The Hidden Path to Predictable Success

A guest blog by Les McKeown, President and CEO of Predictable Success.

How to not just grow your business, but scale it

As a serial entrepreneur – I helped start over 40 companies before I was 35 – and the co-founder of an incubation company that helped launch (and grow) literally hundreds more, I uncovered a pattern few entrepreneurs and business leaders spot: At any point in time every organization – including your business – is experiencing one of seven stages of growth.

Because each stage impacts businesses differently, you can obtain a significant competitive advantage simply by knowing which of the seven stages you’re currently in. In fact, it’s only by being aware of where you are on the growth cycle that you can truly tailor your strategies (and direct your team) to make optimal decisions for future growth.

Thankfully, the seven stages are hiding in plain sight – once pointed out, most people recognize them intuitively. Here’s a quick summary:

Early Struggle
It feels like you’re hacking through the jungle as you fight to keep your newly-born business alive. The main challenge is finding enough cash to keep going until you’ve established a profitable, sustainable market for your product or service.
The mortality rate of organizations is high in this stage – around 80% never make it out of Early Struggle. Those that do are typically led by passionate visionaries who are highly focused on one thing: finding their market.

Fun
You’ve found your market and broken through Early Struggle. Now you have a sustainable business – it’s time to have Fun! The key focus moves to maximizing sales, as you shift from “finding” a market to “mining” your market.
This is the stage when the organization’s myths and legends are built, and ‘big dogs’ emerge – loyal high-producers who build the business exponentially during a time of rapid first-stage growth.

Whitewater
The success reaped in ‘Fun’ brings with it the seeds of Whitewater: the business grows, and inevitably becomes more complex. In Fun, you delivered consistent quality in a (relatively) simple environment; in Whitewater, you must learn to deliver consistent quality in the face of complexity.

Doing so requires you to put in place consistent processes, policies and systems, but this brings turmoil as the ‘big dogs’ and other old hands – maybe even you – chafe at their loss of freedom and autonomy. The organization seems to be going through an identity crisis, and you may even doubt your own leadership and management skills.

Predictable Success
Despite the turmoil, you’ve persisted with the implementation of needed systems and processes. Now the organization has the tools it needs to manage complexity, and for the first time is scalable: you can grow the business to whatever size you wish, subject only to the constraints of your industry.

This new scalability hasn’t come without a cost, however – you may have lost some of the big dogs, who couldn’t accept their perceived loss of flexibility and freedom, and the culture of the business may have changed in a way that some find hard to accept.

Treadmill
In principle, any business can stay in Predictable Success indefinitely. In practice, the newly implemented systems and processes often expand, reaching ever deeper into the organization. In response, creativity, risk-taking and initiative decline, and the organization becomes increasingly formulaic and arthritic.
In Treadmill a lot of energy is expended, but there’s little forward momentum being achieved. With an overemphasis on data over action, on form over content, good people start to leave and the entrepreneurial founder(s) – if they’re still there – may become frustrated, and at worst, disruptive.

The Big Rut
Treadmill is a dangerous stage in any organization’s development: if it is checked in time, creativity, risk-taking and flexibility can be re-injected, taking the organization back to Predictable Success. Left unchecked, however, the organization eventually declines further, becoming a bureaucracy and sliding into The Big Rut.

In The Big Rut process and administration are more important than action and results. Worse, the organization loses its ability to be self-aware, and cannot diagnose its own sickness and decline. Once in The Big Rut, an organization can stay there for a long time, undergoing a gradual, slow decline into irrelevancy.

Death Rattle
Eventually, for all organizations in The Big Rut, there is only one conclusion: after a brief Death Rattle (when illusory signs of life may be seen in a final attempt to resuscitate the organization, whether by the selling off assets or by being acquired), the organization dies in its present form.

Do you know which of the seven stages you’re in right now? If you’re not at the peak stage – Predictable Success – what do you need to do to get there (or get closer)? If you are in Predictable Success, what do you need to do to ensure you stay there?

You can learn more about Predicable Success by taking Les McKeown’s course Lead Your Organization to Predictable Success.

Can You Change the Culture with the Same People in Place?

A guest blog from Brian Bedford, co-owner of MillerBedford Executive Solutions.

Much of our work as international consultants concerns business culture. Sometimes we’re asked by companies to establish and align a new culture to support the strategic direction of the business; and sometimes we’re asked to help change the culture of a business, because the CEO and the leadership team believe that the existing culture is hindering progress.

Culture change is significantly more challenging than creating a culture from the outset of an organization. It takes years to establish a particular culture, so it’s unrealistic to expect change overnight. It takes focus, commitment, clear expectations, consistent application, and regular feedback.

