Category: Knowledge-building / Training


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: He Who Can Provide Outside-In® Leadership Has the Whole World with Him

October 15th, 2014

Each month our leaders focus on learning and development. Do you consistently allocate time for shared leadership experiences and discussion? This form of renewal really brings the team together and gives us time to think about how accurately each of us lead. Recently, we have been working from Dale Carnegie’s original self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book is one of the most important influences on the way we do things as a business—specifically how we deal with people!

images2We have been focused on Chapter 3, “He Who Can Do This Has the Whole World with Him. He Who Cannot Walks a Lonely Way.” My leaders discussed and discovered that we have a tremendous role in understanding our staff’s needs and wants. How many times do we present ideas or share our opinions in a way that is good for us? How often do we think, write, or present in a way that is of the other person’s interest? We all think about ourselves before others—this is simply human nature. However, to be truly Outside-In® leaders, we have to start with the other person’s interests first. As the book says, we must learn to “bait the hook to suit the fish.” Just because you like something doesn’t mean that others will and vice versa. Are we really ready to talk in terms of someone else’s interests? We better be.

We can use our title as ammo or yell as a leader to get things done for a moment. Cracking the proverbial whip works once or twice but only for a very short period of time. A sales person can be successful every now and again when they talk about what they want, their product and service, their quota, their tough day, etc. However, consumers want to feel like they are really being listened to. They want to buy, not be sold to. And they want to know that their needs are being met.

How can you take into account the other point of view? We made our list together as leaders.

  1. Listen. Talk less. Be clear that we understand what others want and need.images
  2. Be clear about what needs to be done, especially as we understand how staff wants to do their jobs.
  3. Create a reminder of the hook and the fish concept. What bait do you need to have an effective employee, customer, or family discussion?
  4. Be aware of wants and needs as we delegate. If done correctly, delegation is the key to knowing exactly what these wants and needs are.
  5. Be clear about expectations.
  6. Give staff the opportunities to explore.
  7. Remember that not everyone’s way works all of the time. Sometimes a good leadership push is in order.

He Who Can Provide Outside-In® Leadership Has the Whole World with Him

October 9th, 2013

Each month our leaders focus on learning and development. Do you consistently allocate time for shared leadership experiences and discussion? This form of renewal really brings the team together and gives us time to think about how accurately each of us lead. Recently, we have been working from Dale Carnegie’s original self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book is one of the most important influences on the way we do things as a business—specifically how we deal with people!

images2We have been focused on Chapter 3, “He Who Can Do This Has the Whole World with Him. He Who Cannot Walks a Lonely Way.” My leaders discussed and discovered that we have a tremendous role in understanding our staff’s needs and wants. How many times do we present ideas or share our opinions in a way that is good for us? How often do we think, write, or present in a way that is of the other person’s interest? We all think about ourselves before others—this is simply human nature. However, to be truly Outside-In® leaders, we have to start with the other person’s interests first. As the book says, we must learn to “bait the hook to suit the fish.” Just because you like something doesn’t mean that others will and vice versa. Are we really ready to talk in terms of someone else’s interests? We better be.

We can use our title as ammo or yell as a leader to get things done for a moment. Cracking the proverbial whip works once or twice but only for a very short period of time. A sales person can be successful every now and again when they talk about what they want, their product and service, their quota, their tough day, etc. However, consumers want to feel like they are really being listened to. They want to buy, not be sold to. And they want to know that their needs are being met.

How can you take into account the other point of view? We made our list together as leaders.

  1. Listen. Talk less. Be clear that we understand what others want and need.images
  2. Be clear about what needs to be done, especially as we understand how staff wants to do their jobs.
  3. Create a reminder of the hook and the fish concept. What bait do you need to have an effective employee, customer, or family discussion?
  4. Be aware of wants and needs as we delegate. If done correctly, delegation is the key to knowing exactly what these wants and needs are.
  5. Be clear about expectations.
  6. Give staff the opportunities to explore.
  7. Remember that not everyone’s way works all of the time. Sometimes a good leadership push is in order.

The Leadership Equation: Adding and Subtracting Value

October 17th, 2012

Do you add value or subtract it from your people?

I am talking about adding value as a leader.  Most leaders demand things from the people.  Status reports, project updates, report out meetings, you name it.  They are all critically important facets to running today’s complex companies; but, is that all you are? What have you done for your people lately? Here are a few crucial ways you can add value as a leader:

Give regular and timely feedback.  Nothing fancy.  Not a performance review or, goodness gracious , not a 360.  Just good old-fashioned commentary on what you see in that person’s role.  Staff can take it.  They like hearing areas that need work.  We all want to be held to a high standard, especially in an environment that can make you better!

