no one listens. Then their voice trails off and their interest and engagement level wanes day by day! If we listen to customers as employees they will tell you why they are angry about a program or policy change, what is never in the store, when service is slow, or when a product has been replaced that should not have been. We can always hear it as employees.

A culture that values risk taking creates an environment where employees have tools and formats to share what they hear and take action! This is customer centric and systematic cultural risk taking. What did you learn from our marketplace today? What did our customers challenge us with? What do they need and want from us? Ask employees for feedback often, give all employees a format to share, reward this flow of insights, then categorize it and teach what to do with it. Most likely your plan of improvement needs tweaking. Employees just need permission to open their eyes and be empowered to see what needs fixing. Empowerment and the confidence to stand up and share what might be the next product or service that enhances your company’s top line strategy are the keys to grow your business.

Risk taking is a cultural tool to encourage customer centric and entrepreneurial behaviors for all of your employees. You have a choice in your organization; you can either treat employees like leased resources, or you can act and create an environment that encourages entrepreneurial behaviors that enhance your customer’s experience with you.

Go sit and listen to your employees, have Outside-In® eyes and ears, and gather the information you need in order to decide how to encourage risk taking that improves the experience for your customer base. Or come visit our office and see it in action!

CBI Way: Tackling a Talent Community

March 25th, 2015

By Outside-In® Team Member Alex Patton

ID-100248481Identifying talent has become more of a prolonged process recently as candidates continue to have more options and opportunities. As of January, the national time to fill averaged just over 25 days, according to the DICE Vacancy Duration Measure. The CBI Way blog has been examining trends in sourcing with over 5 million job openings nationally. And, creating a talent community can be a great way to make identifying candidates more efficient and cut down on time to fill for future openings.

A talent community relies on engagement and inclusion of professionals, usually in a specific industry. Another method of social recruiting, talent communities can create a collection of candidates with a common interest to tap for future opportunities and help drive referrals. Two keys to building a great community are communication and great content to keep the community active and engaged.

Developing a personalized place where professionals can interact with different types of individuals, all holding the same interest is where the “community” aspect comes into play. Active talent, passive talent, hiring managers, and industry experts have a place to share content, discuss new trends, or even offer advice on best practices to land a new job. At first, you’ll be driving the content, but eventually, others will be asking questions, sharing trends, and helping to grow the community. Although you may not seek candidates currently, having that pool of engaged and interacting professionals can help reduce your time to fill.

Growing and promoting the talent community efficiently is imperative. The more the merrier. While it won’t happen quickly, as the community grows, so does the capability to identify the talent that is knowledgeable and most desirable.

What is a Pre-Mortem Exercise?

March 18th, 2015

Have you ever worked in an organization that pulls the whole team together to review how to launch a new product or open a new office? The idea here is to create a “no fear zone” where teams can discuss and share what went well, what did not go well, and what lessons can be applied to future projects. When completed properly, “pre-mortems” can be a great way to promote learning, improve team behaviors, and create greater efficiency.

Imagine this scenario, a CEO calls a meeting with key staff to discuss a failed product launch or a quarter that is 20% off plan. Why would this meeting be called today when the product launch is next week and the quarter doesn’t start for another three weeks? While reading The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday, I became very overwhelmed by the concept of reviewing what could go wrong before it can go wrong.

ID-100185794A pre-mortem exercise is when you openly talk about every single thing that could go wrong with a project before the process implementation and execution begins. The goal is not be dark or negative, but rather to create an environment that encourages learning and proactive discussion about the downsides of efforts and actions before minor stucks turn into problems. This is exactly why athletes workout and why actors have rehearsal—practice makes perfect! We can never have too many business dress rehearsals or scrimmages.

Each and every business can greatly benefit from understanding contingency planning. When this type of thinking becomes natural and organic, it preconditions your team’s actions to fix what breaks. In other words, if you discussed what could go wrong and one of those potential snags begins to unravel, it might get addressed before it becomes an issue simply because the team anticipated this minor crisis and is fully prepared to handle it with ease.

Try a pre-mortem exercise today—what do you have to lose? Only learning, team building, and efficiency.

Outside-In® Chronicles: Mother Knows Best – Parental Leadership (Dale Carnegie Style)

February 18th, 2015

What can we learn about leadership from watching a parent? Just about everything. Parenting and leading require the same concepts and principles—communication, setting expectations, establishing roles, and setting boundaries. Let’s not forget building relationships and knowing what is important to the other person. In Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, one decree involves baiting the appropriate hook to suit the fish. In other words, knowing your audience and what they want. This requires you to think and speak in terms of the other person’s interest—in the Outside-In® world, this means being Customer Centric.

1871_001-2A great example of baiting the right hook involves my experiences as a young boy on any typical Saturday morning involving chores. The morning began with the Dale Carnegie approach from my mother, “Chris, remember today is chore day and if you still want to go to your friend’s house you have to clean up your room!” The answer was always, “Sure, Mom.” She would march off to scrub a wall, sweep, vacuum, or do the mounds of laundry that her active family always produced. Me? Well, I would go to the opposite side of the house; constantly moving and dodging parental contact. And then childhood pastimes would get the best of me—Saturday morning cartoons, eating, frankly staring at the ceiling, or even doing homework would be better than chores.

Then the second and even third requests would come, “Chris, why have you NOT started to clean up? You’re not going anywhere today and you’re really close to losing out on the whole weekend.” No longer was Dale Carnegie present in our household. It was “do it or else” time. Which never, ever worked. The more you push and tell me what to do, the less I will listen. (Did I mention I am an entrepreneur?) Try to make it my idea. Ask me. Explain the value of accomplishing the task. Even bribe me to do it. Don’t tell me what to do.

I find leaders start this way in work situations. We start by giving one a gentle push to complete a nagging, maybe slightly-behind project that is more important to us than the ones of whom we are asking. Then we check in and we get more directive, “I want that done by Monday. Are we in agreement?” And we end with the threat, “You know that your vacation day is in jeopardy and you are falling well off of plan. Performance reviews are right around the corner you know…”

water-24420_640So what does the inventive and creative Mom do when progress is behind? She takes the hill like a true Leadership General. She heads for the trash bag under the sink. Nothing moves people (or children) faster than the reach for the trash bag. Not following? Mom would grab the bag and head to our room or wherever our stuff happened to be piled that day. And she would say, “Anything I pick up you will not get back, it’s going to Goodwill.” And then I would come running, perhaps with tears streaming, “NO!” Sometimes it took action, not words to move the task or project to completion!

PS – Don’t try this on teenagers. They are prone to mumble, “Good now I don’t have to do it.” Or, “I have too much stuff anyway.” Any verbal warfare they can think of that gets to you!

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