But the most important thing we’ve learned about culture change is that you can’t expect it to happen if all the same people remain in place. Relationships build up over the years, as do loyalties, old grudges, and resistance to change. As the old saying goes, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs”; similarly, you can’t change the culture of an organization by simply making statements, and leaving all the old guard in place. The old culture will win every time, and spit out those who desire change with the greatest of ease. Culture is built on behaviors; unless clear expectations are set as to how behaviors are required to change, and unless people are held accountable for getting in line with the changes, nothing will happen.

Take a look at a couple of examples to see what we mean. The first is General Motors. GM appointed Mary Barra as the new CEO, and there’s been a lot of talk about the need for culture change. However, Ms. Barra is a 30+ year veteran of GM. We don’t doubt her good intentions for one moment, but she’s a long-term part of the culture, and she doubtless has a lot of the loyalties we talk about above. So take a look at the structure of GM; how many senior executives have gone? When the recent troubles over ignition switches took place, exposing a culture of cover-up and negligence, how many senior heads rolled? A few middle level people, perhaps, but no-one at senior executive level. “The lawyers didn’t do their job”, we heard. Who do the lawyers report to, pray tell? Yes, you can give Ms. Barra credit for defending her people, but to do so at the same time brings into question how serious GM is about culture change, or whether it’s simply PR. Unless there are major changes at senior level, and clear expectations are set for behavior change, the existing culture will always win, and all the old behaviors will remain the same.

Now, compare that to Charlie Strong, the new football coach at the University of Texas. We’re not naïve enough to compare the challenges of running a football program to the challenges of running one of the world’s biggest companies, but the differences in approach are instructive. First, Mr. Strong cleared out all the old coaching staff, and brought in new people on whom he could rely to make the culture and behavior changes he was looking for. Second, he defined the new culture clearly; “Honesty; no stealing, drugs or guns; treat women with respect”, and added his 4 T’s-“toughness, trust, togetherness, teamwork”. To prove his point, seven players have been kicked off the team to date, and a further three suspended. This man is serious about culture change, and about the accountability that goes with it.

Back to where we started. Culture change requires clear expectations of behavior change, and personal accountability for those changes. Any guesses as to which organization will be more successful? UT or GM?

You can learn more about accountability-based culture at Brian Bedford & Julie Miller’s course Installing an Accountability-Based Culture for Success.

Cultivating Winning Relationships – How to network successfully

A guest post with Morag Barrett, founder of Skye Team and author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships.

In an article, the Harvard Business Review found that social bonds were the major predictor of team success. The other two were “initiatives to strengthen relationships” and “leaders who invest the time to build strong relationships with their teams.”
If team success (and individual success) is dependent upon social bonds, on being connected, then it would follow that spending time getting to know the team members, and articulating the rules of engagement for the team would be a good investment of time, right?
You’ve heard the phrase “six degrees of separation” I have come to appreciate that in today’s world, it is more like “six degrees of connection”.

Here is a personal story to illustrate how closely we are connected. I was sitting at Anchorage airport having facilitated leadership programs at the North Slope, Alaska. It was my first trip to Alaska, and I knew no one in Anchorage. The royal wedding was being broadcast on the screens in the terminal, and the lady next to me started to chat. It was early, and I wanted to see the dress before boarding, so we talked. Eventually the conversation turned to current things. I shared that I lived in Colorado. She knew someone in Colorado… it turned out that her friend was someone I know well. We immediately went from strangers with nothing in common to acquaintances with someone in common.

Whether you find it easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger or someone who has a hard time meeting and talking to new people, networking and cultivating winning relationships is a necessary skill if you’re looking to get ahead.

With that in mind, here are six tips to help prepare you for your next networking opportunity.

Build Your Network
1. Start before you arrive. Review the agenda and speaker bios, check your social media connections to see who is attending and who you might like to meet. Then contact them via email, LinkedIn or twitter.
2. Practice your “hello”. You need to think about how to say “hello” and introduce who you are and a little context as to why you are at the event. 30-seconds or less, make it genuine and remember the intent is to open up a conversation not simply toot your own horn!
3. Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to “strangers” you may be surprised at just how connected you are. Remember relationships are not just for today… maybe this new contact could be your boss, colleague or new client next month, next year.

Maintain Your Network
4. Connect. I use LinkedIn to keep in touch with my contacts. Send a personal invitation (not the standard wording) to the people you would like to remain in contact with.
5. Stay in touch. There is a new tool on LinkedIn that allows you to set reminders to get in touch with people (open a profile, click on ‘relationships’ and then reminders). Look for opportunities to send a quick congratulations message, or an article and “thinking of you”. Ask for help and input from your network, you may just receive a suggestion you hadn’t considered!
6. Share your network. In Cultivate, The Power of Winning Relationships I talk about the concepts of Generosity and Abundance. The most successful people are the ones who share their network and expertise; they give more than they take. Make introductions, share your wisdom and build a reputation for being the go-to person.