Teach.  Give your team more knowledge and they will reward you with more productivity.  Your team will have more confidence, more problems will get solved, and more decisions made.  Perhaps, even the bonus is they will do all of this without you!  I know you’re thinking, “What will I do as a leader, if I do not have all of those decisions to make?”  Well, I guess you can add more value right?  Sometimes leaders sit behind there desks and dole out answers; I prefer to live, and I expect our leaders to get on in front and lead the way by showing the way.

Ask questions.  What are the hassles of your people?  What breaks everyday?  What are the barriers to success?  What resources, tools, and training are necessary for your people to excel?  Sometimes, smart employees will even give you the fix! You just have to ask the questions. You never know how or if you can add value to a situation unless you ask your team!

So, as leaders we have a choice.  Are you adding value or are you asking more from your people than you are giving in return?

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

August 10th, 2011

CBI Group turns 10 this month. As the song goes, “what a long, strange trip it has been.” 10 was a great movie but I am no Bo Derek. 10 is the number of my favorite soccer player, my son Josh. And 10 is the number of the world’s best soccer player Messi, who Josh happens to idolize. 10 is an interesting number that is typically used in scoring to describe perfection. “The perfect 10” in gymnastics, for example.
 
Yet anyone that has started a business and decided to become their own boss would note that there is nothing perfect about running a company. It is an imperfect pursuit. It’s great fun and full of challenge, but far, far from perfect. I figured that I would share my reflections, musings and even some advice after having made it to the number 10.
 
First some interesting statistics about business and their longevity:

    69-70% make it to 2 years.

    49-51% make it to 5 years.

    34% of businesses make it to 10 years.

CBI Group is now a member of the 34% club. Does this make you wonder what happened to the other 66 out of 100 companies? I think I know. Here are 10 musings.

    Musing #1: Running a company is harder than it looks. Lets call it the “Expertise Paradox.” Starting a business requires skills and experiences beyond what most people have that attempt it. And maybe more importantly, few will put the sheer time and effort into their venture to overcome their deficiencies. Frankly most do not even figure out what their weaknesses are and their business simply fails. I am amazed at how much I have had to learn and change to be here today.
    Musing #2: Bigger is not Better. Better is better. Over the years I have changed my perspective on why my business exists. My business serves a need that exists in the marketplace but at times I have pursued growth as if growth were a game. Growth is important, without some growth you stand still — and as trite a statement as it is, your business will die without growth. But growth does not mean you are the best. So, in my tenth year, I pursue a slightly less serious, more fun positioning these days. Let’s have fun and be really good at what we do… and the rest will come.
    Musing #3: It takes just 1 degree difference to differentiate. It doesn’t matter what business. Nor what the competition is doing. It’s small, but 1 degree makes enough impact.
    Musing #4: You know you’re ready when you have run your business through periods of growth and recession. You really want to know if you have a good business? See if it is recession proof. Many of us have learned invaluable lessons in how we run things day-to-day that will make us stronger as the economy continues to improve
    Musing #5: Culture is really important. I have advised too many businesses to count. And sadly, culture is still an afterthought for so many companies. Culture is a company’s personality. Not focusing on the culture of your business is a missed opportunity to express yourself and attract like minded customers, employees, and vendors.
    Musing #6: Everything is temporary. My father reminded me that even after 27 years of being in business, not even his wife lasted working all of those years. When we are in the moment, we think that all of our relationships will last forever. But employees’ life situations are constantly changing. Have an open, honest environment that embraces that. It should be easy for folks to move on if they want.
    Musing #7: Building a sales engine is hard. Most people push sell and build that into their sales function. Try treating prospects they way you want customers to be treated. Solve problems first.
    Musing #8: Plan a sabbatical. I took one at five years for five weeks. The Blackberry did not even make the trip. And my company did fine in the short-term without me. I have great memories of camping all over the US with my family!
    Musing #9: Being an entrepreneur is like running a marathon while reading your smart phone. Silly, right? However making it ten years is a marathon. And don’t you always feel like as you are doing one thing, you are really on a bigger treadmill? While finishing something small like opening the mail or sending a much needed email gives you satisfaction, there is always something much bigger that needs attention. I feel like this all of the time. And I think I like it that way.
    Musing #10: I mentioned this one right in the beginning. Do not pursue perfection. Shoot for organized chaos. I have attempted many times to run a perfect company. And it does not guarantee success. Because something is always in need of a change. It could be strategy, or shift in marketplace conditions or economic information, or shifts in suppliers. The point is that it never stops. Some flaws are sexy. And only the right things need to work for a company to be successful.

Personally I have never believed in celebrating anniversaries. I was always taught that 10 years in business can mean slow moving, stodgy, behind the times, deadwood. I actually believe this and chuckle when marketing collateral brags about 10 years of experience. I am much more interested in today. I always have been.
 
I wonder if I could get 26 posts to this blog? Why 26 you might ask? That is the number of companies out of 100 that started 15 years ago and are still here today. CBI Group would like to get there too. You can help. Post.
 

What’s Wrong with Titles?

July 27th, 2011

Let’s start with the value that titles have.

    A title can create clarity for your customer by simplifying your business and declaring what you do and how you can help. “Customer Service Representative” says it all. Others help people categorize you and what you might want from them. “Oh you’re in sales.”
    Titles are also important to employees. They imply that there are levels to achieve and give a tangible thing for people to strive for — titles can reflect a person’s success. Some roles, ones with VP or Manager in the title, give the impression of authority and respect. These earned titles, when earned through results, effort and hard work are no problem.

But some times titles create more confusion then they do clarification. And often times, titles do not guarantee respect. Employees that get things done, are good teammates, or peers that solve problems do. Let me share an example.

    Years ago I worked in a regional leadership role for an international staffing firm. During a leadership retreat a core team member pressed the President of the business for a VP title. The argument was a traditional one. During a real time of change, he needed that VP title to “demonstrate” that he had the authority to sell and negotiate in our home markets. The funny thing is that that’s all the title really meant — it helped people take him seriously. He had not earned nor received the authority he craved. So he got a title, all pomp and circumstance with no new authority!

So I’d like to challenge you to think about what a title really means to you. Certain titles are sought after and people shoot to progress “up the ladder” but do we ever think about WHY we have them or WHY we shouldn’t? The world understands linear promotions. Just because people get it, doesn’t mean titles are always right for your business. Are titles good for your company’s growth?
 
I don’t think so. My premise is simple. Titles limit a business. They make you inflexible. They can and do create unintended circumstances like hierarchy. They isolate and create silos between people and departments. Titles can hurt your company culture.
 
I’d like to challenge the norm and what people understand or stereotype. Imagine a business where business cards do not include titles. Contemplate a world where job descriptions take on less importance. I come from an HR world and understand the inherent value in listing tasks, skills, experiences and duties. But these lists can create boundaries that limit staff. Putting people in a box can stifle creativity and often discourage risk taking for fear of overstepping boundaries.
 
I encourage you to think about the titles you’ve had. That the people in your company have. What do they really mean? Please post your thoughts — do you think there is anything wrong with titles?
 

Complexity Skills – Are you ready?

May 25th, 2011

Your mindset is everything. How you approach the everyday will make the difference between succeeding or not. Getting the job or finishing second. Whether your business will grow to the next level or lag behind. Will you get that next promotion? Your mindset is important because the business world moves fast and is constantly changing. If you’re not ready to embrace change, you will be left in the dust by those that are.
 
Learning “complexity skills” will help put you ahead of the pack. What are they? Complexity skills reflect our capacity for adapting to change and learning. Having the ability to comprehend the nuances around us through knowledge and learning. For a business this is all about the organization’s ability to make change and to move in new directions. Is your business flexible? Does it launch new ideas easily?
 
Complexity skills can be applied to both individuals interested in bettering their situation or to groups or organizations striving to improve and grow. Individuals’ skills, attitudes, knowledge and values are powerful forces with the mastery of complexity skills. But the collective ability of a group with the ability to adapt, drive change, and survive is unstoppable. The world is complex and those that face complexity head on can see opportunities and take advantage of them. Is your workforce capable of adapting to and exploiting opportunities day after day? Complexity skills are about workforce readiness and the role it can play in productivity, business growth and advancement.
 
Think about the people you work with. There are always some that feel “acted upon,” that are never in control because the change is always happening to or around them. These are the people that say their greatest strengths are having technical skills or a strong work ethic. The others that drive change and exploit it are the ones that have the positive outlook and feel in control of their jobs and their careers! When one truly understands “complexity skills,” their greatest strength is how they adapt well to changing environments and understand that today’s knowledgeable worker must focus on learning to be well-equipped to embrace the realities in a new role!
 
You may be thinking to yourself, “I get it… but what can I do about it?” It is not easy to influence and change, even when that is your main focus. Complexity skills are challenging for leaders and for individuals. Start by getting a clear understanding of the concept. That business wants a flexible, adaptable, knowledgeable workforce because this approach drives speed and innovation. Speed and innovation help you compete. And if you compete well, you might survive and thrive. Like any other variety of nature, those that do not adapt, do not live on. I for one would like my business and my workforce to have this advantage.
 

Business “Danger Zone”

December 21st, 2010

I love to coach youth soccer. The principles of leadership I practice in business extend very well to sports and coaching teenage boys. In fact, the boys are often more innocent and pure, which makes them easier to motivate and reach than the often opinionated and experienced professionals in the business world. On the flip side, life tends to provide a wonderful means to teach and coach business. As an entrepreneur, teaching and coaching are one and the same.
 
What is the danger zone? In soccer, it is the area of the field that extends out from the goal posts and is the part of the field from which most goals are scored. Danger Zone The size of the zone depends on the soccer players’ age. Generally, most goals are scored in the “center”, so it is much safer to clear the soccer ball down the sidelines than down the middle. To remain a step ahead of the kids (and the parents) in their development, we learned about the concept of the danger zone. In the early years, the game is all about skill development and tactics really come into play. But the game can be simple too. Get the ball into the danger zone if you are on offense, out of the danger zone if you are on defense.
 
What is the business danger zone? Where are you able to score most easily? In what areas are you most vulnerable and need to be more defensive oriented. Can you work on “scoring” more in business and reducing risk at the same time? If you asked my soccer team, they would say it is very hard to both. You can be become defensively oriented or offensively gifted. But it is difficult to do both. You have to choose your philosophy and stick with it. In business? Similarly, you must choose your priorities carefully – and stick with them.
 
In business, a leader enters the danger zone when he tries to accomplish too much. You have seen this happen. You have heard the speech; we all know this leader. The strategy is complicated and the list of to-dos are impossible to remember and even harder to relate to. Why does it sound like they are they reading directly from the business plan?
 
Great leaders choose simple priorities. These leaders clarify the rules of the business in a simple way and repeat that message over and over again. They learn that the business danger zone varies by the business and is not something to take lightly. Successful leaders also understand that they should not apply business tactics directly from a seminar they attended or an article that they read. Instead, those concepts can be incorporated over time. It is vital that leaders recognize the danger zone for their business.
 
So are you going to focus on defending your danger zone or will you work to attack your opponents? Offense or Defense? Your choice. I bet you can’t do both at the same time. Just ask the Klondike Express boys. In the end, we chose to concentrate on defense, yet the lessons ended up showing up offensively. Go figure…

The McKinley Edge

October 28th, 2010




I have a dream to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska – all 20,320 feet of it.  All of my friends and family know it, my mom begs me not to talk about it and my wife laughs a little knowing that I am all talk (for now).  I hike and backpack year-round and take several recreational hiking trips. There is always a peak involved, small east coast peaks that challenge us about as much as a normal day at the office.  To climb McKinley, you have to train ridiculously hard (see the sample workout that I have used) and work up to it by climbing one of the many “fourteeners” (14,000 ft. peaks) in Colorado, then you move on to Mt. Rainier in Washington.  This is standard mountain climbing play book stuff.

In training for such a difficult climb, one must train to the concept of the McKinley Edge – going beyond your training comfort zone.  When faced with a life threatening situation, no matter how tired or exhausted you are, there must be reserves left – a final gear to get you out of danger. The McKinley Edge involves training your body for that extreme or going to maximum heart beyond the point of exhaustion.  Each person has a different stress tolerance or pain threshold.  Everyone’s endurance level is different.  The key thing is you can train your body for extremes and that really got me thinking…

If you can find the McKinley Edge for you body, can you work on it for your business?  Can you find your leadership McKinley Edge?  I think you can.  As a young man while working at Placers I had many different roles and assignments.  As soon as I thought I mastered one office, I got two. When I learned to handle managing managers I got five direct reports.   Never managed the HR function or sales?  I got the exposure and it definitely did not come easy.  I would like to apologize now to those early employees that had to teach me to manage them.  I had the motivation and desire, good mentors and my work ethic was non-stop.  Still I had to get used to the stress and responsibility and grow into it. I had to want to grow into it.

The key was something that my father, Alan Burkhard, theorized and has lived everyday of his life: You can train for stressful situations in business by practice. It involves getting comfortable with change; you have to want to exploit it.  It can not happen to you; you must make it happen.  The McKinley Edge in business is different for all of us.

You can get there by:

  1. Seeking out special projects and additional responsibility at work. Gain an edge.
  2. Make a presentation in front of others.
  3. Start a business – SO MUCH TO LEARN! It is a constant McKinley Edge training session for years to come.
  4. Put yourself in new/uncomfortable business situations.
  5. Work from an entrepreneurial business!


My McKinley Edge at this point?  It never changes.  Every two weeks I have to meet payroll for my company.  This is one thing I will never get used to.  Take a moment and define your McKinley Edge for your role or your business and post your thoughts!  I have learned that most would send me an email in private instead of posting – find your edge and post….

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