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!

CBI Way: Employment Situation and Talent Acquisition

July 16th, 2014

Guest blog spot by Outside-In® Team Member Alex Patton 

The recent June employment situation released early this month has shed some new light on the workforce changes occurring since the new year. Another 288,000 jobs (predicted) were added in June, marking the fifth consecutive month more than 200,000 were added. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the first time since September, 1999 to January 2000, this has happened, almost fifteen years ago. Additionally, the 1.4 Millions jobs added in the first half of 2014, is also the highest number since the first half of that same year, 1999. Equally impressive is the unemployment rate of 6.1%, which has fallen 1.4% over the past year, the sharpest year-to-year decline in almost three decades, according to the BLS. While exciting, the report not only tells us something about the improving job market, but also speaks to the evolving and challenging world of sourcing and recruiting. In this CBI Way Blog, let’s first discuss the groundwork, sourcing.

ID-10098602More jobs and a lower unemployment rate means less candidates who are actively pursuing a new opportunity. As a refresher, active candidate sourcing is related to those candidates that are unhappy, concerned with their job security, or unemployed, for example. Active candidates are easier to find, as not only are they likely looking for you, the employer, but you are searching for them. Resumes are easy to find and applications aplenty. On the other hand, those candidates which are happy, fully employed, and not thinking about possibly making a move, prove much more difficult to identify, but are often the type quality talent being sought.

Passive sourcing is about generating interest, creating excitement, and establishing relationships, and networking with candidates about the opportunity. Whether by phone, email, or social networks, passive sourcing requires a focus on the candidate. Creating a strategy of who to target, where to target, and HOW to target these individuals is key. Where are they in their career? What sparks their interest? Who may they know? These are some questions that could potentially help with marketing your opportunity and employer brand in the best way possible. Still not interested? Make sure to express your desire to help if they may ever be in the market, or if anything changes in their career. The stronger network you have, the more options available to proactively source and engage the marketplace of talent.

Time Has Come Today!

July 9th, 2014

Whenever I approach my business development day I often feel like I can hear the old Chambers Brothers song in my head with “Time Has Come Today” echoing and reverberating around my office! Time!!!! Time!!!! Time!!! There seems like there is never ever enough of it for doing sales the right way. The song is eleven minutes long by the way—about as much time as it takes to really plan your sales day!

ID-100248281So for you time-pressured folks with sales responsibilities here are my greatest hits:

  • Focus on the right target customers. You may like certain customers and enjoy the conversations. We all have legacy and long-term customers that we are friendly with. The key is to focus on the right type of prospect and to define it.  
  • Have the right service or products to offer. Many small businesses start selling and servicing to anyone that will buy. This pays the bills and keeps the lights on. However, very quickly an organization needs to make a strategic decision with its resources and focus on selling the right size products and services. If your customers buy too little your costs of sales rises too high!
  • Don’t quit on your pipeline. Too many times sales professionals stop following up on leads and prospects. Social media is riddled with articles and blogs on this topic alone. However, we still stop too early. It takes 6 to 10 attempts to make something happen. Too many sales professionals stop after 1 or 2. Is it mental approach or organizational skills? Either way, time is the enemy!
  • Have a plan. Block your time. Be organized and know what you’re doing before you start. Do your research in organized times. When you’re making calls and sending notes do it in blocks. MOST block their time but do not prepare their work!
  • Create balance. Why do some people hit quota and most don’t? Some of it is about how you spend your valuable time. Do you make the extra call or do the extra work? Do you think long term and invest in key relationships? Do you add value to the people you meet and network with? It took me 20 years to become an overnight success! Get it? If you think about today’s or this month’s quota you may win for a month or two—but not in the long run. Sales is a balance of short and long term with activities, with your pipeline and size deals, and in your overall mindset!

Now the time has come! There’s no place to run! Time! Time! Time!

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.

Why Customers Choose an Entrepreneurial Business Over Big Business!

June 4th, 2014

ID-100263570I have often wondered why our customers chose a private, entrepreneurial company as a partner over a larger vendor that on the surface offers the potential of more. More offices, more potential services, deeper pockets, etc. I have learned that when you get out in front and talk to customers and prospects that customers have their reasons for working with startups and small business alike. (After all that is one of the big three things I think a leader should always do.)