Don’t simply attend events, participate, get involved, speak to those around you and cultivate a strong and powerful network that helps ensure your success, and theirs.

How do you cultivate and maintain your network?

You can learn more about cultivating relationships through our SoundviewPro course with Morag titled Business Relationships – Moving from “Me” to “We”.

Twelve Traits of a Change Agile Organization

A guest blog by Phil Buckley, a senior change management professional.

Change agility is rapidly becoming a key skill of successful organizations. It is the ability to quickly respond to new developments—consumer choices, competitive threats, economic conditions, government regulations, etc.—so that opportunities are realized and challenges are managed.

Many common practices slow down an organization’s response rate. Annual strategic planning, siloed resource management and static personal objectives (and incentives) encourage leaders and their teams to complete their commitments as originally agreed, regardless of its current importance.

Agile organizations align three drivers of speed: leadership, resourcing and culture. Here are traits of a nimble organization:

Leaders:
• View change initiatives as a portfolio of opportunities versus a list of projects managed separately
• Know their roles in change including acting as an unbiased assessor of value delivery
• Are prepared to alter assumptions about an initiative even if it means changing direction and abandoning unproductive work
• Own the success of the change after it is launched

Resources:
• Are assigned to the highest priority changes according to need versus negotiated minimum requirements
• Have right people selected for key change roles including experience, capability and motivation
• Are easily transferable across initiatives and roles
• Are dedicated to measurement of benefits and continuous improvement

People:
• See change as an enabler of ongoing success versus something to get through now
• Understand the organization’s vision and how the change initiatives will help achieve it
• Give honest feedback that is listened to and rewarded
• Discuss, share and follow lessons learned

An organization’s ability to quickly change how it operates to achieve its goals is a key ability to ongoing success. As the speed of change continues to increase, it may not be an option. Adopting these traits could be a good start.

To learn more about change management, check out Phil’s SoundviewPro course Building Your Change Capability.

Obstacles to Overcome in Business Succession Planning

A guest blog by Paul White, Ph.D., a psychologist, speaker, author and consultant.

As a psychologist who assists business leaders and their families in developing wealth transfer and business succession plans, it has become evident that the primary challenges are clearly nonfinancial in nature. Sure, there can be some financial hurdles to overcome, but due to the expertise of the wealth transfer professional community, the fiscal issues almost always can be addressed. What is left to be resolved are the myriad of relational, family dynamics and personal meaning issues.

Three challenges stand out that cause business owners to delay putting together even a minimal plan:

1. You are busy
Until you become disabled or die, you will almost certainly always be busy (and planning needs to occur before this happens.) As Stephen Covey brilliantly communicated in his quadrant of activities, planning falls into the “important but not urgent” quadrant. The process needs to occur. But, planning usually is not urgent, so it keeps being put off until some life event thrusts it into the realm of urgency.

2. It takes mental and emotional energy over a period of time
Facts need to be gathered. You need to sit down and become clear about your goals for the business, for your spouse, for your employees and for your family. This doesn’t happen in 10-minute snippets or even a three-hour session. So, for the planning to get done, it takes a commitment of time, energy and actions over time.

3. It involves other people
I’m not talking about your broker-dealer or insurance carrier. What you decide about the future of your business will affect your employees, along with your spouse and your family (whether or not they are actively involved in your professional practice.) As a result, it is critical to involve them and get their input.

Uncertainties cause fear

Business succession planning is difficult because there are uncertainties. You don’t know how long your health will be good or whether your adult child will be able to manage the business. Most astute business leaders learn how to assess and manage the risk associated with the unknown. But when it is your business and your family involved, the decisions to be made take on far more personal relevance. As a result, they often get delayed.

Finally, business succession planning is sometimes avoided because you have no idea what you would do if you didn’t work. For many of us, our work becomes our identity. We love it. But we have no clue what life after work looks like. So we don’t want to think about not working. The problem is — this really puts your business, your family and your employees at risk should something unfortunate happen to you.

Action steps

The worst thing you can do regarding your business succession plan is to think about it but not take any action. Why? Because by thinking about it, you can deceive yourself into believing you’ve actually done something. Following are potential action steps I would encourage you to take:

1. Talk with your spouse, major employees, and involved family members. Start by telling them you understand you need to do some business succession planning.

