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?
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.
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?
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.
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. 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…
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:
- Seeking out special projects and additional responsibility at work. Gain an edge.
- Make a presentation in front of others.
- Start a business – SO MUCH TO LEARN! It is a constant McKinley Edge training session for years to come.
- Put yourself in new/uncomfortable business situations.
- 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….
August 12th, 2010
If you like technology or have had to buy it for your business, you know there are two camps. Camp one: pay for a license to use the software and have the privilege to leverage it for business gain. Camp 2: the world of open source software. There are pros and cons to both. Software choices can also be applied as a metaphor for styles of leadership.
There are those that “license” leadership. They keep information close and use it as a source of power and ultimately control. These leaders believe in traditional social mores in business. They see teaching as a job for a trainer, not a leader. Learning and knowledge are not “free” nor encouraged, unless it helps the employee make more widgets. Structure and process trump organizational speed and creativity. For a license leader things like salary, bonus, and other perks act as strings to be yanked to demand and expect high levels of performance. For the employee, performing for the license leader often requires a compromise on who they are and who they want to be. I have often heard they are corporate actors expected to perform in scripted corporate ways.
Now contrast this with my concept of “open source leadership”. The great thing about open source software is that the masses make it better — all that contribute own it. In most cases it is very equal for users and contributors. You can pay to use it or simply make it better. Innovation and problem solving can excel here. For an open source leader this means that you can have the “source code” as an employee. There are no secrets and information is always available; control and responsibility are given out to all. It means that as a leader you embrace that business is complex and the way to manage it is by getting all to be an equal part of the business. You really have the most control when you hand it out to your employees. When you give up control, will the end result be exactly what you wanted? Probably not, which is most likely a good thing. New thinking, more folks involved, more eyes and ears paying attention are a benefit to everyone.
Now let’s lay out the truth — it is really, really hard to be an open source leader. It is hard to change just for the sake of change. There most be a compelling business reason, such as better results, more profit, more of something. Guess what? It will happen for you. Just not right away. And not every day. All Leaders have bumps in the road. It is how you smooth them out that really matters. And open source leadership is not for all. It is a challenge to trust and hand it out all of the time. It is amazingly hard to get the company communication thing just right.
It probably would not surprise you that my company utilizes open source software products. I was an early adopter as they say. I can tell you it is not perfect. Far from it. Just like any chosen leadership style. Yet for me it is the tool of choice. Fast, fair value, transparent, adaptive. These are things I want to be as a leader everyday.
July 8th, 2010
If you read my blog through one of the many ways we distribute, you probably read my good friend Bill Tietjen’s comments about remote control leadership. Bill and I get together several times a year to “wax philosophical” on career systems and business models and what works in today’s fast paced, unique business climate.
To quote Bill, “Remote control leadership can (and should) be complemented by a “remote control followership” in which all parties demonstrate and refine the same set of principles that have been outlined.”
My challenge to all of us who engage in organizational/entrepreneurial endeavors – How do we make such a tidal wave shift to a culture where “leadership is EVERYONE’s responsibilty”?
Our first common belief is that traditional career systems are dead. We are all not going to work for one company and have one job. We will all have many, as many as seven or more different jobs over our work life times.
Secondly, that the old military style of organized business where information flows from the top through the chain of command out to the troops and from the troops back to the top is less appealing today. Frankly not productive at the employee level. This model is inflexible, slow, and not likely to generate innovation and or create an environment of extreme customer service. To many this is still a common notion today because many leaders and most employees don’t know how to change. For the employee, they probably need to find a culturally based company. There are a few and they are worth finding. For leaders?
Leaders have a real challenge. Leaders who are worth their salt got to where they are by working hard and leveraging their natural strengths and learned leadership behaviors. Chances are most leaders did not learn to start or run their company utilizing the skills and or techniques that create an Outside-In culture or customer centered environment. This is the organization that is relatively flat, all are empowered, and information is shared across the business.
Innovation and speed come from empowerment. It also comes from earned trust that leaders gain through daily investments in the natural reinforcement of organizational priorities and by leading through the cultural values established for the business. But how do you make leadership everyone’s job? Seems like a daunting task, but it has been done. Have you ever been to a Ritz Carlton? Ever bought a Gore-Tex jacket? These are two organizations that are beacons of hope for making leadership everyone’s job.
The most important thing to do first? Leaders embed culture! Without your commitment as a leader to give leadership out to all, it will always fall short. And this must be in your words and actions!
Remote control followership. How do you do it? Where have you seen it?
March 30th, 2010
I hope you had a huddle with your team last week and asked the question, “What did we learn from the marketplace this week?”. I did. Guess what happened? My team liked it. The meeting was for one business unit, our human resourcing product, which deploys recruiters and HR consultants to our clients. The question started a conversation. The conversation was not about me talking. The conversation was about staff working together and sharing. We learned a lot about the customers and prospects we talk to each week. However, the real benefit in this case was the team realization that they need to talk to do their jobs well. That the insights give them confidence, and with confidence they feel more in charge. We also stopped ourselves when we became aware of our internal focus, when we were not focusing on the impact of our thinking on the customer. It helped bring us back to our purpose.
I asked a customer that I coach to start doing the same activity. He agreed, but then admitted that rolling a new meeting format out was difficult. “We don’t talk about this sort of thing; we barely talk about the day to day…” in mid-sentence he stopped himself. “Wow, no wonder communication is always on our agenda.” The big aha? It is hard to talk about something strategic or something new if your meeting rhythms are out of whack (or non-existent).
I asked my good friend Tim, who runs a sales organization, how they gather intelligence from their marketplace. Tim said it best. He asks this question with each of his 27 staff. In one-on-ones. In team meetings. In annual kickoff sessions. But it is what they learn that enable him to ask each time. Tim does something with what he learns. Tim has changed and altered a sales process. Simplified the customization of his products. Taught his leaders to ask questions and listen to the answers. His organization is now market driven or Outside-In®!
Three simple things to do:
- Bring sales and service staff together around the question. Once the fireworks subside there is tremendous learning that takes place.
- Repeat the question in every internal meeting for three weeks to build the habit. Staff need to be certain it is not the leadership flavor of the month.
- Shift your focus external to your constituents.
Most importantly, ask yourself the questions: What did you learn as leader about your marketplace this week? Do you see any trends? Identify any opportunities for staff development? See anything you want more information on?
March 17th, 2010
I was honored to be the speaker at last night’s DelMarVa SHRM event. View the presentation above or download using the link below.
“The Economic Tsunami: How Businesses Are Rethinking Recruitment & Retention.”
Delmarva SHRM – Economic Tsunami Presentation