For one thing large companies strive to act small today. Most CEO’s talk of talent management challenges in their big businesses. We need to change to survive and thrive. We want to buy new companies or start new divisions. This all starts with employees and their mindsets—a mindset that is deeply embedded in the world of most growing entrepreneurial companies. Today business is about speed, responsiveness, and agility. It’s your choice to try and turn the Queen Mary or a small, maneuverable boat. I know who wins that race every time!

Innovation. Why do big companies buy small companies? Or help start them? Small business creates out of necessity. Big companies have too much to lose while fighting to keep what they have. In small business, there is less to protect and risk and market share is irrelevant. In order to survive and thrive the business must create real value.  Employees know this and must create value every hour. Compare that to most big companies that expect a day’s work for an hour. Innovation, thinking, creativity, and trying new things is often left to the Research and Development department or for the Senior leaders to decide. Every employee in a small business is a leader, a change maker, and a risk takerthat is where value is created!

Being a big fish in a small pond can have its advantages! Do you want to be a big customer number or a an important customer that makes a big difference to your company? This is a choice. Sometimes you have to go with the biggest and the best brand that guarantees your choice will not be questioned when the implementation goes wrong or delivery schedules are off. An entrepreneurial business gives its full attention to a large customer from top to bottom in the organization. The small business puts its best forward, is most likely flexible and interested in customizing its offering, and will pay more attention to you than one of your many new customers!

Local Leadership of a regional company is often more talented and more customer-centered then a large multi-national. I have lived this one myself.  Successful regional companies have high concentrations of leaders compared to big companies. We are more customer focused in our jobs because we do not have to spend a large part of our time managing up to corporate! Not that corporate is not important.  However, it is not Outside-in® and adding customer value directly!

You’re getting more economic value from your purchase when you buy from an entrepreneurial company. My dad used to say, “You will never pay for my fancy office and marble floors in the lobby.” With small businesses, your spend goes to the actual margin of the product instead of the operating expenses of a large corporate infrastructure!

Would you rather deal with me, President of an entrepreneurial company or a big business regional VP with territory responsibility and no authority to make decisions unless it’s in his or her zip code?  Don’t answer! It’s all about your purchasing playbook anyway.

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!

Why is Bruce Springsteen Called “The Boss”?

May 21st, 2014

I recently attended my first Bruce Springsteen concert this past week in Hershey, PA.  We talk about leaders only being leaders when they have followers. Well Bruce has followers. After all, he is the “Boss” right? I bet you don’t know why he is called the boss. Well, back in the early (glory) days he was the one who had to collect the night’s receipts and be responsible for distributing the money to bandmates. At first, Bruce hated the name because of what boss typically means as a stereotype. I think it’s safe to say at this point he has tacitly accepted his moniker. And after watching him play for three hours and ten minutes with barely a sip of water? There is no doubt in my mind that he is in charge, in control, and on top of every little detail as a master showman can be.  He is The Boss today but for very different reasons than way back when!

After watching his performance I can assure you he is a good leader. He has such high energy and regard for people including his bandmates and crew, the fans, and all those that he can help. (Bruce brought seven different fans on stage to jam with him, sing, and to share their cause). Without fear or thought that they might in anyway be there to hurt or harm him or others!

All of this Boss talk got me thinking. Do you like being called boss? I had a favorite admin. who called me jefe, which means boss and I hated it. She insisted she meant it in a different meaning than the stereotype. Jefe meant that I was in charge and that she could count on me.

So I looked up the definition of boss. And guess what I learned?

Boss as a noun seems reasonable enough to me. Someone in charge of a team or organization. Each culture and its value is different in each group however, someone, is always responsible for a team—even in self-directed teams.

So how about Boss as the adjective? Boss means excellent or outstanding. If everyone can be the boss and live up to excellence or be outstanding then let’s all get name tags!  An environment of results and outstanding can’t be all bad, right?

ID-10066133Now we are getting into it. Boss as the verb. To dictate. To lord over. To domineer.  To push around. To browbeat. To create undue pressure. This is where the stereotype exists!

No one wants to work for a boss. Few people tolerate dictators or lords if they can help it.  No one wants second class treatment when they can be equally important. I’m sure that being pushed around or browbeat isn’t motivating for long. Bossing and managing by fear mongering works for as long as the Boss has power. Which is usually only as long as it takes employees to figure out what to do about it.

So unless you’re Bruce Springsteen, be careful about acting like a boss!

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!

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