2. Identify an expert to coach you through the process, which includes
● Thinking through the issues that need to be considered
● Helping you design a process that includes all relevant individuals
● Keeping you on task over time
● Assisting you, your staff and your advisors get the needed tasks completed.

3. Begin to talk to the others involved. Start by finding out what they want (it may not be what you want), and hear their perspectives. They may not be honest if they hear what you want first and their thoughts differ from yours.

4. Use your coach to help you work the plan, step by step. Get some aspect completed. Don’t get bogged down by the apparent complexities. Take it a piece at a time.

You have completed several large, complicated projects over your career. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be as successful as you are. Don’t let your future, your family, and your employees suffer as a result of not taking care of your succession planning.

Learn more from Paul White in his SoundviewPro course Leading Successfully Through Challenges and Obstacles.

The Five Best Interview Questions Ever (we think so anyway)

A guest blog from Jen Shirkani, founder and CEO of Penumbra Group.

Our firm specializes in an intensive and advanced interviewing and hiring methodology for interviewing for Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and we are often asked if we could only ask five interview questions, what would they be? We like to do a solid assessment of technical skills and experience first, then focus one or two interviews just on their EQ. There are several skills to zero-in on, including Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Empathy, Flexibility and Optimism. No one question will reveal all these competencies, but often one question will reveal the presence or absence of several of these skills. And one more reminder: we always recommend that organizations use the behavior-based technique when phrasing questions. Simply….instead of hypothetical “What if” or “How would you handle” questions….ask for concrete past realities…“Tell me about a time when…” or “How have you handled a situation in the past when….”
Okay, here we go:

1. “Describe a time when you were unfairly criticized and tell me what the details were.”

This question is designed to uncover two things: the candidate’s Self-Awareness and their definition of criticism. Be sure to get a specific example from them. The word “unfairly” is important to include as you will be assessing how justified the feedback they received was against their actions. Would a reasonable person think it was fair or unfair criticism? You also want to understand how sensitive they are to receiving negative performance information. Does the example they share represent criticism or feedback? What does your company culture provide most often – criticism or feedback?

2. “Think of a time when you had to work with a headstrong co-worker and tell me how you handled it.”

Many candidates are concerned about sharing a weakness or failure. Interpersonal communication and proper conflict management skills are vital for team members and interviewers must do an effective job of validating skill level in these areas. The power of this question is that it asks about someone else, giving the candidate permission to share struggles due to other personalities. It also gives you a chance to glimpse their empathy/understanding of others…do they offer an indication of trying to understand better or help the person or just a superficial judgment based on self-centered reactions? I love to ask this question after a candidate tells me they have “great people skills.”
3. “Share with me the last time you went above and beyond the call of duty. Tell me about the details and why you did it.”

This question is designed to understand what the candidate defines as extra effort. Is the example they share something you consider to be of substantial heroics or actions you would expect on a routine basis? Knowing how recently it occurred will also reveal their level of engagement in the recent or distant past. Lastly, it will be critical to know what motivates this employee to work at peak performance. The hiring manager must ensure that the motivation drivers are present in the current workplace in order to match with the candidate, and not only that but it also reveals what will retain them in your company & whether they would be a fit for your leadership style (a biggy).

4. “When was the last time you had to act when there was no policy or formal procedure to do so? Tell me what you did.”

We always recommend that small companies ask this question, most of who have little in the way of formalized policy and procedure manuals. This question helps you assess the candidate’s comfort in “thinking on their feet” when they have come from a large organization or will be working in an environment with little direction or daily support. Their response may indicate how much they will seek out and need direction from others versus working independently. In highly regulated or high risk environments, the “right” answer may be a candidate who avoids working outside formal standards of conduct.

5. “We have all had times when we unintentionally insulted or offended someone at work. Tell me about a time when this happened to you.”

This is a great roll-up question because is reveals several EQ skills. Do they have the Self-Awareness to know when their behavior has a negative impact on someone else? Do they have the Empathy to see things from someone else’s point of view? Do they have the Social Skill to work through conflict and maintain effective relationships? This question requires interviewer confidence and the tenacity to tough it out through uncomfortable silence or a candidate who tries to sidestep answering, but the benefit in doing so shows what you are made of and proves to the candidate who is really in control.

This intensive interviewing approach is very different from most other interview classes you may have been to. Many of our participants have said that they always thought they knew how to interview but realize that they could be so much more effective and were actually excited to do interviews for the first time.

Asking the right questions and a strategic approach can make hiring fun and no longer a nuisance to be avoided. We tend to enjoy what we’re good at. Hiring is a skill that must be learned, so get out there & get what you need to do your very best and enjoy it along the way.

To learn more about interviewing from Jen Shirkani, check out her SoundviewPro course: Strategic Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence.